Brick Lane has a little bit of the whole world on one street. It is one of the most cultural, individualist, and diverse places I can say that I have been to throughout this past month. Its history has involved a multitude of types of people and races from London’s white working class to the French Huguenots, Jewish people, a Bangladeshi-Sylheti population, etc. This is so apparent just by spending five minutes on Brick Lane where one will find blocks of Indian food nearby to bagel stores next to up-scale art galleries. This eclectic mix is something unique to any area I have been to in my one month in London. It took the integral parts of London and threw it all onto one street: the vintage, the posh, the urban, and the cultural.
So, our ethnographic challenge of the week has been to simply talk with the people on Brick Lane and gain some insight into their perspective on the diverse range of cultures created due to different waves of immigrants and cultures. My first chance to talk with someone was at the world famous, Beigel Bake. This had to be a brilliant idea from the get-go due to the amazingly nice (but busy) workers and my obvious love for bagels. I spoke with a worker there while my bagel was in the oven. As he was stuffing my bag with extra (free) bagels, we chatted about the history of this little shop and the family that owned it. He mentioned that he owned a shop down the street and only came once a week because he loved the people and wanted the free food. He told me that everyone has to help each other because they all do different things. This was a little confusing to me when I wrote it down, but as a toured the street I think I got it more. All the shops are so different. Each has its own flavor and personality. There could be 20 boutiques that all represent a different style just as there could be 20 Indian food shops that come from different backgrounds and families. I really don’t think there is a sense of competitiveness with the shops in the sense that they are not fighting for you to visit their stall or shop, it is just their livelihood. There is not a sense of “live to work”, but more of a “work to live” vibe.
I spoke with another woman at a clothing store on down the lane. I started a conversation with the shopkeeper about the store, overall. This store’s purpose is creating “green” clothes while outsourcing from countries all over the world, in order to get everyone invested in the shop’s success. She explained to me that the shop was in a few other locations but over the past few years Brick Lane has become a hub for art and fashion, so naturally the store followed in suit and moved to Brick Lane. This statement was more than apparent in the multitude of art galleries, fashion markets, and boutiques littered around the street.
Putting all different types of people and minorities in one area, honestly, could have ended disastrously. Throughout its history, Brick Lane was known for being a home to the immigrants and outsiders of London. With so many conflicting religious and ethical perceptive, it has been fortunate enough to have so much success and embrace the differences of the people that live here. It is a strange mixture of graffiti walls and posh art galleries, of 80-year-old bagel shops to classic American barbeque, and from expensive boutiques hand-made, “green” clothing stores. This varied little combination of shops has an effect that makes it seem almost like a microcosm of the world.