The exhibition celebrating the East and South East Asian migrants who contributed to the NHS
Ingat-Ingat is a celebration of the stories and legacy of ESEA people who came to the UK in the 1960s, ‘70s and ‘80s.
- Dalia Al-Dujaili
- 1 October 2021
Out of the 1.3 million people currently employed in the NHS, around 11 per cent are of an Asian and Chinese background. Yet little is known about the complex history of the Asian community within the NHS during the early years after the foundation of the health service.
Britain’s East and South East Asian Network – cleverly dubbed Besea.n referring to the community’s visibility, or rather lack thereof – presents a mixed-media exhibition this ESEA Heritage Month, spotlighting the real stories of those who left their homes in halfway around the world to join the NHS. It’s been curated by Becky Hoh-Hale, the daughter of a Malaysian-Chinese psychiatric nurse, Hoh Min Leong, who came to Essex in 1975 to train with the NHS and has been here ever since.
Ingat-Ingat is a term in the Philippines and Malaysia meaning both “take care” and “remember”, an apt pair of imperatives to define an exhibition centred around caring for others and the remembrance of the legacy left by these migrants from East and South East Asia. The exhibition is comprised of 12 stories of young people who left their lives behind in Malaysia, The Philippines, Hong Kong and Singapore during the 1960s and up to the ‘80s.
Vintage pictures are featured alongside new images, videos, articles, and spoken and written interviews in the immersive and interactive exhibition, encouraging visitors to learn about the experiences, the history and the reality of what it means to leave home in order to live and contribute in a place far from that home, creating a new space for yourself and your future generations. In keeping with the personal and intimate nature of the subject matter, each person’s story is researched and compiled by their children and grandchildren.
The stories tell of the significant yet often overlooked contribution of ESEA migrants to the health service. These stories include those such as Connie Bennet’s who left Manilla in 1970 to train at the Westminster School of Nursing. “An English lady boarded the bus and told us to shut up and go back to our own country,” her statement reads. “Instances like this were common, so I would often feel isolated, however I must say that there was a lot of unity at the hospital itself.” Bennet claims that she and the nurses at her hospital created a community of Asian and South East Asian nurses who became a “network of extended family”, as they shared the experiences of the tumultuous journey of settling into life in the UK whilst working for the NHS.
Britain’s East and South East Asian Network is a grassroots movement founded by six ESEA women that raises awareness about the UK’s ESEA community and the challenges it faces. The exhibition opened on 29 September and will run with free admission until 10 October at The Willow Tree Space in Walthamstow.
GalleryLisa Jane: Ingat Ingat (Copyright © Besea.n, 2021)
About the Author
Dalia joined It’s Nice That as a news writer in July 2021 after graduating in English Literature from The University of Edinburgh. She's written for various indie publications such as Azeema and Notion, and ran her own magazine and newsletter platforming marginalised creativity.