Memory as identity
Maria Andrade, Theology and Network Engagement Team Leader for Tearfund.
Throughout scripture, we see that historic and collective memory formed the basis of the Hebrew people’s identity, to the point that the heart of biblical ethics beats to the rhythm of memory. Their own experience of displacement and exile in Egypt and in Babylon gave them the opportunity to feel what it’s like to be a foreigner. The pain of rejection, suspicion and violence simply because they were immigrants – and the inequality and poverty resulting from it – was something that they knew about, they cried to God about, and they fought to escape from.
Such a hard experience of being the ‘other-foreigner’ led the Hebrew people to develop a more compassionate and solitary attitude towards foreigners, compared to other neighboring peoples. However, God’s constant reminders of the Hebrews’ own experience of being the ‘other’ makes us suspect that having a welcoming attitude was not always easy.
Spanish philosopher George Santayana said: ‘Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.’ His words are very relevant in the region I come from, Latin America (or Abya Yala, the ‘living and mature land’, as it was originally called by indigenous peoples before colonization), where history seems to repeat itself in many ways.
Racism and identity are one of those ways and, in the context of Latin America, they are closely related to migration and poverty. In fact, forced displacement, the discovery and endurance in new countries, and the engendering of a stubborn hope are part of the story of almost every Latin American family. We know what xenophobia feels like and we have seen Jesus in every welcoming hand.
However, when it is our turn to be the ‘welcoming hand’ to the outsiders arriving in our countries, a feeling of invasion and discomfort seems to be growing among many of us. Did we forget the time when we were the ones knocking at someone else’s door? This is why, in a context of racism and xenophobia, calling to our historic memory is crucial to build our shared identity as migrants, and opens doors to hospitality, which is so important in building a world for all.
In the Hebrew’s experience, in the experience of Latin Americans, and for all who call themselves followers of Christ, memory builds identity and can be a determining factor for justice. In that sense, historic memory is a moral obligation.
Memory not to forget.
Justice not to repeat.
Truth to move forward together as a society.
Help us to have a sense of historic memory so that we never forget that we all share a common identity. Help us remember the times when we experienced your love and care through other people so that we are now willing to open our arms and our hearts to every ‘other’ that knocks at our door.
Help us to see each other as fully worthy, regardless of our color, race, gender, or social condition, not because of our merits, but because of yours.