Mapping past and present memory [EN]

[Version française]

Mapping Memory is the project of a collective of Asian people in Berlin. The aim of this initiative is to bring to light the presence and memory of people of Asian origin in the city of Berlin by collecting testimonies, memories, experiences that come in the form of texts of different literary forms, various images that invite us to discover, through intimate and family histories, what Asian people who live and grew up in Berlin actually experience. These are voices of the second generation who question their place in German society and their way of integrating their family and cultural heritage into the everyday landscape.

There are several interesting things to notice, to consider the choices and what they might mean or tell.

Firstly, unlike many works of memory on the diasporas, it is not a question of recounting history as such, that of previous generations. If, of course, the aspect of legacy and transmission is there, it is approached and presented in terms of its traces and effects on the present. This is a clear indication of the change in mentality of the new generations, who are not simply nostalgic about the past, but are seeking to interpret and appropriate it.

It is therefore not a question of mapping distant history, as some necessary and still too few initiatives can do (which offer other historical narratives of places, bringing to the fore the experience of social groups minoritized by the dominant and hegemonic vision of history), it is a question of mapping the “present” memory, in the sense that we are talking about the one experienced by the new generations. And the testimonies clearly show to what extent this memory of the children of immigrants is also always charged with traditions, cultural questioning and migratory paths of the parents to be valued, as the categorization shows.

The second aspect to focus on is the categorization chosen to navigate through these experiences: Denkmal/Memorials; Empowerment; Essen/Food; Generationen/Generations.

Places of memory are important places for people because of their cultural aspect. They are cemeteries, temples, special monuments that mark the memory. They are landmarks, points of return in which one invests. “To invest” refers here to the expenditure of a certain amount of energy to create and maintain a tie between the place and the memory, between the object and the symbol. This reminds us of the extent to which memory, culture and identity need material supports. This can, at the very least, be materialized by a restaurant, a plot of land or any place that recalls the elsewhere, the other-place that is not there but is invoked and performed in the present here. Several studies show how communities in diaspora seek to recreate a world that is both similar and different from the society they left behind. The famous Chinatown or Little Saigon testify to this. What is interesting in the experiences presented here is to see the diversity and subjectivity of the places of memory, the uses and meanings that can be given to them. Each relationship to a culture, a place is different and evolves over time. One can ask oneself for example how a trip to Vietnam (or any country of origin) with all that it brings as new experiences can then modify the memory and even the consciousness that one has of a place. I know that after living in Vietnam for several years, I pay much more attention to the tiny incursions of Vietnam in the French or Western public space in general. I notice the restaurants, the ways of being, the way the space is organized or not, by contrast.

The second category puts forward the concept of empowerment. It consists in highlighting the strength, the accomplishments of individuals as well as of communities that are often invisibilized, minoritized. Especially for Asian communities, which are represented through the model minority scheme, it is a question of presenting discourses that go against the image of docile, submissive, victimized people. It is a question of revalorizing people and cultures by demonstrating that common as well as singular experiences prove as much merit and value as the dominant models of success. By highlighting the struggles, the efforts, the sacrifices or the creativity of generations that integrate as best they can, we offer a new perspective that should inspire respect, pride, courage and hope. We understand all the more the interest of sharing these memories. The goal is to nourish a strength, a solidarity that can be lacking when we are isolated or when our voices are silenced.

The third category lists memories related to food, cooking. This is not surprising and a few words can be said about it too. Along with language, culinary savoir-faire is one of the few things that our parents or ancestors can take away and share on a daily basis. It is therefore, through what researchers call ordinary inculcation, a privileged vector in cultural transmission. At the individual and family level then, food is something that is concrete, easy to transmit and above all… delicious and symbolically rewarding. For many, cooking is also one of the few skills that is easy to value in the West, and this may explain why many families turn to the restaurant business. It is also a community space, a place of reunion, of exchange, a reference point for the communities. Finally, the kitchen is the privileged gateway for cultural exchanges, with all the delicate aspects that this can entail. Westerners are interested in Asia through food, which can have the advantage of familiarizing them with the taste, certain customs, and the sound of the language by including certain terms and names of dishes, for example. For this reason, it seems obvious that these places linked to food are anchor points for memory. Because we return to them regularly, because we see in them, as we have said, a miniature space of a culture to which we have little or no access; and because food is often associated with important figures (the mother, the grandmother), our memories of them are all the stronger.

The vision we have of previous generations is a category which, like the others, is not exclusive but overlaps with others. The memory we have of a place is a memory that is partly inherited, narrated, negotiated, questioned by and with or against our parents, or grandparents. There is no need here to dwell on the meaning of this category, which is already reflected in the previous ones. We can simply say that such a project can be read as a form of tribute to those who preceded us.

Finally, a last comment can be made on the panethnic aspect of such a project. Panethnic here means that it is not limited to a single ethno-national community (Viet, Lao, Khmer, Chinese, etc.). There are several simple reasons for this, which are important to mention. The first is that some people have multiple ethno-cultural heritages themselves. The second is that people having grown up in a multicultural environment, it is easier and more natural to claim a “broad” identity than to defend stato-national identities. Secondly, the current political context invites solidarity between the different social groups, the different sub-communities. This is in addition to the fact that the identities chosen are also sometimes responses to the identities suffered. Thus the very broad Asian category, if it encloses and reduces the diversity it contains, can, when politicized and directed autonomously, also open and nourish this diversity.

Hoping that these few lines will have made you want to know more, the site is, I remind you, in German and English:

Citer ce billet
Julien Le Hoangan (2021, 10 décembre). Mapping past and present memory [EN]. Rhizomes. Consulté le 21 mai 2024, à l’adresse

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