Tourism and Memories of Home

Tourism and Memories of Home

 By: Sabine Marschall

Tourism and Memories of Home: Migrants, Displaced People, Exiles and Diasporic Communities, edited by Sabine Marschall. Channel View Publications, 2017.

Co-winner of the 2018 ATIG Subsequent Book Award

Being a migrant and an avid traveller, I began to reflect, some years ago, on my own fascination with revisiting places that were once significant to me – former homes, my alma mater and other types of important locations. I found this very meaningful and enjoyed indulging in memories, often triggered by familiar sights, sounds or smells. As a tourism scholar, I wondered to what extent other people were similarly drawn to walk in the footsteps of their own past and even embark on special journeys to do so (‘personal memory tourism’). There is of course ample scholarship on roots tourism and ethnic homecomings of diasporic communities in search of identity, origins, real or imaginary homes, but I was interested in whether this constitutes a wider phenomenon, including among first generation migrants and those forcibly displaced from their homes through war, violent conflict or disasters.

Tourism and Memories of Home explores such journeys to former, ancestral and imaginary homes or homelands for migrants, exiles, refugees and diaspora groups. It illustrates the close link between identity, memory and places of origin and how this motivates people in Western societies and beyond to undertake various types of travel and temporary ‘return’ journeys near and far, although they may not consider themselves ‘tourists’. Several case studies in the book even illustrate that such travellers may consciously distance themselves – physically and ontologically – from touristic spaces and modes of behaviour, understanding their home(land) trip rather as a personal form of pilgrimage or just as a family visit. Positioning ‘home’ as destination inverts early understandings of tourism as the journey away from home, advanced by pioneering scholars such as Nelson Graburn and challenges various notions once associated with a narrow conceptualization of tourism as leisure holiday, prevalent in western societies and motivated by the alienating conditions of modernity.

The broader context of this research on diasporic tourism is the so-called tourism-migration nexus, a niche area within tourism studies that investigates the multifarious linkages between tourists and migrants. Migration leads to tourism, especially visiting friends and relatives (VFR), migrant return visits, and migrants exploring their host country; conversely, tourism leads to migration, as people who have the means touristically explore options for residential relocation. While the fluidity of boundaries between different types of travel between the poles of short term leisure tourism and permanent migration is widely acknowledged, I argue that the complex mobility spectrum can even be extended to the forcibly displaced. Various scholars recognize the overlap between migration and refugee studies and the blurring of boundaries between voluntary and involuntary forms of displacement, as all migration involves complex push and pull factors. The forcibly displaced, those who have lost their personal home and homeland, understandably long most desperately for return; there is scant evidence that a few even embark on clandestine ‘return journeys home’, but this is an almost completely unexplored area of research.

Nostalgic memories of the old home may be passed on across several generations, but ultimately descendants always develop their own relationship with the family place of origin. Memories passed on by (grand)parents are mingled with memories of other sources, including touristic trips to places identified as significant in the family narrative of origin and closely tied to personal and collective senses of identity. Compared to related scholarship in the field, my special research interest – and focus of the book – is precisely the role of such memories. Linking the rapidly developing, interdisciplinary field of memory studies to tourism studies or the tourism-migration nexus, it explores how personal, autobiographic and episodic memories, as well as different types of collective memory influence the experience of travelling ‘home’. For members of descendent generations, the ‘return trip’ is usually a first time visit, yet some still feel an uncanny sense of familiarity with a place they have never previously visited, but often ‘seen’ in their imagination fuelled by shared memories from the older generation. In my earlier publications on ‘homesick tourism’, which first stirred the interest that culminated in Tourism and Memories of Home, I argued that first generation migrants and refugees who revisit their long lost former home eagerly search for the minutest traces of their own past. In contrast to John Urry’s seminal concept of the ‘tourist gaze’, defined by difference and the extraordinary, the ‘memory gaze’ of these tourists relies on familiarity and the search for the most ordinary signs of their remembered former lives.

The scope of this narrative does not allow me to provide a comprehensive content overview of Tourism and Memories of Home, but I will mention a few contributions. Harper’s historically oriented research on the Scottish diaspora since the 19th century shows that return journeys home are by no means a new phenomenon. Specific motivations and the organization of such trips have however changed over the years and today, the demand for Scottish roots tourism, homecomings and genealogy tourism has spawned thriving industries. Several chapters focus on interesting and novel aspects of diasporic return journeys undertaken by descendants of migrants in different societal and geographical contexts, underpinned by collective memories and identity constructs (e.g. Bieter, Ireland & Ray’s research on the Basque community in the United States). Other contributions investigate the role of memory in home journeys of first generation migrants or survivors of forced displacement. Hannam and Yankovska’s chapter, for instance, engages with victims of the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear disaster, their memories, their relationship towards the lost home and their attitudes towards the emergent tourism around the ‘ghost town’ that was once their home. The authors found that some survivors use the products of the emergent ‘dark tourism’ industry to revisit their own homes; others sneak into the contaminated precinct with the help of illegal tour operators; yet others find it too painful to return.

Return visits home are not just about nostalgic indulgence in memories or personal quests for origin and identity. As Bhandari discusses in his chapter on the Nepalese migrant community in the UK, motivation for home trips may be low on the agenda, but can suddenly be triggered by dramatic events and external stimuli, such as the destructive earthquake, and result in patriotism, a new sense of pride, belonging, and self-identity. In Kadman and Kabha’s chapter on Palestinian refugees and exiles who return to search for traces of their home villages depopulated or erased by Zionist forces during the Nakba, the visit may be both a painful engagement with traumatic memories and a political statement linked to the demand for a permanent return of the land. In lieu of a conclusion, Tourism and Memories of Home ends with Nelson Graburn’s Epilogue: Home, Travel, Memory and Anthropology, a fascinating contribution that interweaves astute scholarly assessment of the book’s key themes with rich personal observations and multifarious experiences of return travel over a long span of life.