Homesick: Missing a Lifestyle
By Daniel Paniagua
Nostalgia and homesickness are universal experiences that most, if not all people experience. It is usually associated with missing home and loved ones. Individuals experience homesickness in many different ways, shapes, and forms. But even if it is associated with home, homesickness is too ambiguous to be defined in a simple statement. The first thing that comes to someone’s mind when talking about being homesick is missing home, missing your room, missing your parents or family, and things closely associated with the home itself. While that may be true, homesickness is much greater than all that. A better way to define homesickness would be to miss a culture, a daily routine, work, and activities. Homesickness is missing a lifestyle.
Many people experience homesickness, but not all of those people actually miss a home or family. They miss the way of living they use to experience. Home and family certainly can be integrated into what they miss, but should not be restricted to only home and family. Susan J Matt touches on this idea in Homesickness: An American History. She talks about how spread out homesickness is and how complex it really is. She brings mentions that homesickness is experienced as a physical separation from home and as the passage of time (Matt,34). Understanding that homesickness can be felt as missing a time period, generation, or era is very significant. A very common phrase used in the United States, is “The good ol’ days”. This phrase refers to a nostalgia and homesickness in the form of a passage of time. When people say they miss the good ol’ days, most of the time they aren’t talking about family and home. Many times the family and home is still together, so they can’t be missing that. That leads to missing a different way of living. They are remembering and missing a more relaxed lifestyle, or maybe a better economic situation. They are remembering a different lifestyle, which they enjoyed, and that is what they miss and experience as homesickness and nostalgia.
This page is an excerpt from “The French Canadian Textile Worker”. This was written by Philippe Lemay (Author) and Louis Pare(Reporter). This was part of the Federal Writers’ Project which existed during the Great Depression to give work to unemployed writers and reporters. The project consisted of documenting American culture and experiences. This specific document is essentially an interview of a French Canadian textile worker telling his story and connecting it to other French Canadians.
In this excerpt, the older generation of French Canadian textile workers feel homesick and return home for periods of time. They do miss their family and friends, but as the document shows, that wasn’t their primary concern. Their primary concern was their farms. They checked up on their land, worked it, and made sure everything was up to date and fine. But why would these people care so much for their farms, if they didn’t live there and most likely didn’t net a profit from the farm? If they did, they would have never left. The document mentions that they are farmers at heart and its passed down from past generations. These immigrants are homesick – not for home, but for a past lifestyle of farming. They miss it. They don’t have the economical resources to continue that lifestyle, which forces them to move to the United States. Once a year, they go back to remember what it used to be like. They long for the past; for the past lifestyle.
“A WEEK later I was off to a farm near Princeton, the farmer’s family being my country people. For the first time since I left my home, I saw the country again. With bewildered, hungry eyes, I stood there the first morning, looking around me. My heart thrilled with joy, when, after so many, many months of sickening city life, I again faced those spacious green Fields. The sun was widely spread over the horizon; hundreds of birds were singing and twittering their morning songs, flying from one place to another; tiny little chicks ran around in the yard, digging their beaks into the soft ground, searching for worms. There were cherry trees loaded with ripe white cherries. The grass spread a fresh, dewy fragrance, and everything around was full of life, fresh life, real life!I did not know what to do. I began to jump around singing and whistling in accord with the birds. I felt happy. I forgot that only yesterday I came from the city. It seemed as if I was born here, and grew up among these trees, these spacious fields, these clear skies…In the city where the burden of existence weighed heavily on me, where day in and day out I lived in the ugly reality of poverty, where before me passed, back and forth, the down-trodden, cursed humanity, I had little thought for love. I was wrapped in misery, ugly misery!Here, in the quiet, wavy grass, in the peacefulness of open nature, my heart began to long, my heart craved for a mate, to go hand in hand against misfortune, to fight against untruthfulness, to rise together to the heights, away, away from this hateful, toiling world, where the noblest callings are crushed under the exploiting capitalistic hammer, where humanity and love are turned into dollars –“(Hasanovitz, Chapter 18)
Exerpt from “One of Them: Chapters From a Passionate Autobiography“.1918. Courtesy of North American Immigrant Letters, Diaries, and Oral Histories(Rutgers Library)
The excerpt above is from an autobiography written by Elizabeth Hasanovitz. She is a young Russian Jewish immigrant and around the age of 26 when writing the autobiography. She worked at a garment factory in New York City. The above excerpt expresses her feelings and emotions after saving enough money from working to go on vacation to a farm in rural Princeton, New Jersey. This was the first time she had been to such a rural and open area since she came from Russia. She was extremely ecstatic and happy about all she was taking in. She mentions that she felt like she belonged there as if she was born there. She is using her experience to remember her home in Russia. She doesn’t mention family or relatives, a specific item, or place. She just mentions her love and feelings for the rural area and nature. She also mentions how sickening and miserable the city life was. She missed and wanted the free and open lifestyle of living in a rural town opposed to a lifestyle in the city. The lifestyle change is so great for Elizabeth that in the city, she forgot about love, and only when she visited the farm does she remember what it is. She missed her home, she missed a lifestyle intertwined with nature, fresh air, and open fields.
This is a picture of a garment factory in New York in 1943. It was taken by photographer Marjory Collins. This shows the crowded working conditions of a garment factory. Many of these workers were under-payed and overworked. The factories themselves were often crowded, filthy, and cold in the winter and hot in the summer. Elizabeth Hasan0vitz from above would have very likely worked in similar if not worst conditions. Working in these conditions caused many immigrants to feel miserable and even more homesick than normal. Many immigrants coming from rural countries, were not ready for such a drastic change in lifestyle and became very homesick. The working conditions exacerbated missing their previous lifestyle.
This drawing was created by Albert Levering. It shows a comparison between the past Native American and the present modernized and Americanized Native American. The past depicts a native war dance or ritual, and the present depicts an American football game at an Indian Boarding school. The side-by-side comparison makes it very easy to see how different each lifestyle was. Many Native Americans never truly adapted to their new lifestyle. Many were always homesick, even though they were with their families. They remembered their past and their ancestors’ past. They didn’t like football; they wanted freedom. They wanted their culture; they wanted their old lifestyle.
This post was completed as an assignment for the American Studies course, “The Concept of Home.” A list of the readings that informed this assignment can be found here.