“Diaspora Stories” explores circulation and identity

Nostalgia and how objects tie into our sense of self

Carmen Aguirre and Nuno Porto discuss what it means to be Latinx. PHOTOS: Carmen Aguirre, Peter Wall Institute for Advanced Studies, Museo Chileno de Arte Precolombino

By: Michelle Young, News Editor

Hosted in partnership with the Vancouver Public Library and Vancouver Latin American Cultural Centre, Diaspora Stories: How Circulation Defines Latin America was held over Zoom as a part of the Racism(s): Latin America & Identity series. These events aim to “explore the diversity of identities that form the Latin American experience.” 

At the webinar, Nuno Porto, curator at the Museum of Anthropology, presented objects from Chile. “My idea was to invite you to think of the circulation of things as a form of diaspora,” he said. Porto added that when thinking of museums and their objects, the significance is not in their material value, but rather the people behind them. 

“People made these objects, people eventually gave these objects to someone else, people collected them,” he explained.

The second speaker, Carmen Aguirre, detailed her experience being raised in exile from Chile. “My relationship to the land, here in Vancouver [ . . . ] is very different than an immigrant’s relationship to the land,” she began. Had it not been for the 1973 coup in Chile, she said, she and her family would never left. For that reason, Aguirre referred to her family as visitors in Canada — they aimed to return to Chile as soon as they could. 

“We couldn’t bring many things with us,” Aguirre said. She presented some of the objects her family brought with her: Diaguita (South American Indigenous peoples) blankets, a tiny handmade hat of horsehair, and a miniature tea set, among other items. “For me [these] meant Chile and the return to Chile.” 

As Aguirre spoke about leaving things behind and taking things with her, I reflected on my own family’s experience. Although my parents had the privilege of immigrating to Canada before Venezuela’s extreme economic collapse, they also foresaw a bad situation and knew they had to leave. They thought they would be able to return one day too. My parents waited for many years in hope that things would improve, but now that hope has faltered. 

I thought of the things they brought with them to Canada — my mother’s jewelry, photos, collectible cans. Aguirre said her “house is a museum,” and I was reminded of my dad’s apartment, where he has prints, books, and an array of knick-knacks that he’s attached to. 

I reflected on how nostalgia has shaped our family’s relationship to material items. As someone who has never particularly been attached to my belongings, I considered how grateful I am to curate the things I own. I recognized that I could collect objects without fear of losing them

Though the experience of diaspora ranges with each individual, I think nostalgia connects many. For some, the nostalgia is for their previous lives. For others, it may be longing for a life that was never experienced. At least for me, I have always wondered what my life would be like if I had grown up in the same country my parents did — that is to say, a Venezuela that isn’t plagued by food shortages, blackouts, and unrest

Concluding her presentation, Aguirre spoke about her family’s possessions once more: “They are my identity. These objects are tied — every single one of them — to a very specific memory and story [ . . . ] my roots are in Chile, these objects are the closest thing that I have.”