In-coming passengers



 


 

By
DESMOND LAZARO


On the 30th September 1957, my mother, then a 15 year old girl arrived in Liverpool, England. She describes, in an interview I had made with her in 2014, the shocking cold, brick buildings and a friendly porter who offered to carry her luggage, to the surprise and mistrust of my grandfather Albert D’Cruz.

During the 1950’s, the “S. S. Salween”, a 7066-ton passenger ship, had taken countless families from Rangoon, Burma, to England. En-route the ship would stop at Aden, Yemen, amidst the Suez Crisis and this unassuming catholic family would slip by unnoticed, even as history was redrawing the geo-political map. Burma itself was in turmoil these Anglo’ families of Indian descent were forced to leave. Their skills, mercantile or otherwise; were no longer wanted. They became remnants of Empire, the diaspora, serving only to antagonize, the newly independent Burma. And over the next few decades, as former colonies across the globe, dissolved into burgeoning nations, migration would reshape the twentieth century map.

For my mother, the young Joyce Theresa D’Cruz, her new ‘home’ would be 17 Kenilworth Road, Leeds 12, West Yorkshire, United Kingdom. In the ship’s passenger list the new address is mentioned along with her student and unmarried status. The document, hand typed by an unknown clerk at the port of Liverpool, is an endless list of migrants each seeking a better life or running from an old one.

A typewriter hammers letters into a list, the colonial flotsam and jetsam. A girl moves from a wooden house on the outskirts of Rangoon, to a brick house in the north of England; she is just one of the ‘In-Coming Passengers’.

I take this passenger list and the 28- day journey as a starting point, in my recent work. Exploring this and other historical documents, as well as home movies to recall the universal story of migration and its effect on our lives today.

This and other works such as I.D. and Baptism Certificate question how our identities are created and sustained either through our own mythologies (family stories) or the wider sweep of history (documents). In both, personal and collective histories collide, as they do on a daily basis; it seems the fundamental modern narrative.

If the earlier series ‘The Baptism Certificate’ looks at how we regain personal histories, then the recent work questions what that history is, how it is dismantled and recycle to arrive at notions of self and nationhood.