The (Un)stickiness of Memory
Excerpts taken from an original essay by Yulkendy Valdez, Class of 2017
Memory, like a sticky note, can be easily glued as much as it can be easily detached—easily recalled as much as it can be easily forgotten. The inverse actions of remembering and forgetting encompass cultural memory, and more specifically in the scope of immigration, create fragmentation in the construction of personal identity; migrants that interact with different cultures struggle to define themselves around a singular self. That is what I propose to show during my AHS memory project for Professor Graham’s class.
The concept of a country seems foreign to me. The interconnected, borderless world is my only country. I think of memory that way, because memory has not basis and no country. My motherland will always be Dominican Republic, but my home is the United States of America. The truth is that I feel guilty and ashamed if I do not say that my true home is Dominican Republic. The reality is that I have been through so many metamorphoses that my own Dominican-ness has been not lost, but transfigured. I can no longer identify myself as the “typical” Dominican, and that has caused some disconnect with my family and my friends back home. I have been consumed by the world, and there is no way I can go back to that simplicity of my porch sitting along with my grandparents looking out at the noisy streets. Of course, I frequently visit but now my mind is captivated by an irremediable social consciousness and alertness. I come from a privileged background in the Dominican Republic. My family has had maids, since I was a child. Every time I go home, I feel privileged, and I simply detest it. I always try to remember my maid from the Dominican Republic, but the memory will feel like weight in my heart. Throughout my project, I attempted to explore this idea of parallel memories and how they affect individuals. While I am eating at a restaurant or my family is cooking a big meal for us, I would recall the days when my maid cooked for me while she could not even get food on her own table.
The dominant culture and sometimes the immigrants themselves romanticize the immigrant journey by describing it as an unconscious in-between in which one drifts between two cultures; however, the reality is that the bicultural individuals are consciously choosing how to identify themselves as a contrivance for survival. Multiethnic individuals constantly identify themselves as Hispanic-Americans, Asian-Americans, or “Somebody” American, but those are just hyphenated pseudonyms that undermine the complexity of one’s very own personal nature. Labels of nationalities, just like the label of my nicknames in the project, seem to want to encapsulate a totality of the immigrant self, but instead they create dashes between the old heritage and the newer, confident American persona. People, all the time, ask me which home do I like better: My Dominican or my American home? To that, I answer, I do not know. America has been my teacher, my palace of knowledge and awareness, but it will never fulfill my identity, sadly, neither will my Dominican roots. That is why sticky notes were great in exposing this fragmented dilemma, because it allows me to say even though I am made of all these different “notes” my identity has not found a structural framework yet from which to describe itself wholly.
Cultural memory can become a curse—a mystifying voodoo that follows an individual from home to million miles away. Heritage has never been a monoculture: identity especially that of an immigrant is formed by various cultural canons and conflicting ideologies, including those that one absorbs and adapts as well as others that one attempts to discard but fails, because irrefutably one can never leave any culture behind. The immigrant experience does not subsist on a schizoid threshold in which one is coming in and out—grappling between two worlds—but rather on a mental grip in which these individuals are struggling to recall all the memories. The contemporary immigrant becomes this sort of mutant freak—mentally stuck in the chaotic, borderless land of nowhere—as he or she gets constantly transfigured by the culture that was once home and the new culture that he or she now inhabits. In order to capture the hybrid nature of these 21st century identities, one must understand the power of memory and the role of culture in the development of these individuals, as well as the significance of writing and storytelling as means to self-heal amidst such internal chaos and connect the fragments into wholeness.