Interview between Isilda Lang and Kim Streets, 14th February 2002


Isilda Lang was brought up by her Grandmother in Tome, a seaside town near Concepcion in the south of Chile. In 1977, Isilda moved from Chile to the UK to escape political persecution.

‘It was very difficult because the language is the hardest thing to learn – when you come here with the problems we have – it’s not easy. It’s very sad as well, because you have to leave everything, you have to leave you family, your friends and everything and just come practically, with 60 kilos – that is all you were allowed in this country. It is nobody’s choice. You have to do this’.

Isilda has been married for 22 years and has two grown-up sons. Isilda volunteered for the Red Cross for 14 years where she became a Centre Officer, and until recently worked as child-minder in the area. In 1986, with her friends Panni and Linda, she set up the St James’ Parent and Toddler group.

Today Isilda works for Sure Start as a Family Support Worker, and continues to work as Play-leader at the Parent and Toddler group on Tuesday and Thursday mornings. ‘It’s my baby that one’, she says.

What is your idea of happiness?
Being healthy, and to keep my friends. My children, they’re doing very well at school, and I hope for them to do something well in the future.

What is your greatest fear?
My greatest fear? It is to die. I don’t want to die yet. I want to see my grandchildren. At the moment, you know, that’s it.

What do you dislike about yourself?
I am an impatient person, possibly. I would like something, when it is said, to get done, and not just go on forever and ever, but get done.

What do you dislike about others?
Time-wasters. To me, my time is precious, everything I do. I don’t like it when they make me waste my time. 

What makes you sad?
What is going on around the world at the moment, you know, for everybody really. It’s the war, the fear. To be always living in fear.

What or who is the greatest love of your life?
My Grandmother, she has been dead for many, many years. And really my two kids. They are the most precious thing to me.

Which living person do you most admire?
It is Jane Grinonneau. She is a Reverend, and the head of the Sure Start Partnership Board. I admire her because she is a person who has done so much for this community. Like in Verdon Street, she started her own little café for people in the community. She has a little place called The Cellar in there, for children who have been excluded from school, and I really admire her because if she got a slap on the cheek, she would put the other one out and continue. She works for everybody, not just for one person. 

What is your greatest regret?
I feel quite content with what I’ve done, and what I am as a Mum. Especially now, working for Sure Start, I feel I’ve done a great job with my kids – alone with no help from anybody. I’m very proud of my kids. Regret? I cannot say. At the moment I don’t think I regret anything really, I am content with what I am, with my height, with my colour, everything.

What is your earliest memory?
My Grandmother when I was on holiday. I have an Uncle who has got vineyards, and when I was very little I used to love to go walking with her very early in the morning. We used to walk with the moonlight, with my Grandmother. That is the person who I admire most in a sense. She was very old and she had white hair, and walking with her, singing and all this stuff, and always a happy person. And that’s what I remember, my holiday with my Grandmother. The most major influence in my life really was my Grandmother, and so she died when I was eleven years old, but she has stayed with me through everything.

How do you relax?
I listen to music, going out to my friend’s house, have a cup of coffee, have a conversation, all this stuff.

What single thing would improve the quality of your life?
I think, personally, I’ve got a good quality of life. I am content and happy with what I’ve got.

If you could have one wish, what would it be?
My kids to do well at school really. But I suppose if I had one wish it would be to win the lottery and go with my friends to Chile – and have a big holiday with all my friends. I don’t want the money to keep forever, it would be to spend it. We would put the money together and we would go back for a holiday. I wouldn’t want to live there to tell you the truth. My life is here now.

If you could change one thing about Burngreave, what would it be?
Some of the people who always winge. I would like them to change, and possibly in the future see something better for the children of this community. And just show to other people that it’s not bad like they are saying. You know, this is great. I like it. And even if I win millions, I wouldn’t move from this place. 

What keeps you awake at night?
Seeing so many people with problems. I wish I can find a solution for some of the problems that are around in the society that we live. I think, ‘What can I do to improve this woman’s life?’, because at the end of the day it’s the woman who makes the difference, not the man, isn’t it? It’s the mother who has so many problems. Just to have a magic wand and say, ‘Your problem has gone’, you know?

How would you like to die?
I suppose the easiest way would be to go in my sleep. I wouldn’t like to know.

How would you like to be remembered?
I just tried to do my best in this community. I just put a little something into this community. 

What is the most important lesson life has taught you?
Not to judge another people in the way they live, or the way they dress. It is not that I was taught that, but it is something I have learnt. Just to respect other people’s views.