Identity & Nostalgia

           My experiences in Sharon impacted the role of Beanie Babies once I moved abroad, both in terms of nostalgic symbolism and a stubbornly formulated Western identity as the daughter of Iranian refugees. Packing for Abu Dhabi, I stuffed all of my Beanie Babies into a small suitcase, among other toys, and brought them with me. They became a relic of my childhood back home, an indication of the more authentic life I identified with.

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           In her historical analysis and memoir The Future of Nostalgia, Svetlana Boym discusses the ways collective nostalgia is developed amongst communities, with objects playing a key role. Homes become decorated as a narrative of cultural identity, a memory of the motherland: 

“When it comes to making a home abroad, minimalism is not always the answer. White walls, the great achievement of modern design, are associated with official spaces: it seems that overcrowded-ness has become as synonym for coziness and intimacy. Each home, even the most modest one, becomes a personal memory museum. The domestic interiors of ex-Soviet immigrants in the United States and their collections of diasporic souvenirs tempt us at first glance with a heartwrenching symbolism of the abandoned mother country; yet the stories these owners tell about their objects reveal more about making a home abroad than about reconstructing the original loss” (328). 

Boym, an ex-Soviet immigrant herself, argues that immigrants embellish their homes with souvenirs of their motherland in an effort to configure a new life, their diasporic identity weaved together with their alternative present. They are less concerned with creating a memoir of turmoil and more interested in collecting the fragments of their journey and reconfiguring it into a stable and comfortable space. These attempts can still elicit a collective nostalgia, as the immigrant experience is both broad but exact; similar stories can be heard from diasporic communities with various cultural backgrounds, even if the details differ. In considering reflective nostalgia as an agency of homesickness, there is a “utopian dimension that consists in the exploration of unfulfilled promises of modern happiness. [Reflective nostalgia] resists the total reconstruction of the local culture and the triumphant indifference of technocratic globalism…[to] create a global diasporic solidarity based on the experience of immigration and internal multiculturalism” (342). The immigrant nostalgia is a communal sensation that expands globally to connect individuals under a collective umbrella of memory for a time and place that no longer exists. I experienced this strange nostalgia in Abu Dhabi, where I was no longer surrounded by a familiar environment of pine trees, Western snack foods, English fiction books, or pop radio stations. As a first generation Canadian, I felt a very strong connection to my homeland, and experiencing a society structured so differently was initially extremely upsetting. Relics of my life back home, such as Beanie Babies, helped stabilize my sense of constructed "Western" identity in a foreign country. Ironically, in retrospect, my time living in the Emirates brought me a lot closer to my Iranian heritage, which I now identify with in multi-faceted ways that are separate from my Canadianness.

Nabeel, Emile, and I at Edwards Gardens, Toronto. October 1996.

            As objects themselves are a fraction of a person's individual identity, their existence participates in the larger identity construction through memories and the triggering of nostalgia. Dream Spaces: Memory and the Museum by Gaynor Kavanagh explores the salience of objects in forming memory and identity, often referring to the theories of psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. Csikszentmihalyi argues that artifacts are “external props to our consciousness” and “reveal the continuity of the self through time, by providing foci of involvement in the present, mementoes and souvenirs of the past, and sign posts to the future” (103). Objects become an agent of our development and prove to be timestamps of our lives, illustrating our past interests, present preoccupations, and hinting towards our developments in the future. To have a collection of Beanie Babies as a child illustrates the value I placed on those toys growing up. Did that dedication remain over the years, but change in form and content? 

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