In today’s interconnected world, international migration has become a reality that touches nearly all corners of the globe. Immigrants can change cultures for the better by introducing new ideas, expertise, customs, cuisines and art. Far from erasing the existing culture, they expand it. In a short span of four decades, the Bangladeshi diaspora has become successful and integrated into British life. Our community has been integral to the ‘curry success story’ by making it the national dish. As 90 per cent of all curry houses are owned by British Bangladeshis, contributing £4.2 billion to the UK economy! Our curry houses and takeaways are a British institution; where every town has, at least one curry restaurant.
The majority of Bangladeshis in the country, hail, like me, from the city of Sylhet, which is central to Bangladesh’s economy and politics, and renowned for its food. A little money from the UK goes a long way in Bangladesh, where Sylhet is now one of the richest towns with the area's economy largely built on British curry!
However, cooking is not an end in itself, but a pathway to achieve more important things. It has real power to transform society because it touches everything: education, the environment, entrepreneurship, cultural identity, agriculture and trade. The relevance and success of Bangladeshis in the UK has been built on the love of food, where we have promoted Bangladesh through our cooking. Perhaps, a great example of this, has been the success story of Nadiya Hussain, 2015’s BBC Bake Off Champion who won our hearts. Nadiya, is perhaps now one of the most famous Bangladeshi in British popular culture, who has since fronted her own two-part documentary in ‘Bangladesh The Chronicles of Nadiya.’
In an age of fear about immigration, the success of the Bangladeshi population in Britain has a deeper resonance. It shows that, with the right support, migrant communities can overcome early struggles to thrive. As Bangladeshis have become more successful, the younger generations have become more aspirational. They are doing well at school, and government figures from 2015 reveal that 62 per cent attained five good GCSEs, including English and Mathematics, which is five per cent above the average. While the success of Bangladeshi girls, who outperformed boys by eight per cent in 2015, is particularly striking. Increased gender equality in Bangladesh – the gender pay gap fell 31 per cent from 1999-2009–has led to Bangladeshi parents in England taking female education more seriously.
We have firmly made our stamp in the UK, where we have built our business successes on the sweat and tears of our fathers, mothers and other family members who helped us create this future. Just as Brixton caters for the Afro-Caribbean community; there’s Southall for the Indians; and China Town for the Chinese diaspora; we have Brick Lane’s Banglatown now. A distinct area with strong Bangladeshi links.
I think I can safely say that there will always be a British Bangladeshi, playing a leading role, enriching British society.