Traditions continually remind us that our memories are not passive; every tradition has a performative aspect, a ceremonial almost holy characteristic imbedded into it. They are incantations of the past, repeated and replayed in hopes of invoking some kind of portal to a past only known through stories our family members tell in hushed voices during dinner, huddled around each other eager to remember their/our/your origins. So much about traditions is meant to echo the past, but for many people, immigrants and refugees in particular, our past is often so clouded with nightmarish memories, fragmented lives, forgotten or disappeared ancestors that it becomes difficult to stay connected or even want to remember- much less relive and recreate- them.
We find ourselves surrounded by traditions, the act, and tradition, the concept, almost all the time. It seems as though, through our commitment to our traditions, we are always trying to not only find ourselves in our reenactments and walkthroughs of our past, but we are eager to base our present selves in the tropes and molds that existed before us. When I think about my family’s traditions- the food we make only during holidays, our storytelling nights when we take out old photo albums- I realize how many of our traditions don’t really belong to us, but belong to the past. Our traditions are relics that, yes, can and will be molded by time and modernity to reflect current states of affairs, and yes, they are often passed down by people within our own families who we know and love, but ultimately, they were created and started by people we possibly will never know of, people who no longer exist, people lost to time and documents.
It’s difficult to accept that for many of us, traditions can only tie us to our past and our ancestors in a limited way, and our performance and recreation of our traditions can sometimes veer into the imitation because of the trauma and pain that our blood history can unearth. For those of us who find ourselves and our families as having no roots, as many newly immigrated and first generation children do, our traditions become even more meaningful and powerful, often undergoing so much change and revision that we begin to create new traditions, new histories, new identities. We take form, then, as people and traditions that exist in a constant state of in-between; our history is half here and there, neither one of the other and our traditions are not yet traditions.
Perhaps then, traditions are meant to conjure the past, connect us and create a space and dialogue with each other but also with our ghosts, possibly even our nightmares and demons, for the sake of family, community, continuity, and a sense of self. Who we are, individually and collectively within a family unit or even culturally as a whole, is so deeply impacted by who we already were in past lives, who we replay and recycle in each generation that comes to fruition, who we come to know through our traditions and who we allow ourselves to nurture.
Issue 4: Tradition is an invitation and an exploration on the beauty and pain of traditions. Traditions as language, our architecture and decorations, in the way we do things, our food, our music, our art, writing and archives. Traditions as keepers of the past, traditions as gateways to the past, traditions as portals of communication to our ancestors, to our culture. What does tradition mean to us? What do we mean to it? How do we manifest it? How does it manifest in us? More importantly, are traditions alive? Or do they simply exist to keep our ancestors alive? Our memories alive? Us alive? We hope to find out.
Words by Mia Rodriguez.
Illustration by Rathai Manivannan from her series: Sita.