Migrants in Canada and around the world have drawn on memories of their homelands to make sense of the changing world around them. Violence, wars, dictatorships, oppressive regimes, and displacements of people, however, have made it ever-more difficult for refugees, exiles, expellees, and other forced as well as voluntary migrants to maintain or re-create the stable identities that allow them to contribute to their new communities. Under such trying circumstances, memories of homeland, violence, and migration have become both a burden that continually reminds migrants of the social injustices and human rights violations that have disrupted their lives and a means for crafting strategies of survival and integration.
While sociologists, psychologists, political scientists, and other scholars have developed rich research on forced migration, historians have largely ignored the history of refugees from wars and persecution in Europe, Asia, Africa, and South America in the 20th and 21st centuries. Canadian immigration historians have studied several refugee groups in the mid-20th century, but focused on policy and social workers and, geographically, on Toronto, Montreal, and Vancouver. This research lacuna is particularly pronounced in the case of western Canada.
This project re-considers Canadian history from the 1940s to the present through the lens of refugees’ experiences, memories, and stories of homeland, violence, and migration. These three topoi–homeland, violence, migration–allow us to explore refugees’ victimization, their resistance, and their cultural creativity. Historians of forced migration have identified this “threefold process of violence, resistance, and creativity” (Rediker et al. 2007) as constitutive elements in forced migration history. This project collects refugees’ life stories as well as family interviews, documents their testimonies, and analyzes how refugees, individually and collectively, remember and narrate their experiences. It asks how refugees have made sense of their experiences and how their memories of victimization and resistance shaped their integration and community building in Canada. More broadly, this project asks about refugees’ use of history and memory for building meaningful lives in the present.