In this year’s class on Memory at the University of California, Santa Barbara, the neuroscientist Kenneth S. Kosik, the artist Kim Yasuda and I decided we would explore the connections among memory, cultural memory, and immigration. My work at UCSB is to lead a learning iniciative through various disciplines. I gather content, work with different departments, design the curriculum and structure of classes, and teach them in collaboration with Ken and Kim (neuroscience and art).
This week, we invited the anthropologist Michael Gurven (who studies life history evolution), the geographer Liz Chrastil (from the spatial neuroscience lab) and the Hispanist and researcher of Spanish immigration in the United States, James D. Fernández. The three of them brought to our students a vision that could very well be the foundation for all the news that we are getting from the media about immigration. This vision reminds us of the words attributed to Mark Twain: «History doesn’t repeat itself, but it rhymes». This vision places the loss of cultural memory and the limits of our own perspectives at the epicenter of our convulsed current reality. Fernández concluded his talk with an idea that we had not yet presented in class: to question how many times in our lives «We don’t say what we want or what we feel, but what we learn to say».
Because as the writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie said, if the media were to show a people or a group as «a single thing, with only one history, time and time again» they will eventually mold that people or group just into what they say, and not reflect the multiple histories that represent us and make us who we truly are. When did we forget that we were also them?