2002-2009 Centre Student Associate

Rosa Sevy, Department of Sociology

Statement of research interests:

Negotiating intergenerational memories in a group of Latin American refugees in Vancouver

Canada today reflects a vast diversity of cultural heritages and ethnic groups. This diverse population is now one of the distinctive features of Canadian society. The government has responded to this diversity by creating its policy of multiculturalism through the Canadian Multiculturalism Act passed in 1988. This model encourages the acceptance of pluralism of ethnic groups as part of the Canadian society Refugees constitute a significant proportion within the number of immigrants that arrive in Canada every year.

During the past two decades, the political and social situation of different countries in Latin America has resulted in an increasing influx of Latin American immigrants and refugees to Canada. Latin American refugees, like all other refugees, face the challenge of coming to terms with their pasts in regions of conflict, oppression and/or war, in order to develop an orientation towards participation as citizens in Canada.

The memories that these refugees have constructed about of the political violence they experienced in their homelands will determine their constructions of their lived present circumstances and identities. For a family that remains rooted in its place of origin, family heritage may be nested relatively unproblematically in larger collective memories marked and preserved by publicly available lieux de mémoire In the case of refugees, their absence from their native places will shape how their memories are being constructed. Missing are many of the public memorials and markers that support a sense of the past in which the family had a role.

According to Jelin (1998: 26), spatial markers are attempts to make statements and affirmations, they are material spaces with political, collective and public meaning. They convey a feeling of belonging to a community, share and identity based in a traumatic history and also function as a key to the intergenerational transmission of historical memory (Jelin 1998:27). All these physical markers can be considered what Wertsch (2002) nominated as "cultural tools" that provide the community with narratives about settings, characters and events. These narratives serve as cultural tools for remembering and organizing the collective memory and are provided by the cultural, historical and institutional settings which inform the group's daily lives (Wertsch 201:57).

For those people that no longer inhabit their homeland cultural milieu, individual and collective remembering takes a different path. Unlike those who stayed home, for these people, there is no material presence of symbols in their milieu nor any other form of a material world of objects, images, a built environment that help shape an identity and social memory within the community. And for those families who have left regions torn by conflict, oppressive regimes, and threats of personal or collective violence the difficulty is even greater. This raises the question: How do refugee families come to terms with traumatic pasts in the absence of collective and institutional supports for this process? Whether spoken or unspoken, traumatic family stories handed down from one generation to the next have profound implications for the second generation's identities, moral obligation and sense of historical consciousness. Holocaust studies, particularly, have instructed us in the ways in which traumatic memories are transmitted at a micro-level to the next generation, but little research has been done on how refugees' memories of past injustices are passed on to younger generations. There seems to be no research that addresses this question using Latin American refugees as cases.

This project pursues to assess how the memories of the past are negotiated and re-created in intergenerational discourse. Three questions thus guide the research:

  1. How does the experience of exile shape refugees' construction of memories about their past political experience in the relative absence of lieux de mémoire and textual resources produced by the state and other cultural institutions (such as monuments, museums, memorials, celebrations, school textbooks and films)?
  2. How do the processes of intergenerational negotiation of memory operate within the refugee population? To what kind of narratives are children exposed, and what kinds of claims do the parents make on their children as the guardians of memory?
  3. What are the meanings of the parents' memories for the second generation? How do families' memories of their past political experiences inform the children's historical consciousness and identity? How do these constructions influence their integration and political participation in Canada?

a place of mind, The University of British Columbia

Centre for the Study of Historical Consciousness
Faculty of Education
Scarfe Building, Room 1326
2125 Main Mall
Vancouver, BC Canada V6T 1Z4

Emergency Procedures | Accessibility | Contact UBC | © Copyright The University of British Columbia