Barbara Paulette Palmer. Windrush Cymru, Our Voices: Our Stories, Our History 2019

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Summary of oral history interview with Barbara Paulette Palmer, discussing her experience of growing up within a family which migrated from the Caribbean during the 1950s. Paulette Palmer was born in March 1955 in St Elizabeth, Jamaica, and she is the second eldest of six siblings. Paulette was the last of her siblings to come to the UK. On the 17th of May 1970, Paulette landed in London on a state-owned airline flight named BOAC, she wore a yellow lace dress.


Date of Interview: 12th September 2019
Length of Interview: 30:00


Part 1 [00:00:00]
My name is Paulette Palmer, and I was born on 28th March 1955. I was born in Jamaica, St Elizabeth, Jamaica, to be exact. My mum's name is Ena and my dad's name is Gerald.  They were working class people,  my dad worked in the steelworks in Newport and my mum worked in the Royal Gwent Hospital. My father came was at the late 50s, maybe early 60s, and he worked in the steelworks,  as I said, but in Jamaica there were the usual sort of usual work that people did in Jamaica on the plantations and that will be my dad and rearing children would be my mums main work, but as I said when she came over here, she actually worked in the Gwent Hospital. She worked in a  few factories, but her last work was in the Gwent for many years. My dad was in the steelworks.
There's six of us and 1 half sister still in Jamaica,  so theres five girls of us and one boy.  Growing up in Jamaica was Okay, well I found it Okay, it was good and I was brought up with my grandparents, as is the custom in Jamaica, especially when there's a number of children in the family, it is not unusual for one to be brought up with grandparents or a family member and I was brought up with my grandparents. It was just me, I was the second in birth order. We were never told reasons,  but I suppose after having children of my own, here,  back home, then you know the family were always on hand it is not as if we lived far apart. It was almost next door. Even in the same yard and, of course, there's always be family members to step in and give a hand with the kids.

Part 1 [00:02:52]

I remember school, because we lived in a place called Thornton,  I remember school which was never  very far away,  almost down the road, and Friday was the best day in school because we always had free cheese on a Friday in school, so it was great. So Friday was good and the school was good as well. I don’t remember what I wanted to be when I grew up but I do recall like my parents and family would say, ever since I was about eight,  I always said I wanted to be a nurse, so that's my profession, and I have been nursing  for a long time.
As a child, one of the games we played was Ajax. We had these marbles and you would throw the marble up in the air and you'd have these little figures, almost like a dice and you would throw it like it was a dice it was that type of game,  and hop scotc,  where you would do the marking on the floor and you would do the hopscotch, and gigs we used to call it gigs, which was made out of wood with a kind of nail and you would spin it and let it go, we called it gigs, yes, like a  top. Catapult was another one, made by hand and you’d have a stone in it, and you’d have a piece of like elastic,  so you have two sticks, you have this piece of elastic almost like a  slingshot I suppose, and you would put the stone in and you would let it go. Yes those kind of games they were all always almost handmade because of course we didn’t have a lot, but they were fun.

Part 1 [00:05:10]
My biggest memory of home I suppose of working hard,  kids always, for example, you’d get up and you would go and get the water from the well, which was somewhere else and also market days you would walk through the cane field then you would go to the market to the next town, and so on. The washing and cleaning that sort of thing, the hard work. Coming over here that was nothing to with me, of course, because I came over when I was 15 because my grandmother died,  my parents were over here and I had to come, so I came in 1970.  My parents came late 50s, early 60s, yes, but that's the norm. The male would come, bring over and the wife and then the children would come after because you have to understand like my father would have had to come work, save money and then maintain the family over here, as well as sending for the children, so I was the last of my siblings to come so by that time, all the others were over here. 
One thing I remember about coming over, which was May 17, 1970, was how dark the place was and these things coming out of people's houses like chimneys You’ve got to understand we din’t call it chimney then as in Jamaica and other part of the world you don't have things like that so things seemed  very dull, whereas in the Caribbean seemed very light, open space and that sort of thing. But here was really dark,  that’s what I remember about coming over. I came on a plane, BOAC. I don’t remember an awful lot about the journey, I  remember what I was wearing. I was wearing like a yellow lace dress and in those days. I suppose because I was 15 you were looked after by the  flight attendant and things like this, so no I don’t remember much about the journey. I remember leaving the country and going to Kingston with my big cousin and and then being taken to Palisades as it was called then airport and sort of getting onto the plane and landing in London to meet my parents.  My sisters and brother and both parents were already here.

