Re-Imagining Home and Belonging: Feminism, Nostalgia, and Critical Memory

By Sabra, Samah | Resources for Feminist Research, Spring-Summer 2008 | Go to article overview

Re-Imagining Home and Belonging: Feminism, Nostalgia, and Critical Memory


Sabra, Samah, Resources for Feminist Research


I begin this paper with some personal childhood narratives about the ambivalence I associate with the concept of home. I use a visit "back home" to Lebanon as an opportunity for re-imagining home and for understanding what is at stake when we think of home uncritically as a place of safety and belonging. I argue that the tensions and ambiguities I experience in thinking about Lebanon form productive and useful sites for critical analysis. Through such reflections, I have come to understand that the meanings given to place or memory are rarely contested, and this understanding has become my starting place for critical analysis. I then attempt to unearth in greater detail the processes involved in the creation/contestation of the concept of home, as well as the place of emotion and memory in such processes.

Cet article s'ouvre sur quelques recits personnels d'enfance concernant l'ambivalence que j'associe au concept du << chezsoi >>. Je me sers d'une visite au Liban (<< chez moi >>) pour repenser << chez moi >> et afin de comprendre ce qui est en jeu lorsque nous pensons << chez sol >> sans dispositif critique comme un lieu de securite et d'appartenance. J'avance l'argument que les tensions et ambigui'tes que j'eprouve en pensant au Liban forment des sites productifs et pratiques pour l'analyse critique. A travers de relies reflexions, j'en suis arrivee a comprendre que lessens accordes au rieu ou a la memoire sont peu souvent contestes, et cette comprehension s'offre comme lieu de depart pour mon analyse critique. J'essaie ensuite de degager en plus grand detail les procedes impliques dans la creation/la contestation du concept de << chez sol >>, ainsi que la situation de l'emotion et de la memoire dans de tels procedes.

Introduction: Searching for Home and Belonging, or Where I Begin

Last December I went to Lebanon for my cousin's wedding. This was not my first trip "back home," but it was the first time in 15 years that I visited the neighbourhood and apartment where I had lived for the first nine years of my life. As I looked around, I was struck most by how small it seemed compared to the place I had envisioned in my mind. I'd had a similar experience three years earlier, on my first trip to Lebanon since leaving with my parents and brother in October of 1988. On that first trip, I was similarly amazed at the smallness of my maternal grandparents' home in the Bourge-al-Baragenie Palestinian refugee camp. Until those two moments of recognition, these places had loomed large in my memory, along with an overwhelming and emotional plethora of images, conversations, people, games, and meals I associated with them.

As I stood in my old bedroom, I struggled to recall a time in my recent memory when I had thought of this as "home."

In telling people of my trips, I had lacked any other linguistic expression than that of "going back home" for a visit. Yet, I knew that it had been years since I thought of Lebanon as home. I had been living in Canada since the age of ten, and looking around my childhood home in Lebanon, I had vivid recollections of yelling at my paternal uncles when they referred to Lebanon as my home: "It might be home to you, but this [Toronto] is my home!" I would scream at them amid a flurry of emotion that they dismissed as teenage melodrama, constructed as female hypersensitivity, or (mis)understood as a "loss" of my national roots. I would storm out of the room as they entered into loud and laborious discussions about my being overly sensitive or about "our" kids being "lost" in North America. As I look back at these emotionally laden and intensely personal moments, I now understand them as political, as moments ripe for analysis.

My screams were born of sheer frustration. I did not know how to make them understand that the place they thought of as "our" collective familial/ national home did not have the same meaning for me. …

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