Diary filmmaking and the use of autobiographical material are extremely effective and widely used means of ‘politizing the personal’…, and yet autobiography in film and video is rarely a source of truth and authenticity, but a dispersal of representation, subjectivity, experience and cultural history.
Catherine Russell. Experimental Ethnography: The Work of Film in the Age of Video. Duke University Press, 1999. P: 15.
Every June 27th, here in Canada we celebrate the national day of multiculturalism, and to my surprise this year, 2014, there wasn’t really any relevant mention of it nowhere -news, broadcasting, etc-, neither a significative celebration from the community, any community for that matter. I think that’s one of the reasons I decided to make this piece, Salix Tree, in the first place. Canada became the first country in the world to declare multiculturalism as official state policy, under Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau in 1971, finalizing with the Canadian Multiculturalism Act finally passing as a law until 1988. Even though this Act officially recognizes the existence of cultural and racial diversity in Canada by promoting multiculturalism as part of Canadian heritage, it fails to recognize the complexity of exiled cultures and their processes of construction of identity, cultural assimilation and collective memory.
The notion of multiculturalism carries within itself and certainly implies the recognition of two different temporalities, the temporality of the other-the immigrant, and the temporality of the nation-state. The temporality of the other-the immigrant, is a broken timeline divided between the time spend in the homeland and the new host land, whereas the temporality of the nation-state is a linear timeline. For the nation-state, this linear timeline has to be produced and reproduced at all times. This time of course is not a natural phenomenon, rather socially constructed. The production and reproduction of linear time acts as an homogeneous narrative in which events take place one after the other, as an eternal ocean of time where events unfold and become part of a well-known and widely accepted narrative.
In the temporality of the immigrant we have a disruption, something happens that doesn’t fit, that is unexpected, or that happens in an unexpected way. It doesn’t fit into the dominant narrative of cultural assimilation produced by the nation-state, demanding that we invent a new account, one that will produce a place for what has happened and make it meaningful. Until this new story is produced we quite literally do not know what has happened. We only know that something happened. Linear, homogeneous time suits a particular form of power, sovereign power, the power of the modern nation-state. However, sovereign power also produces narratives of trauma, concealed sometimes as necessary means for security, centered around the notion of the state as provider for internal stability. By rewriting these traumas into a linear narrative of a multicultural society, the state conceals the trauma that it has produced.
Resistance to these state narratives of cultural assimilation constitutes not only an act of resistance to the sovereignist version of the multicultural that we have been immersed into, but also an act of resistance to the construction of grand narratives. The grand narrative of the multicultural society was created and reinforced by power structures, ignoring the heterogeneity of the immigrant existence. As grand narratives are supposed to be a comprehensive explanation of historical experience or knowledge, they tend to dismiss the naturally existing heterogeneity and dislocation of the social experience.
The story of the immigrant somehow succeed to be positioned as a survival narrative; a tale of losing and recovering, failure and success, integration and rejection. More than often we found ourselves narrated with the same schemes: forced labour, below average income and poor living conditions. We have been narrated from the perspective of an hegemonic dominant system, a system that is heavily focused on the simplistic operation of narrating the immigrant by highlighting differences on domestic economies and social mobility. We have been representing someone else roles that somebody wrote for us, deciding our careers, our salary, our place in society. However those are not the only elements of the story of the immigrant that matter the most, even further, those are not even the most important.
History it’s suspicious of documentary filmmaking. History says that screen images suffers from ‘discursive weakness’, that history is concern with what happened, why it happened and what it meant. However, History -with capital H, what actually happens-, not the discursive history made by historians, have a filmic essence. When the-other-the immigrant takes on the role of the historian, their micro-narratives become an ongoing process of production of knowledge. We need to use self-biographies in order to tell reveal and share our own history, not history as a linear timeline with dots indicating dates and names, where the past never influences the present, bur rather to think about history as a process that’s never totally completed and that requires people that are interested in how we memorialize social traumatic events. Documentary filmmaking, or at least, the kind of documentary practice I’m concerned with, should occupy the role of a privileged mediator between archive, memory and readership. Documentary as a socialized form of knowledge. Documentary as an essay on human geography, a study on the territories of the human and the way in which these territories are stratified, allowing us to see the centrality of power and territorial control in social signs.
My piece Salix Tree is the documentation of a displaced domestic space. As a immigrants we are meant to forever wander between the home we just lost and the one we have to construct for ourselves once again. By self-documenting my own story I constructed a narrative that functions as a liminal space where to negotiate collective memory with personal history. I shot the footage over several years, appropriating narrative and stylistic strategies from home movies, such as shaky camera, people acknowledgement of the presence of the camera, and documentation of rites of passage. I consider the home movie to be an important component of popular culture. The home movie is not only a place for the transmission of personal history and documentation of kinship affiliations, but is also a place for self-ethnographic practice, colliding family representation with avant-garde pursuits.
Salix Tree is a self-ethnographic document meant to be experienced as a passage between languages, a concentration of voices whose identity remains opaque. Some of these voices materialize into complete translation, while others provide a departure from national identity and their dominant linguistic form. In which language does one self-documents when there is no mother tongue anymore?. We become wanderers between spaces, identities, ownership and language as well. Whatever second language we are communicating with, no matter how much we master it, we never quite own it. Language is a masquerade as much as it is a product of domestication and control. “I have but one language — yet that language is not mine”, wrote Jacques Derrida in his autobiographical essay, reflecting on the loss of his mother tongue as a consequence of colonialism in Algeria.
Salix Tree is an autobiographical essay documenting my first eight years of displacement as a result of leaving Mexico and moving to Montreal, reflecting on the politics of cultural belonging, native culture and the authority of the mother tongue. Immigrants are weaved in the fabric of the displaced experience. Trauma-time, the time of the other –the immigrant-, acknowledges that memories such as these are distance, that trauma memory is not the same as everyday memory. In contrast with the Marxist concept of ownership of fixed assets and consumption, I consider memory to be the most important privately owned asset in life. We tend to think that because we have something in our hands or because there is a bill, there’s property. However, memory is our true private property. How does this production of memory takes place if when at exile, personal history somehow transfigures into a systematic articulation of mythologies, evoking the imaginary?. Is the narrator who is telling the story identical with the narrator about whom the story is being told?. The narrative of the immigrant is losing its great hero, its great dangers, its great voyages, and also its great goal. It is being now dispersed in clouds of more modest and localised narratives.