Part 1 [00:08:10]
I suppose at age 15 it was just the unknown, really,  So wondering what things would be like things like that. So in terms of expectations I don't know. Jamaica had its independence,  by then, no it wouldn’ t have been would it because it had its independence in 1962, yeah,so I came over as  Jamaican I came over in my … costume, which  I still have by the way. The early stage of settling in here that was a little bit of a culture shock. Also, because as you can imagine being a teenager growing up with grandparents and then coming over with your parents and siblings,  you've been away from them,  that was a bit of anxiety. Yeah, I remember I  was feeling a bit anxious, ‘What are they going to look like?’ that sort of thing you know. It took some settling down, because everything was new wasn't it really and I suppose to being a teenager at that the point in that transition period from child to adult would have been a very unsettling time in any case so yeah, it a little bit  difficult.
It took a while to be at ease. I remember coming over in 17 May, I remember going to school then in the July, which was at the end of the exams,  iI remember going to  reach and to high school and that also I suppose wouldn’t help in terms of settling someone down. I liked school,  I always enjoyed education that’s one of my passions, I love reading, like education, so yeah I was in school three years and I left school with 1 O level, and6 CSE’s  as we called them  in those days, so my educational standard was pretty okay but then in Jamaica you had to learn, there’s no to getting away from learning. You have to learn.

Part 1 [00:11:20]
I came straight to Newport and from Newport then I came to Cardiff, well actually it  was Penarth in 1974, to do my nurses training.  so I started young, between school and my nurse training I had one job and that was in Newport, secretarial work. So yes, I was 19,  18 or 19.  My  reception in Wales I have to go back to school because it was a lasting impression if you like, of school in so much like I remember, as the 15-year-old then the educational expectation wasn't great, because as I said, I came out of school with one GCSE, and six CSe’s and after the results came out and then this has stayed with me all these years, one of the teachers had indicated to me that actually said ‘Oh, If I knew she was that bright, I would have done a bit more’ , so educationally there was not a great lot of expectation from pupils and, of course, in the workplace I had a job in Sandton's I don’t know if it’s still there actually and I remember it being okay, remember it being okay but then I remember when I was applying for nursing and I applied to the Royal Gwent Hospital in those days and I was told I had applied to the registered nursing and I remember the matron or whoever it was at that point certainly didn't score enough to do SEN, let alone SRN, because in those days you had two tiers of nursing, if you like you had the state enrolled nursing  and you had the state registered nursing so that was that was a big blow to knock anybody off their whatever they were on, but that didn't deter me actually,  I apply them to come to Cardiff, University Hospital of Wales, and I got in to do my SEN training and from then went on to do SRN degree nursing and so on and so forth.


Part 1 [00:14:03]
So again, we come back to education and expectation, I suppose  in Newport as those experiences were in Newport and so that then of course in those days there, the few black minority people you saw on the street was very limited and you can almost count them on one hand, so of course I used to like saw them in the streets and so forth was in those days, people are still having problems with housing,  getting housing with work, getting work. But, interestingly, enough thinking back in the 70s, it was bad in terms of work and where you see black people in shops and stuff. And today it's almost as bad when you compared the amount of black minority people who were around today , you see very few shops and stuff. So yes  that was the experience in Wales, not the best.
I experienced racism, still do, even today I remember going in one of the shops one time when the security guards, years ago, walk into the shop and as soon as I step in the shop he homed in on me and I had to challenge ‘Are you watching me?’ I said,  he said no, but I knew he was watching me, simply because of the colour of my skin and even today, you sit on he bus and you see people pulling up their handbags  as if to say you're gonna rob them and even this morning for I went to the bus stop andthe lady had her handbag on the bench waiting for the bus and she looked around. I didn't go to close because you and then to looked about for support as she thought I was going to  take her  handbag, so there's still a lot of negative vibes, real vibes and things happening. Hey, you just get used to it and get on with life.


Part 1 [00:16:25]
[coping with racicm]

I suppose I'm a strong person and my strength is within me. I don't always need motivation,  although we all do from time to time, but I have a lot of inner strength and I suppose and my faith as well, that helps me so yeah, I'm a strong person. I think I’ve always been strong. I don't recall ever being weak, even though life throw me a lot of challenges, but somehow I get over them and you know, go on. So yeah, I’ve got a lot of inner strength.


Part 1 [00:17:20]
My first child was born, and in 1976, 70 so I actually I didn't finish my nurse training then, I was actually one of the midwives  from our community. She always reminded me that I had when I went in to give birth to my son,  she saw me reading my books and she asked ‘what are you doing?’ and I said ‘I’m  studying because my exam is in March’.  Now he was born in February and I was studying for my next exam, thankfully I passed it and all of that. So that was the first and then,  yeah I had the children,  did my degree nursing after...


