Homesick: Missing a Lifestyle

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.

Excerpt from “The French Canadian Textile Worker”.1936-1939. Courtesy of Library of Congress.

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.

New York, New York. Garment workers in the N.M. dress shop which is now making uniforms for the Women's Army Auxiliary Corps (WAAC). They are members of local 89 of the International Ladies Garment Worker's Union, predominantly Italian

Garment workers in the N.M Dress Shop. 1943. Courtesy of Farm Security Administration – Office of War Information Photograph Collection (Library of Congress)

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.

The American Indian Past. Present /

“The American Indian Past. Present.”,1906. Courtesty of Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C.

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.

The Commodification of Homesickness: A Gift and a Curse

By Will Whitehurst

Homesickness was first thought of as a disease before it acquired its formal definition today. People thought that if an individual was experiencing homesickness they had a problem that needed to be fixed. It was thought that homesickness held people back from traveling the world, finding better opportunities, and maximize their human capital. Furthermore, the media would instill in the population that homesickness hindered men from leaving home, becoming strong independent individuals, and that being homesick shows weakness. For example, if a man was in the military and he showed signs of homesickness, he may be heckled and thought that he was not fit to complete his mission. In Homesickness: An American History, by Susan J. Matt, she explains how the media portrayed homesickness. She notes, “One sign of this anxiety was the attention that newspapers paid to the problem of homesickness, often publishing dramatic accounts of the sad fates of melancholy migrants” (Matt, Kindle Locations 851-853). With this kind of media publicity, it is no wonder why migrants were fearful of leaving home and believed that they were doing something wrong when they did so. Matt notes multiple newspapers that told a multitude of negative accounts of people who were apparently plagued by homesickness. There was a story about a Portuguese boy who threw himself overboard off of a ship while migrating in hopes to find a ship back home. There were also other tales that newspapers mainly focused on, like homesickness prompting suicides. She notes, “For example…In 1819, on a voyage from Africa to Guadeloupe, many of the slaves onboard began to suffer from disease…many of those Negroes, affected with Nostalgia (that is a passionate desire to revisit their native land), threw themselves into the sea, locked in each other’s arms” (Matt, Kindle Locations 859-862). It is very interesting to think about why newspapers and the media wanted to link homesickness with such negative connotations, and when the tide finally changed for homesickness to become something one cherished.

The commodification of homesickness is where it all began. Matt states, “Entrepreneurial immigrants were the first to pay attention to the market opportunities that homesickness represented. They found there was a substantial profit to be made by selling the sights and tastes of home to their fellow immigrants who hungered for them” (Matt, Kindle Locations 3283-3284). Once people realized that they can profit off of this feeling, homesickness became something that one could delve into and enjoy. An advantage that commodifying homesickness provides is the exposure of other cultures through letting them practice parades and rituals for the American population. Instead of thinking of homesickness as a disease or a curse, people now think of homesickness as a feeling, closely related to nostalgia, that gives an individual a bittersweet feeling and a longing for someone or something of the past. It is important to note that homesickness depends on the individual and it is solely a subjective feeling that can effect anyone in a number of different ways. Therefore, although homesickness changed from being a curse to a gift because of commodification, homesickness is still a subjective feeling that can give positive and negative effects based on the individual.

“The night before my eye operation, I was restless, and couldn’t fall asleep. I kept imagining what it would be like to see again. I would be able to see beautiful flowers, dappled colors of butterflies, and golden leaves of different trees, when they turn in the fall. I would be able to see the faces of all my friends, especially the man I love. The moment I could see, I would be so happy that my feet would never touch the ground. Night finally fell upon me, I closed my eyes. Like a moving picture, I saw my village standing alone under the vast oriental sky surrounded by acres and acres of farming land. The name of my village is Xuan-Canh.” (Chapter 1, Page 1)

“At the beginning, the French soldiers were raiding the village once a week, then twice a week. As the days went by, they came back more often. The situation was getting worse. They were not only searching for the Viet Cong, but they destroyed the property, and killed the animals maliciously. When the people returned home after the soldiers left, they found rice thrown on the ground, and parts of the animals were scattered everywhere. They had a big mess to clean up. Since the people were living in fear, they began to think about fleeing from the village. By the end of November, most of the villagers had left. Some moved to other villages far from home; some of them moved into the city where peace was found.” (Chapter 2, Page 19)

Excerpts from “Miles From Home,” 1948.

I chose these two quotes out of the book Miles From Home, by Anna Kim-Lan McCauley, because it supports my main claim that homesickness is a subjective feeling that can effect an individual in a number of different ways. In the first quote, the author is writing in first person speaking about how she felt the night before she was going to undergo an eye operation. It is usually in times like these, times when you are going through something drastic, that one tends to do a lot of thinking and start to long for things that make them happy and comfortable. McCauley starts talking about how much she wants to see her friends, her significant other, and longs for her home village which she describes in great detail. This type of longing is in a positive light and she is using this as a motivation to get through her operation. On the contrary, the second quote warrants a negative feeling when thinking about home. French soldiers used to raid a village that the author lived by, destroying property and killing animals maliciously. When villagers returned home, they would see the parts of animals scattered everywhere. They literally had to live in their home in fear. This is why when these villagers have negative feelings when it comes to homesickness and will always feel differently than someone who did not have to go through the same thing.

