Mixed Messages, Mixed Memories, Mixed Ethnicity: Mnemonic Heritage and Constructing Identity Through Mixed Parentage

Mixed Messages, Mixed Memories, Mixed Ethnicity: Mnemonic Heritage and Constructing Identity Through Mixed Parentage

New Zealand Sociology
Volume 25, Number 1 (2010)
pages 75-99

Zarine L. Rocha, Research Scholar in the Department of Sociology
National University of Singapore

This article explores the concept of mixed ethnic identity from a social memory-based perspective. Drawing on the personal testimonies of individuals of mixed ethnic heritage in New Zealand, the UK, Australia and Canada, the complex influence of collective memory on the construction of a mixed ethnic identity is drawn out, highlighting the contradictions and reconciliations negotiated by those who feel a strong sense of belonging to two groups, with potentially contrasting stories and memories. Participants express their feelings of belonging in multiple ways, showing how appreciation of heritage and internalization of family memories do not have to be equal nor experienced in the same way for both sides of the family. Rather, the unpredictable way in which collective memory shapes mixed ethnic identity indicates that each collectivity can have its own way of being understood for the individual, without reducing or denying its importance.

…The lingering idea of marginalization and internal conflict is particularly interesting from the memory perspective. Do individuals of mixed heritage experience internal conflict due to the different experiences and mnemonic heritages of their parents? Is it possible to reconcile “mixed memories”? Vivero and Jenkins (1999, p. 12) describe the “cultural homelessness” of mixed heritage, indicating that the lack of a coherent memory framework can lead to psychological distress: “Culturally homeless individuals may have the intense feeling and longing to ‘go home’; however, they cannot, because they have never had a cultural home… they cannot rely on memories of having had a cultural home”. In contrast, a number of recent studies have found that individuals of mixed descent have multiple and positive senses of identity, identifying to different extents with both sides of their heritage (Binning, et al., 2009; Root, 1992; Stephan & Stephan, 1989; Ward, 2006).

The reconciliation of mixed memories is illuminated by [Homi] Bhabha’s concept of a “third space” of hybridity, which illustrates new forms of identity and belonging where different cultures collide and collude (Ang, 1999, p. 558; Bhabha, 1994). In contrast to historical discourses of “hybrids” as the mingling of biologically separate “races”, this antiessentialist understanding of identity can instead highlight different forms of cultural recombination, whether based in ancestry or interaction (Bolatagici, 2004, p. 75; Gomes, 2007; Parker & Song, 2001, p. 4). Hybridity thus emphasises the fluidity and multiplicity of mixed ethnic identity, as constructed through memory and experience – suggesting that “cultural homelessness” may not be a lack of a home, but rather “…belonging at one and the same time to several ‘homes’ (and to no one particular ‘home’)” (Hall, 1992, p. 310)…

Read the entire article here.

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