It is fair to say that the London represented in the novel ‘Refugee Boy’ is an incredibly multi-cultural place. The city described by Benjamin Zephania seems to be a vibrant hubbub of various races, cultures and traditions, which all inter-mingle together to give the place a truly international feel. Three young friends in the novel especially represent this idea by bringing with them so much authentic culture from their ancestors’ ‘motherland’. Robert and Asher were both born in London, but still hold on dearly to the language, food and music of their parents, whereas Alem actually emigrated to the city from North East Africa. On arrival, not only did Alem transport his own ethnic customs, but also enthusiastically embraced the multi-cultural nature of the city by befriending Robert and Asher so quickly.
Although Robert seems like he is a typical Londoner, his ancestry is actually from South America. When asked by Alem if he came from Chile, he responded: “No, I was born here, but my mother and father did.” Robert seems very proud of the fact that his family came from another country as well as also being very proud that he was born in London. He also expresses his multiculturalism by immersing himself in foreign food and music that reminds him of his family’s home. He states he likes to, “eat a bit of Chilean food and listen to a bit of Chilean music.” This displays that he tries to keep in touch with the traditions of his ancestors’ home.
On top of this, Robert makes an effort to immerse fellow Londoners in the culture of his ancestors by telling stories he has learnt about Chile. He begins to tell Alem about why his family moved to the UK. He starts the story by mentioning the Chilean dictatorship: “In Chile there was a big football stadium…” In this story, Robert tries to inform Robert that although his family are happy to live in London, they will never forget their home, and only left because it was impossible to stay.
Asher was also born in London, but declares that his roots are in another country. At one point in the novel Asher says, “I is an Ethiopian who just happens to be born in England…I my mother and father is Jamaican, and I is a Rasta.” As Asher’s roots have been mixed up through slave trading, he claims that his ‘spiritual homeland’ is in Ethiopia even though he was born in the UK. He tries to keep his origins close to him by surrounding himself with traditional African crafts. There is a necklace in the, “carved shape of Africa hanging from his neck”. By displaying this craftsmanship, Asher is showing the population of London that he is very proud to have connections with Africa, which contributes to the multicultural feeling of the city.
Like Robert, he also wishes to teach Londoners about his culture and traditions. He relishes the chance to explain to Alem and Robert about his religion: Rastafarianism. “Shashamene is the land given to all Rastafarians …so that we can return to the motherland and help to rebuild the great continent of Africa.” Asher seems delighted to explain his religion’s beliefs to willing listeners.