by Maria-Jose Soerens
The immigrant experience is one of being caught-in-between. I am caught between languages, between countries, between spaces that are everything but defined. My heart is always on hold, floating, trying to grasp the voices of ancestors that are unknown to me…
In this space, this hyphen, memory becomes a crucial hook to anchor yourself while a river of discourses flows under your feet. I am not talking about memory as in remembering your first day of school–as important as it is, but of cultural, inter-generational memory.
Cultural memory is “the blood calling out to blood,” Jeanette Rodriguez says. It is those units of meaning passed orally from generation to generation. On her book “Cultural Memory: Resistance, Faith, and Identity,” Rodriguez poses the question: “What is the source of a memory powerful enough to carry a people even through attempted genocide?” In other words, what is the source of a memory that will carry us through adversity, trauma, and dramatic change?
In this sense, cultural memory is an identity compass, an atavistic referent that guides the experiences and behaviors of the members of that culture. For the Jews, this memory is based on the Exodus, for Mexicans, this memory lies on the virgin of Guadalupe.
We, immigrants, face the challenge of constantly reviewing and re-constructing our identity in light of converging cultural memories. As a Chilean, the story of Chilean militarism marks me as much as the story of the immigrants of this country. I am a Chilean woman, but increasingly I am also an American immigrant. I notice this on the instant connection I experience with other immigrants, no matter where they come from. It can be Somalis, Polish, Iranians… we just look at each other and we know we are living in the same existential space. After a few words, we understand what is going on, we often get teary, because we feel seen Cultural Memory and the Journey of the In-Between