Brimful of Asia;Books

10th September 1999 at 01:00
ASIAN CHILDREN AT HOME AND AT SCHOOL: an ethnographic study. By Ghazala Bhatti. Routledge pound;14.99.

A year on from last summer's Sunday supplement claims of British Asian youth breaking through to the forefront of youth culture - thanks to Cornershop's number one single "Brimful of Asha" and BBC2's all-Asian comedy show Goodness Gracious Me - comes a serious study of this newly-hip second generation.

Its findings are based on an educational studies PhD for which the major research was conducted a decade ago, long before Boy George and Madonna adopted Asian artefacts such as bindis and henna. Given that, in addition to their longstanding invisibility in popular culture, Asians have always been woefully under-researched in both educational studies and sociology, any book that deals with young Asian lives is welcome.

The inclusion of interviews with parents is also welcome for underlining the lop-sidedness of popular interest in the second generation at the expense of the first (the true pioneers, to whom respect is surely due).

Close attention is paid to both the workings of the fictitiously named "Cherrytown" school, where the research was carried out, and its teachers whose failure to acknowledge racism in the school serves, in Bhatti's eyes, tacitly to support it.

However, it's the voices of the young Bangladeshis, Indians and Pakistanis and their daily juggling act of public and private personae which stick in the mind. So we get - admittedly second-hand and therefore possibly apocryphal - stories of girls who come to school in traditional shalwaar kameez and change into mini-skirts in the loos to go off "man-hunting" after school.

Others, however, celebrate their duality of cultures and any potential resultant contradic-tions in positive ways. "You have to be both Pakistani and English at the same time, haven't you?" Parveen reasons.

The book steers clear of popular culture, despite British Asians' current prominence on the youth cultural map. Most of Bhatti's interviewees are Muslim, but she has not explored the recent (re)discovery by many second-generation young Asians of Islamic identities that their parents have played down. And she acknowledges that the exclusive concentration on working-class Asians is also not ideal.

On the whole this is an informative and accessible, if sometimes slightly dry, account which should have a wider appeal than the remit of "race relations" to which this sort of title has traditionally been confined. As well as the obvious educational research constituency that it was designed for, its potential audience includes teachers and others with an interest in multiculturalism in the classroom.

"Not all Asians are boring people," insists Saira at one point. After reading this book surely no one could disagree.

Rupa Huq is a researcher at thepost-16 studies unit in the school of education, University of Manchester

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