Many thanks to Peter Jordens for providing news and related links about a documentary following Paulette Wilson on her journey back to Jamaica for the first time in half a century. The film is a reminder of the Windrush scandal, in which many people like Paulette Wilson were labeled “illegal immigrants” and found their legitimacy as residents in the United Kingdom called into question. Lindsay Poulton (The Guardian) reports:
A letter from the British government classifying Paulette Wilson as an illegal immigrant shook her sense of identity and belonging. “Hostile environment” policies years in the making meant Wilson and other victims of the Windrush scandal had their right to residency in the UK called into question. She had been detained for a week pending imminent deportation though she had done nothing wrong. It was devastating, but thankfully she was released before she was due to be deported.
Around the time that the Windrush scandal was breaking, the executive producer Shanida Scotland was spending time at her grandfather’s sick bed in a hospital overlooking the Houses of Parliament. “He had been desperate for me and my brother to remember Antigua,” says Scotland. Gentleman’s reporting had a personal resonance for her as she reflected on her own family’s story, and on the life of her grandfather who was part of the Windrush generation.
Scotland was particularly moved by Wilson’s story and proposed that the Guardian film with her as she returned to Jamaica for the first time in 50 years. It was an emotional experience for them both.
Wilson had moved to the UK in 1968 at the age of 10 to live with her grandparents. Under the 1948 British Nationality Act she arrived as a citizen of the British empire and built a life in the UK. She volunteered within her community and worked in the canteen at the Houses of Parliament. She had her own daughter and granddaughter, who journeyed with her to Jamaica for the first time for the documentary, meeting family they never knew they had. Together they tried to make sense of their place in the world and rebuild a sense of security and belonging that had been so shaken by Wilson’s wrongful categorisation by the Home Office.
“She wanted her daughter and granddaughter to know this part of her – I can relate to that. I could see echoes of their story in my own. It was a privilege to share this experience with her,” says Scotland.
The Windrush scandal broke in April 2018 after months of investigation by Gentleman. It provoked the resignation of the then home secretary, Amber Rudd, and the government was forced to apologise.