A Loss of Memory and Identity
The subject of migration is a very important theme discussed in Zadie Smith’s White Teeth. I think an interesting quote that we discussed in class highlights the issues of many immigrants, “…Maybe original trauma would be better…from one faith to another, from one brown mother country into the pale, freckled arms of an imperial sovereign” (136).
I think this “original trauma” is a reflection on immigrants’ loss of identity through either forced or elective migration. During my Caribbean Literature course last semester, we read numerous memoirs and poems from Caribbean migrants to the US, Britain, and Canada. In all of these accounts, one primary theme discussed in these stories is a loss of identity. All of these migrants left their homelands for varying reasons including revolutions, jobs, freedom, but all of them illustrated a desire to retain memories and a sense of “belonging” in a homeland.
An important quote that I found during my research reflects well on this theme of migration: “[Caribbean migrants] have no desire to return home because home, as their memories retain it, no longer exists. They are out of touch with home” (Elliot, Cheryl. Negotiating Identity in Diaspora: Memory and Belonging in Dionne Brand’s Land to Light On and Austin Clarke’s The Origin of Waves). This quote reflects on this memory and identity loss. Although not all migrants feel this way towards home, I think this reflects on the loss of one’s “belonging” to home. They have few memories left of a homeland after assimilation and some can’t imagine going back. When migrating, migrants are forced to quickly assimilate to their new culture at risk of losing their past and native identities.
My family originally migrated from England during the times of the New World and the Mayflower in America. Therefore, my relationship to migration is far removed. However, after studying the traumatic assimilation and experiences of immigrants in Caribbean Literature, I was able to reflect on the culture shock of the US. I can hardly imagine how difficult assimilation in the US may be and the fear of losing one’s native roots.
Memory is an important part of one’s past, equally as important as one’s identity. Without memories or identity, an individual is stripped of their origins. Memory is important for individuals to bring back their past happiness and hopes, but lacking these is very traumatic. This loss of identity for migrants as seen in both my Caribbean Literature class and in White Teeth is traumatic. This culture shock affects the individual both psychologically and physically. They are forced quickly to give up their pasts and seek new freedoms and roles in their host country, which is scary and liberating at the same time. – LL