'Stories connect us to our past and ancestors': Why every generation needs to keep sharing its family history
Published on: 29 June 2022 Author: Tarah L. Gear
Written from Tarah L. Gear's experiences of privilege and racism within her mixed-race family, Just Like Grandpa Jazz asks us to better understand and celebrate our heritage and roots, at a time when the world can seem very small.
Illustration by Mirna Imamovic, from the front over of Just Like Grandpa Jazz
My new book, Just Like Grandpa Jazz, is a personal story and it was a privilege to write. It reflects people in my family and is an intergenerational tale about heritage, race, migration and the power of storytelling.
I have always been fascinated by how stories convey the human experience and when I was writing Just Like Grandpa Jazz, I wanted to connect the stories and memories of the character Grandpa Jazz, which together tell his bigger life story, through objects and a tender conversation between him and his grandson, young Frank.
The book also tells the story of how Jazz came to the UK from Mauritius to work in the NHS, much like those who travelled to the UK from the Caribbean on the Windrush, before becoming a British citizen. It’s the journey my own dad took, too. In our current political context, I believe it’s so important to tell these stories because they are integral to the UK’s socioeconomic status today, but we’re now in a very different place. It’s ironic that the book’s very talented illustrator, Mirna Imamovic, cannot work in the UK because she is from Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina.
Curiosity and empathy
In recent years, many of us have been learning more about different experiences, privileges and anti-racism.
Even within my own mixed-race family, there are different experiences because some of us have darker skin and others have lighter skin, and I wanted to highlight this in my book – even people you know well may have different experiences you might struggle to understand.
Fair-skinned Frank has not experienced the discrimination that his grandpa did, and he begins to learn about this through Jazz’s stories and memories. Sharing stories in this way is vital; they help to make real, lived experiences believable and they give us, and our children, empathy for others.
I think it’s important to keep reminding children (and adults!) that there’s a whole world out there. The pandemic made the world very small for many of us. Social media does that too; it’s designed to perpetuate our own beliefs and values, limiting what we see outside of our own familiar circles.
In writing Just Like Grandpa Jazz, I was keen to show glimpses beyond the world we know, and share a bit of history. It only scratches the surface, but I hope it provokes questions and encourages readers to be curious.
I also hope that readers can have a bit of fun with the book and perhaps use it to tell stories about objects they own, or discover family stories.
Stories connect us to our past, to our ancestors and those whose footsteps in which we follow. If it wasn’t for these stories, my son would grow up without a connection to his heritage, without realising his privileges and without truly knowing his Grandpa and what he experienced in his life.
Love between grandpa and grandson
I wrote this book to show how storytelling is a critical process in breaking down the construct of race, but also to depict the loving and fun relationship between a kid and his grandpa – two people who are captivated, enthralled, fun-loving, fiery, silly, eccentric and in a world of their own, but who find they are treated differently in the wider world because of a superficial difference.