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Reclaiming language

Reclaiming freshness

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As a second generation Cypriot migrant, I view the word “fresh” or “freshie” as something positive that allows me to feel connected to my SWANA (South West Asian and North African) roots. But before I explain why I want to reclaim this word, I think it is important to trace its history.

A history of judgment

The label “fresh” or “freshie” comes from the phrase “fresh off the boat”, which has a long history of being derogatorily used towards newly arrived non-White migrants to the UK. This language was initially used as a marker of difference: it was used to demonise newly arrived racialised and migratised people for their unwillingness to immediately shed their heritage and traditions, including their traditional clothes and religious customs. 

By the late 20th and early 21st century, this language began to be used differently: by diaspora communities themselves. They would use it in order to distinguish themselves from newly arrived migrants or those individuals who they felt were “unfashionable” or “uncool” because they expressed “too much” of their heritage or cultural and ethnic identity, customs and traditions. This usage once again demonised someone based on their failure to “assimilate”, but also implied that some level of non-assimilation was OK if it remained within the boundaries of fashion and coolness. Those who used the term were not “assimilated” by any means, but rather wanted to set themselves apart from those who were even less assimilated, so as to gain acceptance from White communities. Classism would also dictate which traditions were deemed cool and uncool. 


Perhaps it is time for a third stage in the development of this phrase- one in which the phrase is reclaimed, as a source of pride for where we have come from, and a defiance of shame. Can this phrase exist as a rejection of White-washing and racist pressures to “assimilate” or ‘integrate’, and a celebration/ reclamation of one’s roots?

We live in a capitalist society, where the cultures of the Global South have become a trend for White audiences to steal, consume, appropriate, and disrespect. Is it not our right to reappropriate that which we have been not only historically demonised for, but that which has been stolen from us?

I am not offended when people call me a “freshie”- in fact, I am proud. I no longer feel ashamed or embarrassed at my culture, the food I eat or the music I listen to. I embrace my beautiful culture and heritage fully, and I make no apologies for this. 

What do you think? Do you think this word should be reclaimed? Let us know by emailing [email protected]

by Anastasia Gavalas