Academic journal article JCT (Online)

The More She Longs for Home, the Farther Away It Appears: A Paradox of Nostalgia in a Fulani Immigrant Girl's Life

Academic journal article JCT (Online)

The More She Longs for Home, the Farther Away It Appears: A Paradox of Nostalgia in a Fulani Immigrant Girl's Life

Article excerpt

NOSTALGIA, which is derived from the Greek words nos (returning home) and algia (pain), refers to longing for the loss of the familiar (Kaplan, 1987). The loss of our connection to the familiar is a painful experience as such loss is connected to a fundamental loss, the loss of ourselves. By losing a connection to familiar people, objects, and places that continue to remain the same from the past to the future, we also lose the continuity within ourselves. And this discontinuity of our past, present, and future selves creates anxiety within us (Milligan, 2003). The painful experience that accompanies the loss of the familiar and the severe longing for the lost was originally viewed as a type of depression, which required psychiatric treatment. However, increasing mobility and changes in modern society have made nostalgia a more typical experience for many. Nostalgia is a relevant experience particularly for immigrants who live away from their homeland.

Past studies of immigrants? assimilation indicate that nostalgia is more than a painful and romantic sentiment surrounding their lost home. Immigrants have used nostalgia as a coping strategy for losses; for instance, immigrant community members collectively recreate past spaces based on their official collective memories of homeland. Immigrants celebrate holidays, conduct religious rituals, speak in their native language, and maintain traditional marriage practices brought from their homeland. They also collectively invest in sustaining that space for the future. This type of nostalgia is called restorative nostalgia (Boym, 2001). Apart from this collective type of nostalgia, immigrants also embrace their personal memories of homeland and project those memories to the future. For example, a song from a radio could trigger memories of good old days and bring one back to the past familiar space. This music could also lead one to imagine oneself being in that past space sometime in the future. This nostalgia is called reflective nostalgia (Boym, 2001). The way in which immigrants enact nostalgia indicates that nostalgia is more about the present and future rather than the past (Petersson, Olsson, & Popkewitz, 2007). Nostalgia is a creative process of change that involves a complex interaction between the past (memories), present (reconstruction of the past based on the memories), and future (projection of the memories toward a time that is to come).

While nostalgia is an essential experience for immigrants, past studies on immigration have not used nostalgia as a conceptual tool to understand immigrants? experiences in a host country. Studies also have not taken into consideration that American culture is a form of restorative nostalgia. Just as immigrant communities restore their past based on their memories of homeland, American society has its own collective memories and attempts to restore a previous version of America based on the official collective memories of the nation. When new immigrants enter the American society, they are expected to internalize those official collective memories of America under the name of acculturation. Thus, in understanding new immigrants? experiences in a host country, we need to take into consideration three types of nostalgia: American restorative nostalgia, immigrants? ethnic communities? restorative nostalgia, and their reflective nostalgia.

This article will explore a young Fulani immigrant woman?s experience of these three types of nostalgia in New York City. Specifically, the article will explore (a) how memories in each nostalgia manifested in her present life, (b) how she negotiated the gaps among the different types of nostalgia, and (c) how those negotiations shaped her future aspirations. The article will contribute to the field by providing an alternative way of understanding immigrants? adaptation in the U.S. In particular, it will provide a new picture of assimilation that is more dynamic and complex than the conventional theories of assimilation, which conceptualize assimilation as a linear staged process of change from the past to the future (Gordon, 1964) or as the process of maintaining one? …

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