Migrant Belongings: Memory, Space, Identity

Migrant Belongings: Memory, Space, Identity

Migrant Belongings: Memory, Space, Identity

Migrant Belongings: Memory, Space, Identity

Synopsis

This book traces the formation of Italian migrant belongings in Britain, and scrutinizes the identity narratives through which they are stabilized. A key theme of this study is the constitution of identity through both movement and attachment.The study follows the Italian identity project since 1975, when community leaders first raised concerns about 'the future of invisible immigrants'. The author uses the image of 'invisible immigrants' as the starting point of her inquiry, for it captures the ambivalent position Italians occupy within the British political and social landscape. As a cultural minority absorbed within the white European majority, their project is steeped in the ideal ofvisibility that relies on various 'displays of presence'.Drawing on a wide range of material, from historical narratives, to political debates, processions, religious rituals, activities of the Women's Club, war remembrances, card games, and beauty contests, the author explores the notion of migrant belongings in relation to performative acts that produce what they claim to be reproducing. She reveals how these acts work upon the historical and cultural environment to re-member localized terrains of migrant belongings, while they simultaneously manufacture gendered, generational and ethnicizedsubjects.Located at the crossroads of cultural studies, 'diaspora' studies, and feminist/queer theory, this book is distinctive in connecting an empirical study with wider theoretical debates on identity.Nominated for the Philip Abrams Memorial Book Prize 2001

Excerpt

The rhizome is not nomadic, it roots itself, even in the air

Edouard Glissant

This book traces the formation of Italian migrant belongings in Britain, and scrutinizes the identity narratives through which they are stabilized. I use identity, here, to speak of one ‘for which the experience of geographical movement and resettlement [is] formative’ (Jacobson 1995: xi). Against the assumed isomorphism of space, place and culture, on the one hand, and the reification of uprootedness as the paradigmatic figure of postmodern life, on the other, I raise the ways in which cultural identity is at once deterritorialized and reterritorialized. Questions of what it means to speak of ‘home’, ‘origins’, ‘continuity’ and ‘tradition’, in the context of migration, are paramount in this project.

I am fascinated by people's tenacious investment in seeking common grounds and configuring them in terms of identity, origins, community, and tradition. Like Elspeth Probyn, I am intrigued by the ways in which the idea of having an identity ‘circulates as a feasible goal and [an] evident fact’ (Probyn 1996: 71). One of the striking aspects of the Italian organizations I observed in the course of my research, was how hard subjects had to work to create communal spaces of belonging based on the perceived reproduction of traditions. My aim is to excavate the cultural and historical meanings produced in an array of institutional practices that serve to connect the fragmented and dispersed Italian population of Britain. I investigate how the project of an Italian identity is signified and formulated in particular institutional sites, within particular forms of representation and enunciative strategies. More specifically, I scrutinize the ways in which the indeterminacy of the Italian presence in Britain is negotiated and resolved within different forms of representation: written renditions of Italian immigration and immigrant lives (written by Italians); political discourses of identity; and the daily life of two London-based church-cum-social clubs, the Centro Scalabrini and St Peter's church. Imagining a community, here, is both about that which is created as a common history, experience or culture of a group – a group's belongings – and about how the ‘community’ is attached to places, imagined or real (Gupta and Ferguson 1992: 10).

The line I follow moves through ‘the imaginary possessions that are created in the name of an identity project, the belongings that … a group, a people cobble . . .

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