Passing down family history in migrants' families as an identity resource for children
Sociology Université de Strasbourg Strasbourg, France
I have done different research projects focusing on the activities, or acting of Moroccan migrants as parents. Data collection was based on narrative interviewing of parents and children (young adults 16-25) in order to obtain detailed descriptions of activities, strategies and courses of action over time.
In terms of findings, one of the most relevant one has been on the effect of family memory. The interviews had allowed migrant fathers and mothers to tell their life story. Some of them had already told their story to their children in past occasions. But others had not, and it was the first time their children were hearing it. As I was moving from one case to another, I noticed something interesting: it was in these families where the parents had not passed on their story that some of the adolescent children had the most problematic conducts. These adolescents often expressed their rage against the social injustice that was done to them: they compared themselves to kids of their age in secondary schools, kids from middle class (French) families who "had everything". They thought it was totally unfair that they were unable to afford those things that "everybody else" had.
In families where parents had told their history, children viewed things differently. They saw themselves as the outcomes of a long, historical process whereby their parents had decided to emigrate in the hope of providing better life chances for them. In doing so the father had been forced to take very demanding jobs, and the mother, to live very far from her kin and her solidarity networks. But they had done it "for you, our children". The latter understood why they were in France - where they came from - ; and by ways of consequence they understood better who they were, and what they could hope for. The difference was sometimes striking.