Accepted Paper:

Roots-migrants: the second generation 'returning' home  


Susanne Wessendorf (London School of Economics)

Paper short abstract:

This paper discusses how nostalgia for the homeland is sometimes transferred to the children of migrants and can lead to ‘roots-migration’, the relocation of the second generation to the country of origin. It describes how notions of ‘roots’ and belonging change once the idealised homeland transforms from imagined to real.

Paper long abstract:

Homecomings among migrants have usually been discussed in relation to first generation migrants, many of whom see the return to their homeland as primary goal of migration and orient their lives entirely towards the return, not only by way of concrete investments such as the acquisition of land in the village of origin, but also through the discursive celebration of nostalgia for the homeland. This paper discusses the impact which these nostalgic relations and lively transnational connections to the homeland have on members of the second generation, the children of migrants born in the host country. Drawing on research among second-generation Italians in Switzerland and southern Italy, and expanding upon theories of transnationalism, the paper illustrates how the parents' nostalgia for the homeland is sometimes transferred to the second generation. This nostalgia, coupled with lively transnational relations, leads some members of the second generation to relocate there, a phenomenon I conceptualise as 'roots-migration'. However, once they settle in southern Italy, the realities they encounter sometimes dramatically contrast the idealised images of the homeland constructed by their parents and reconfirmed during the short holiday visits during childhood. The paper describes how the second generation deals with the discrepancies between their images of the homeland prior to migration and the actual realities they meet once they settle there. Furthermore, it explores how notions of belonging and 'roots' can be constructed and reified by nostalgia for the homeland, and how 'roots' can be lost when the homeland is transformed from imagined to real.

Panel W083
Homecomings in transnational age: visible projects, forged practices?