Feb 112012

There are many nostalgic objects on immigrant bookshelves, and still the narrative as a whole is not that of nostalgia. Diasporic souvenirs do not reconstruct the narrative of one’s roots but rather tell the story of exile. They are not symbols but transitional objects that reflect multiple belonging. The former country of origin turns into an exotic place represented through its arts and crafts usually admired by foreign tourists. Newly collected memories of exile and acculturation shift the old cultural frameworks; [diasporic] souvenirs can no longer be interpreted within their “native” context. Now they are a cipher for exile itself and for a newfound exilic domesticity.

[I]mmigrants’ homes betray an obsession with making everyday existence beautiful and memorable. Their rooms filled with diasporic souvenirs are not altars to their unhappiness, but rather places for communication and conversation. They do not manage to live in the eternal present of the American myth, but neither can they afford to dwell in the past. Diasporic intimacy is possible only when one masters a certain imperfect aesthetics of survival and learns to inhabit exile. The immigrants cherish their oases of intimacy, away from the homeland and not quite in the promised land. They have accents in both languages—foreign and native.

—Svetlana Boym in “The Future of Nostalgia”

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