No matter who you are or where you are from, Manchester will always be home for you. Our city is a patchwork of cultures, of languages, and of religions, which are all melded together to give Manchester its distinct attitude of tolerance, mutual respect, and unity in all of our differences.
Last weekend, I went to the Dashehra Diwali Mela celebration in Albert Square. A short procession with traditional Indian music, followed by a street theatre finale telling a story from the Hindu epic Ramayana (all topped off with copious fireworks in traditional Mancunian fireworks-for-everything style), which served as a reminder of the wonder in this city of ours.
In 2013, it was revealed that Manchester is Britain’s city of languages and according to the Independent, it is the most linguistically diverse city in Western Europe. Over 200 languages are spoken here, more than any other area in the United Kingdom. It has even been said by academics that “it’s fair to assume that Manchester has one of the world’s most diverse linguistic cultures.”
But Manchester’s diversity goes deeper than the languages we speak. Some of the most important and well-known areas in Manchester are multicultural beacons. From the Gay Village to Chinatown, and out to Rusholme’s Curry Mile, these prominent areas are celebrated features of our city. Far from ghettoisation, these areas are at both times a centripetal and a centrifugal social force, they pull us all in and show us foods, entertainment, and ways of life different to our own, before spitting us back out so that we can spread the word, with enjoyable memories and an enhanced notion of celebration of others’ cultures.
At times being different can be hard but when others come to celebrate your culture or way of life, it can really affirm your inclusion in the community. I can’t speak for the Hindus during Diwali or people with Chinese heritage during Chinese New Year, but I can talk about my experience as a gay man during Manchester Pride.
Families, businesses, and people of all shapes, sizes, and backgrounds lined the streets to wave past packed-out floats celebrating LGBT* people. Drag queens, LGBT* policemen, and a big pink fire engine may not mean anything special to those who are just attending for the sake of it—other than a chance to have a laugh perhaps. However, as a gay person, especially when we can often feel our relationships and ways of life are invalidated and looked down upon, you feel validated, you feel tolerated, and most of all you feel celebrated. Going to the parade and seeing so many people come out to support the LGBT* community creates a hugely supportive atmosphere. It is a most sincere hope of mine that others feel the same warmth during the events that celebrate their cultures and backgrounds.
I am left wondering about all the different things I have done in my time here in Manchester. There are so many opportunities that I would never have had had I been anywhere else. I’ve been to Holi, to Chinese New Year—with fireworks funded by the Bank of China—to the Manchester Caribbean Carnival in Moss Side. There’s also so much more that I have yet to do; I’ve yet to go to the Irish Festival each March, and I haven’t been to ¡Viva!, the Spanish and Latin American Film Festival. Manchester has it all, and Manchester celebrates it all, showing everyone from all walks of life that they are a welcome and celebrated part of our city’s community.
An example of this inclusive community that I will always remember is attending the Remembrance Sunday service. Each November, a huge congregation gathers in St. Peter’s Square so that representatives from each of the many religions professed by Mancunians can show their respect to Britain’s fallen as a community of communities together.
Manchester’s community is a patchwork quilt of all kinds and it is stronger in its diversity. Manchester is a great place to experience so much and to celebrate others at the same time. Attending these events is not just fun, but it is validating to those whose cultures are being celebrated, and the tolerance and acceptance that blossoms can only be a force for good.
If you don’t have time for all of them, why not try Manchester Day each June; starting in 2010, Manchester Day celebrates the diversity and creativity of our city in one long parade, and there’s always the Manchester Picnic in August too. So if you’re a first year daunted by the years ahead, or a third year with little time left, get out there and get involved. Celebrate others’ cultures with them and Manchester will return the favour to you—plus you get to enjoy the celebrations!