Social Memories

Melody Erhuy

In Margo Machida’s third chapter in the book “Unsettled Visions”, the author illustrates history through memory, and how memories influence the understanding of tellings of the past. These memories create varying perceptions, which mold the way one understands the histories at hand. This dynamic between what is remembered and what is perceived becomes this form of social memory.

I found Machida’s example of how labor history connected with histories of struggle for Asians born in this country particularly interesting. Her emphasis on markers of Asian American history – the building of the transcontinental railroad, agricultural labor in Hawaii and California, and the Pacific cannery industry – as ones that past generations have more social memory of to be very reflective of many of my courses in Asian American Studies. Learning about the histories of various Asian groups as they emigrated to America, many of the stories were riddled with struggle, and it is interesting how Machida correlates these memories/stories of struggle to the historical events themselves, while newer arrivals to America “may find little with which to identify in this variegated domestic history; if they do locate something of interest, it is often in relation to their own ethnic group” (123) Her discussion on finding social memory through identification with either the pains of a historical event or through one’s commonality with an ethnic group is intriguing as the variances of the two show the differences between past and more present generations. I have always been a firm believer that families that immigrate to America from another nation have it the hardest – they have to build a life for themselves when much of the time, they can hardly speak the language. My family, for example, came to America with little education, some money, and barely and knowledge of the lay of the land, the culture, and the language. Therefore, my mother had a difficult time finding a job without a college education and poor English skills. She tried her best (and was amazing) at raising my brother and I, striving for us to gain as much education as we could so we would not face the same struggles her and her mother did. Yet, many of my friends who are fourth generation American in their families did not have the same situations growing up – their families were already well-established and had less monetary issues as well as a more educated family. They never fully understood the struggles that the first-generations of their families faced, because they had no personal memory to it, so they were attached to their ethnicity for memory instead. I saw first hand, however, what it was like to build a family in a new nation, and therefore I have social memories of these immigration struggles. I thought this whole discussion was particularly intriguing for me, because this is something I have always thought, but I never looked at this division as a form of social memory. Moreover, in the artists she examines in this chapter, I can see this dual-meaning of social memory playing out in their artworks, which was an even more interesting way to correlate varying perceptions to different mediums.

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