“Traditional Chinese festivals provided other occasions where the community gathered together to celebrate. The Chinese in California continued to observe the lunar New Year in the traditional manner. This important festival was celebrated with elaborate display and plenty of exuberance. Songs, music, and theater were regular leisure activities in the community. Chinese theater was an important cultural event…The Chinese American community availed themselves of traditional medicine as did others. The Chinese understanding of plants used for medicinal purposes was an important component of how society treat injury and disease in the 19th century American west.”

Excerpt from “The Chinese in California,” 1850-1925.

I chose to use this excerpt from The Library of Congress because it relates very well to my assessment that through the commodification of homesickness, the American population was exposed to many different cultures such as the Chinese culture that was spread in California. The excerpt highlights the gathering of people to celebrate this vibrant culture. With songs, music, and theater, the Chinese were not only able to express and enjoy themselves, but they were also able to broaden the cultural horizons of others who may not be of the same culture. Additionally, the exposure of these cultures further advantages the peoples they surround. As stated in the article, the Chinese spread very important medical contributions through their understanding of plants. This example solidifies the fact that the commodification of homesickness helped spread many different cultures throughout America.

“Singing Hymns in the Street,” August 18, 1894. Courtesy of Harper’s Weekly

“Singing Hymns in the Street,” August 18, 1894. Courtesy of Harper’s Weekly

This visual perfectly supplements my second primary source and one of my points made examining the themes of the textbooks. This is a picture of a Chinese celebration located in Chinatown, Los Angeles, California. This photo of a Chinese musician playing in the middle of the street for a crowd is the exact example of a different culture being spread by migrants throughout America.

“Emigrants Leaving ,” 1874. Courtesy of Harper’s Weekly.

“Emigrants Leaving ,” 1874. Courtesy of Harper’s Weekly.

I chose to use this photo, from The North American Immigrant Letters, Diaries, and Oral Histories, because it captures an important time in every immigrant’s life. That moment where they are surrounded by thousands of other frantically scrambling immigrants who are just as curious as the next person as to what direction their lives are about to head in. It is plausible to assume that each and every person in this picture is experiencing some sort of homesickness. Most people are experiencing nervousness and a longing for wanting to go back to the place where they spent all of their lives, while the others are experiencing happiness for escaping a situation that may have been harmful to them or their family. Either way, it is either a positive or negative feeling when thinking back on the place they are leaving and it is interesting to ponder which people are experiencing what feeling. One person in the picture that is easy to read is the little boy directly in the front. The artist, perhaps, could have intended for him to look horrified to capture that look as the main feeling being felt by every immigrant in the photo.

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:https://americanstudiesmediacultureprogram.wordpress.com/assignments-the-concept-of-home-spring-2013/   

Leaving Home Whether You Want To Or Not

by Bridget Thompson

As history has shown, leaving home is a difficult task. Some who venture from their home return because the homesickness becomes too great, while others long for a home they will never return to. Regardless of the case, American history is dotted with instances where children are removed from their home despite whether the children would like to go or not. In some cases children must leave parents home and forge on alone; others families full-blown send their children away. Starting in the 1870s, American Indian children were removed from or left their homes and tribes and sent to federal boarding schools. The children entered schools with various religious and cultural beliefs, skill sets, and feelings towards the schools. Some attempted to run away and make the journey back home, while others stuck it out to make the best of the situation. Richard Henry Pratt, the founder of the first off-reservation Indian boarding school credited his school’s actions to “kill the Indian, save the man” (Prucha 1990).

Most schools entrances were decorated with archways to symbolize this change from an “uncivilized” to a “civilized world.” “Indian Training School,” 1886. Courtesy of Harvey W. Scott Memorial Library, Pacific University Archives.

Most schools entrances were decorated with archways to symbolize this change from an “uncivilized” to a “civilized world.”
“Indian Training School,” 1886. Courtesy of Harvey W. Scott Memorial Library, Pacific University Archives.

Once at the school, students bonded with one another over their homesickness and longing for home. Students were schooled in basic academic subjects and trained with work force skills in hopes they would graduate and assimilate with the general population instead of returning home to their reservations. At first, the traumatic and militant treatment of Indians cemented the brotherhood amongst students. In some schools, the children were allowed to play with one another in the woods or wilderness close to campus. In others, students bonded over rebellion and planned escapes. A major fear of parents whose children were taken to boarding schools was that students would grow so homesick they would attempt to travel the sometimes hundreds of miles home by themselves. These journeys typically ended in the children succumbing to the elements. As the schools became more prevalent and it was accepted amongst tribes that children would leave to attend them, students were psychologically able to tackle extracurricular activities; something that policymakers hoped for, in order to attract Indian children to the “civilized world of the arts.”

