In January this year, I joined the museum as the Common Ground project trainee. This was not only an exciting professional opportunity, but it also held a great deal of personal significance as I took part in the Wardlaw’s, then known as MUSA’s, Youth Curator programme while I was in school. In Youth Curators, we created an exhibition, learned new skills such as collaborative working and video editing, and thought about ways the museum could better engage with teenagers. It is noticeable how Common Ground and Youth Curators share many similar aims in developing skills and confidence in secondary school pupils. But in the years since then, the museum has worked hard to develop its engagement programme to support the needs of migrants and refugees.
As the granddaughter of migrants who moved from Hong Kong to the UK back in the 1960s, for me it is very meaningful to see museums actively engage with these groups. Growing up in Fife, I lived only a few miles away from where my grandparents first set up home in Scotland. My Cantonese dissipated as I grew up and my gran never learned English, so we had to find other ways to communicate. From my experiences, I don’t necessarily believe that migrants need to learn English to still be valuable members of society and be afforded the same respect and care as others in the community. After all, my grandparents were hard-working members of the communities they lived in – my gran loved telling us that before they opened restaurants in Aberdeenshire, her husband co-owned the first Chinese restaurant in Dundee. Still, I can’t help but wonder whether learning English would’ve made life easier for her in Scotland. It could’ve given her the independence she had in Hong Kong. She was a social butterfly who loved speaking to everyone, so I always worried about her feeling socially isolated.
I hope, when I worked with the ESOL students and shared my own story, that they recognised someone who was Scottish, with a strong connection to Tayside and Fife, but also one with a proud migrant family history. For me, it’s encouraging that there are projects that support language development skills in the community where I grew up and I am excited to see where the museum takes the project next.
Blog post by Natasha Liu, Museum Trainee