Friday, April 11, 2014

Thrown-Off by Throwback: Memories and Migration

I treasure the past.  I'm the kind of person who likes reminiscing, looking at older pictures, and reading through my old journals.  I value memories and do what I can to preserve as much as possible.  I love documenting important events or conversations.  Yet in spite of my love affair with the past, I can't deny that I've always felt conflicted about #TBT (Throwback Thursday), this social media phenomenon where people post pictures from their past in order to, of course, share more about themselves. 

It's not as simple as it sounds because if you searched online, you'll realize that there are rules to participating in #TBT.  One that I'm familiar with is that you shouldn't post a photo that's less than five years old.  There are others who are even more strict, saying that it shouldn't be anything you have a digital copy of so that you know it's really that old; that it needs to be an actual photo that you need to take a picture of (or maybe scan?) before you can post online.  The whole point of course is that the older the image, the better.

And that's the source of my angst.  

As a fairly new U.S. citizen, much of my life is 'undocumented' here in the U.S. No, I was never here illegally, but only meant that most of my photos documenting the first 30 1/2 years of my life are in the Philippines.  Unlike most of you, grabbing a picture of your college graduation is easy.  Unearthing a photo from a fun family vacation when you were an awkward teenager is as easy as flipping through a few pages in that yellowing photo album.  

One of the VERY few photos I have with me,
from circa 1974 (?)

Almost every Thursday, I find myself looking at numerous #TBT photos posted by friends and I can't help but feel a faint pang of jealousy.  Sure I can post some photos from six or so years ago but really, that's not much of a throwback, is it?  If I was desperate enough to truly participate and be true to the challenge, it would require me contacting my Mom either via email or an overseas phone call, and then have her look for a photo that I would probably won't be able to describe adequately, not to mention most likely needing a week of lead time before I am able to produce such a photo for posting.  Can you imagine what sort of desperation I would have to have for me to actually put myself (and my mother) through all that inconvenience???

Don't get me wrong.  I'm jealous not because I want so badly to participate and can't, but because every old photo I see posted by others is a reminder of every photo I don't have with me.  Every detail I learn about others through their old photos is a reminder of the missing pieces of my own life.  Sure, I still have my memory, or at least most of it.  But what about those years when I was too young to remember?  Or what about those deeply buried ones, those sitting in the darker corners of my mind which could benefit from me seeing a seemingly irrelevant photo that could light up those dark and forgotten crevices?  

Memory is fragile.  And from experience, I know how immigrating, especially for adults, shocks one's consciousness to a certain extent. Though the brain is resilient, it is never immune to such jolts, shocks and new rewiring it has to perform and get accustomed to, hence affecting its capability to retain some information.  No matter how much we want to hold on to some memories, they still fade and abandon us despite our desperation.  Faces and places we hold dear become blurred in our minds overtime and this saddens me.  This is why artifacts, such as photos, videos, old letters or journals, are priceless to me, and perhaps others like me whose lives have been transplanted; people whose biographies have more pronounced breaks between chapters instead of having a more predicted fluidity to them.  

An old photo may just be that to some, or perhaps just entertainment to others. But to me, they are powerful reminders of treasured feelings and experiences shared with people who have mattered in some way.  These artifacts from the past, which I don't have easy access to, unlike most others, are nourishment for my sense of identity.  They anchor me in ways someone who has never left their country of origin might not fully appreciate.  I find that they illuminate what I call my sacred intransigence that defines and reminds me of who I am amidst an ever-changing surface.


  1. Oh, I'd never realized how blessed I am to have my childhood albums with me. You made me understand how vital these are to us, and how a social media practice like TBT can hold much more meaning than we first ascribe to it. I especially admire how you put it -- "people whose biographies have more pronounced breaks between chapters"

    1. Thank you Cookie. Somehow I knew you'd appreciate that line. ;-)) *hugs*

  2. What a beautiful post Joy! I have to say that having easy access to old pictures is something I take for granted. Thank you for giving me one more thing to be grateful for. I do hope that at some point you will be able to hold a few of your precious memories in your hand. And of course I'm so glad you are making new, wonderful memories with your family now. Years from now your son will easily be able to do TBT and have a great appreciation for ti! Love you!

    1. So true Kathy! Here's to building more precious memories and collecting notable photos! Thanks so much!

  3. I feel your loss. Photos are powerful reminders of where we came from and who we were and how far we've come.

  4. Baliktad tayo. I posted a throwback today-- which photo I got from my lola's house in LA just a week ago. We dont have a lot with us in Manila now (we are a bit careless about the photos) but, apparently, my lola has very neat albums of us in LA. :) I wish I could contact all relatives to send me all old pictures :)


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