South Asian collections
Browse collections of oral histories that feature the memories of South Asians who have settled in Leicestershire. It includes East African Asians, particularly those who came from Uganda during the 1970s and onwards. The collections cover migration and settlement in Leicester, and include cultural shifts between the British and Asian communities in terms of festivals, fashion, food, dance etc.
The Anglo-Asian Heritage Collection
Thirty interviews about Ugandan Asians at the time of the Ugandan expulsion in 1972. There are stories of violence committed by the Ugandan army on the Asians forced to leave during the expulsion. There are also accounts of the vibrant community of the Asians in Uganda before the expulsion that should be noted, with memories of integration between Muslims, Sikhs, and Hindu people.
For more information regarding the violence that the Asian people faced in Uganda during the expulsion, refer to transcripts 21 and 30.
Once the Ugandan Asians settled in Leicester, their culture settled with them including their African roots in fashion business, referring to transcript 10.
Some of these recordings can be listened to at Special Collections Online.
The Belgrave Memories Collection
Belgrave is a suburb to the north of Leicester, where the 'Golden Mile' is. These 56 interviews cover the white population, and Asians from Uganda, Kenya, India, and Pakistan. It gives the general sense that Belgrave was predominantly white in the 1950s, but particularly with the migration of Ugandan Asians in 1972, Belgrave became more Asian-dominated, with the white population gradually leaving the area. The recordings give a sense of the younger Asian population being westernised, speaking English as the first language, and moving out of Belgrave for bigger houses with gardens instead of terraced houses in Belgrave.
While it may be thought that Leicester was multicultural, there was a lack of integration of different cultures and religions, with many Asians facing discrimination in schools and workplaces, and with institutionalised racism within the police. However, there were still support from local government and Members of Parliament. The creation of the BBC Asian network allowed Asians to to have a wider representation of their culture.
The Divya Ghelani Collection
These 15 oral histories were created by the writer Divya Ghelani for a project called Affective Digital Histories. The interviews concern Leicester's Cultural Quarter from 1989 onwards, when the former textile and shoe manufacturing hub was transformed into a thriving hub for artists and craftsmen. This did mean that there was a decline in industries from 1995 and a shift in the urban environment. One striking example featured in the recordings is the Asian strike at the Imperial Typewriters which raised issues about the racism the workers faced, whilst also combatting the rise of unemployment.
The Ethnic Elders Collection
Nineteen recordings from a University of Leicester Sociology project that looked at the lives of elderly people who migrated from the Indian sub-continent and East Africa. Many people moved to England when they were forced out of Uganda. Others were told that there were better jobs in England and better education for children. Many men moved to the UK for jobs with their wives and children following afterwards once the husband settled. For women, they followed their husbands wherever they worked. Also, there are examples where the parents, now elderly, followed their children once they had settled. It is interesting to hear the insights of people who made life-altering decisions at such young ages with their husband or wife as their only family.
The Guru Nanak Collection
This short collection of three interviews focuses on the partition of India in 1947. Interviewees compare their lives before the partition with their lives in England. The move from small villages in India and Pakistan to the big cities in England is noted within these interviews.
The Highfields Remembered Collection
Nineteen recordings about Highfields, in the inner city of Leicester, southeast of the city centre. The interviews give the impression that Highfields, in its early days, was a safe place where children were able to walk the streets unattended and there were not many cars. However, from the 1950s onwards, the level of crime rose and people became more guarded. Communities were becoming more diverse, but there was less integration, with separate Muslim, Hindu and Polish communities; there were no intercultural gatherings. A common theme in memories of Highfields were the bonfires that were lit up on special occasions like Guy Fawkes’ Day.
The Legacy of Partition Collection
These 20 interviews document the partition of India in 1947. They give a sense of an identity crisis because of the partition and then adjusting to life in England. Many families were split up and forced to live apart in India and Pakistan, with the possibility that they wouldn't meet for a long time or even at all. While there were violent acts between Pakistani and Indian people against each other, there were also many cases where one would help the other, as many saw no difference in nationality. Many people stayed in refugee camps before leaving India and on arrival in the UK.
(We are) South Highfields
South Highfields is located in the inner city of Leicester. These 85 recordings came from the ‘We Are South Highfields’ project. The project focused on peoples’ stories from when they moved to Leicester and covers clearing out slums and new housing, the National Front, residents’ associations, and life in the area since the 1940s. A strong sense of a multicultural environment between religions and race. Includes comments on the traditional mindset people had in terms of marriage and the negative stigma against marriage outside one’s faith.
The Suits and Saris Collection
Clothing was important for the South Asians to keep their identity and culture as South Asians. The older generation preferred to wear traditional clothing, but the younger generation preferred western style clothing that was more comfortable to wear and more suited to British work and weather; the older generation disapproved of this. Members from different caste systems would wear clothes suited to their caste but this later dissolved, and the choice of clothing became fluid. Business for Indian style clothing, including saris became popular with fabrics first being imported from Japan but later from India. There was also Indian influence on English clothing in terms of embroidery. Indian women preferred to wear saris, specifically after marriage but these became unsuitable during travelling and work. Thirty five interviews explore the relationship between British and South Asian Fashion and how traditional styles and textiles are translated on the High Street.
This collection, recorded by Leicester Museums for the 40th anniversary of the expulsion of Asians from Uganda, focuses wholly on the Ugandan Asians who migrated after the expulsion in 1972. The majority of people state that they wouldn’t want to live back in Uganda and prefer England because of the education system, ease of finding jobs for both men and women, and the government’s hospitality, in most cases. There were cases of discrimination against the Ugandans in schools and workplaces, and where housing conditions were not appropriate. One of the popular jobs was working for Imperial Typewriters.
Many Ugandans who were forcibly removed from Uganda in 1972 opened their own businesses in Leicester. It became easier for them to do so because of the increasing Ugandan Asian population in Leicester that supported one another, bringing their culture into the city and creating a community where festivals, foods and clothes were all Indian-made and inspired.
- Special Collections online features oral histories and clippings from the Leicester Mercury
- EMOHA’s YouTube playlists:
- Media Archive for Central England (MACE)
- Our Migration Story - a cultural history of South Asian people in Leicester 1945-2013
- The Runnymede Trust’s ‘Making Histories’ project was about migration and had Leicester as one of the cities it looked at. The book is in the EMOHA office
- Preserving Asian Heritage – a two DVD set covering Ugandan Asian memories. A companion to the book Ugandan Memories is available (book and DVDs in EMOHA office)
- Leicester City Museum’s ‘From Kampala to Leicester’
- ‘Don’t Come to Leicester’ – the Ugandan Asian story (BBC, 1992)
- Leicester Mela Heritage
This page has been written by Huma Ahmed.