Part 2 [00:00:00]

...I had six children and there is a pair of twins in those six children,  and worked, and looked after my children and  my family and still working although part time now, so to speak, coming up to retirement. It’s always a struggle and after I a qualified as nurse I did 20 years of nights and that was mainly so one of us will always be there to look after the children, so my husband would be there in the day in the night and I’d be there in the day, in between work, but most of that work actually has been part time workI have to say which made it a little bit easier then to juggle things but it's always been difficult and studying as well was even harder. But I got through it.
I met my husband at a bus stop in Newport.  He is from Jamaica, we’re not together now but he is from Jamaica yes.  experiences.  In some ways my children are having a better experience,  in some ways, I suppose as  one of my children have gone down,  well, he’s an optician. He's been really blessed now he's like a band seven, because in nursing are up to 8 now and I retired or semi-retired and band six and now he’s a band seven, and  I said to him the other day, that I have the spent all my life in nursing  and retiring or semi- retiring on a  band six and so from that point of view, it's a good thing. However, not one of my children went to university, got into university in Wales, in Cardiff. They always have to go to England so things are a little bit better but still challenging.

Part 2 [00:02:50]
I suppose that's one good thing about our culture because we do have strong culture and the cultural link , and one of the strongest ones was with the church as well of the family, so we maintain those kind of cultural links and that helps to keep us grounded in the kind of identity and that's a really good thing. So there is I suppose people like me who spend so all of my adult life in in the UK and you kind of get into that culture, Cultural things as well, because you have to in order to be able to where they put down roots where you are and live and have a reasonable life but also not forgetting where you're coming from and of course people were able to travel back to the country of birth and things like that is all that link as well.  I have been back home a few times more often in recent years when the kids have grown up. Im looking forward to going back again soon, as soon as possible I don’t know when.
I think it's really important to have an understanding of one's culture, my culture because I think when push comes to shove and when the going gets tough, I think people stand together more and and that's really important because where, for example, the British people might say go back to where you come from, and that kind of negative thing you do really need that cultural support and to know where you've come from and to know that we have people stand with you and that's really important.   If I had the opportunity I’d go back tomorrow and really it is a bit more hard now because of the children ‘Oh mum this is your home’ , but no given the circumstances I would go back tomorrow. Yeah, I remember I went on a holiday a few years ago and I could have easily got lost in the crowd in Jamaica. It just felt at ease, you felt at home there was something that you feel that I felt back in Jamaica that you don't feel here culturally.

Part 2 [00:06:15]

The advice I would you give to the young, girl, bright eyed in a yellow lace dress I suppose knowing what I know now twould be in terms of I suppose just like l I did just mesh in the culture, and do what you can because I suppose I’m educational minded because we were in our household. My parents were really educational minded, even now when I talk to young people,  for example, I recently spoke to someone who’d just had his GCSE result, and don't know what they want to do and I said, well, just get your qualifications. Once you've got that nobody can take away from you and you can then choose later on to do what you want to do so, and especially for young females as well. Education is a biggie and you know that enables us to be to be strong and stand  on our feet and just know we can do things really.
Be excited, I suppose it is always a bit of a challenge to embrace change, good or bad, but I know people who have a lot of inner strength it is easier for them to embrace change I think, because if you wait on the positives to come from outside, sometimes it doesn't. And then you're on to a slippery slope, but when you've got it inside of you, I think it helps you to go a long  way. Not forgetting one's faith is a bedrock, it really is.

Part 2 [00:08:00]
I am a part  of the Windrush elders group and I find that really interesting. We meet here on a Thursday, 11 till one and that's another culturally binding thing which I think is absolutely great. So about the Windrush, about the elders group, a lot of my years of nursing has been working with the elderly and so I have a lot of experience in that area and also in caring,  because I’ve been a  nurse since  the 70s, so I felt really passionate about the older people and of course all the injustice that has happened, not just with the Windrush, but coming through the passage of time from the people who were in the boats taken from their country and we talk about the slave trade and transatlantic slave trade and all of this, the injustice and the story that they must hear is  only one example, people parked their handbag on the seat and they take it up because they think every black person is  a robber or something negative. So to tell another part of the story or to raise awareness of that, to  me I can't say enough because it is a story that needs to be told about the contribution people have made and because of their contribution  we have a life today that we enjoy in Wales and across the United Kingdom because we have worked in the hospitals, and know how hard it was in the 70s. My father talks about his work in the steelwork and even when he was a younger man when he worked in America in Florida in the orange plantations and stuff, so I believe our people have worked really hard and it's a story that should be told.  Not every black person is a thief or a  robber or however it seemed, because you have good and bad in every nation, but I believe our people have worked really hard and this is not reflected and this is not represented. So if you have an opportunity to shout,  I will shout!


Part 2 [00:10:50]
I’ve always been a bit sceptical about giving these kind of reports and things, I have been, to  tell the truth  I have been a bit sceptical, but then as you get older again to do with the story has to be told, you know, the more people that tell the story gives my children and their children and generations to come at least an idea that the people who came from the Caribbean from African from around the world. You know they have made a great contribution and it's not always about the story that you read about in the paper you see on the television, but there are people who are doing great things, so maybe one day my grandchildren will see this, or hear about it and it will be the job well done, I hope.