Regardless of the reason for the bond, Indian children attending boarding schools came together in suffering and enjoyment, and were able to graduate brothers and sisters, hopeful to conquer the new world awaiting them.“Graduation” 1968. Courtesy of Delbridge Honanie Collection

Regardless of the reason for the bond, Indian children attending boarding schools came together in suffering and enjoyment, and were able to graduate brothers and sisters, hopeful to conquer the new world awaiting them.
“Graduation” 1968. Courtesy of Delbridge Honanie Collection

This bond of coming together in difficult times is mirrored in another cultural group controlled by the American government: Americans of Japanese descent after WWII. The 1942 Executive Order 9066 signed by President Roosevelt sent approximately 120,000 Americans of Japanese descent from various areas of California to relocation sites and camps scattered amongst the northwest (Arrington 11-15). One of the War Relocation Administration camps located in central Utah was Topaz, a temporary home to 11,212 people throughout its three years of operation. Linguists and historians argue whether the camps can be labeled “internment” however, due to the lack of evidence as to the regulation and conditions of each camp. Many of these American citizens felt like prisoners without conviction or trial.

Topaz High School began after pressures from camp residents for education. Though conditions were unideal, many students enjoyed their time at Topaz High. Emphasizing the collective suffering and healing lead to some happiness and subdued to an extent homesickness amongst adolescents aware of the troubling conditions their people were in. Yearbooks were published and celebratory events to place to place remembrance on the "flowers that bloomed in the desert." "High school graduation dinner." 1944. Courtesy of Leonard J. Arrington

Topaz High School began after pressures from camp residents for education. Though conditions were unideal, many students enjoyed their time at Topaz High. Emphasizing the collective suffering and healing lead to some happiness and subdued to an extent homesickness amongst adolescents aware of the troubling conditions their people were in. Yearbooks were published and celebratory events to place to place remembrance on the “flowers that bloomed in the desert.”
“High school graduation dinner.” 1944. Courtesy of Leonard J. Arrington

Topaz High School published two yearbooks while operating. The foreword of the first edition of “Ramblings 1943” expressed how the students wished to be viewed by their fellow camp members and the outside world.

The Topaz High School Student Body Association is composed of students from almost all of the big and small towns and cities of California, and includes some from the Hawaiian Islands. In one Year’s time these children of truck gardeners, grocerymen, merchants, clerks, domestic workers, carpenters, ministers, laundrymen, teachers, and others have amalgamated into a well organized functioning student body. Sports and activities have taken place in which every student has participated with an effervescent spirit although there was dire need for equipment. The first graduating class had one hundred and ninety-six seniors and twenty summer session students, many graduating with honors. The challenge of establishing a new school under unprecedented conditions was met and the hardships overcome, and this book is a record of the extent to which the students of Topaz High School have succeeded.

—“Ramblings 1943 Foreword,” 1943. Courtesy of Topaz Museum.
This quote showcases the students’ resound decision to come together as one student body and be recognized for their successes, even in a time of squalor.

Similar to that of the American Indians, the suffering brought closeness and eventual normalcy. As children began to attend school and adults in the camps assumed jobs similar to their careers back home in California, days became easier for residents. “School classrooms were set up, dances were held, dates were made, and sports were played,” wrote Eileen Hallet Stone for Pioneer Memorial Theater’s Topaz art display.

Advertised in pamphlets similar to other goods and services, education for women was viewed as a means to prepare middle to upper class white women for marriage and motherhood. These boarding schools were sometimes attended voluntarily but also included girls who were forced by their parents to leave home and prepare for their adult lives."Female Education” 1845. Courtesy of Printed Ephemera Collection, North American Immigrant Letters, Diaries, and Oral Histories .

Advertised in pamphlets similar to other goods and services, education for women was viewed as a means to prepare middle to upper class white women for marriage and motherhood. These boarding schools were sometimes attended voluntarily but also included girls who were forced by their parents to leave home and prepare for their adult lives.
“Female Education” 1845. Courtesy of Printed Ephemera Collection, North American Immigrant Letters, Diaries, and Oral Histories .

In both cases the resilience of the people to assimilate showed them making the best of an undesirable situation. Though negative circumstances brought the inhabitants together, their connections and bonds affected both their own outcomes and others close to them.  For example, many 19th century middle- and upper-class white women were sent or chose to attend boarding schools to obtain the domestic and societal skills necessary for marriage and motherhood. These women didn’t go it alone throughout their schooling; they lived together, were taught together, and even instructed together. This connection is repeated from gladiators in Rome to slaves in the southern states. When collections of people are caused collective pain, history has shown bonds on a level unobtainable without that experience. That bond then fuels the rebirth of spirit in people who may have given up hope or may have decided to try another way. At the end of it all, it seems the best remedy for homesickness – regardless of if one is forced to leave or chose to leave for a better life – is to join together. Both negative and positive experiences will shape the groups to endure long after leaving their homes.

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: https://americanstudiesmediacultureprogram.wordpress.com/assignments-the-concept-of-home-spring-2013/