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The Collective Memory and the Immigrants

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Collective memory is a term that is fully understood from a sociological and anthropological sense. It has social functions that provide meaning to the individual members of the group. In this manner, collective memory has to be studied ethnographically by investigating a particular group or tribe. Incidentally, the said term is entangled with other cognitive faculties, which would be explained in this paper. Specifically, the connection of collective memory with stream of consciousness and personal identity would be rationalized.

This paper is about a critical assessment of how would immigrants define themselves as opposed to the general population and other minority groups in the United States. It is a known fact that the American population is a melting pot of different races and ethnic groups. The main objective is to explore the issues surrounding the immigrants as regards their own definition of their own group. The US is one of the countries today that has tolerated the influx of immigrants.  This is an issue that can be answered by explaining the function of collective memory.

Collective Memory, Stream of Consciousness, and Personal Identity  

Memory is an indispensable cognitive function that has great impact one’s identity and collective consciousness. In fact, memory serves as the connection of the individual to the societal history or past. It gives information or details to the individual that enables him/her to participate or function actively to the ongoing social situations, events, or activities of the group, tribe or society, at large. This would imply that memory is the link of everybody in a group about the past, current, and the future social situations that they would encounter in social life. Moreover, memory ensures the rituals, traditions, and other social phenomenon of the group would be strengthened and would have continuity.   

Psychologically, memory is defined as the totality of past interior and exterior experiences that can be recalled through bioelectrochemical portion of the brain. The interaction of the nervous system and the neurons from the outside world provides concrete information for the individual to respond to any stimulus. With such physiological functions, memory is quite vital in everyday life of a person. Basically, people rely on memory every moment of the day. Without it, an individual has no sense of continuity. There would be no realization of the past. Without it, learning is impossible that is necessary for adaptation to the environment of any organism or individual. More importantly, all images and materials that are not immediately available to the senses are drawn from memory. So, memory makes the life of individual easier.

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Now, personal identity exists because it possesses cognitive components such as consciousness and memory. A person is, therefore, an entity that possesses a past, present and future dimensions. For that matter, consciousness and the memory that a person has are the defining traits of personal identity. The body is just an empty shell without those faculties. The personal identity would definitely not dependent on the body alone but on the faculties of the mind. The mind assumes the real identity of the person. It is logical to assume that we are what we are because of our awareness of our whole identity including the past. In case of an amnesia, a person is no longer the same person because he/she doesn’t know he/she really is. In short, personal identity is useless if there is inability to recollect one’s own past.

In relation, the individual is connected with the stream of consciousness of the group, tribe, or society through collective memory. There is a shared reality embedded in the collective memory that each individual tend to grasp in order to enjoin in the stream of consciousness. The stream of consciousness is the flow of ideas, facts, or information that the society implements to cement the social activities that the members participate in. The stream of consciousness also assures the individual and the group that the ongoing activity or ritual is part of their past that has to be continued. The individual is, therefore, capable of responding appropriately or in a socially acceptable manner to the group since he/she obtains facts from the stream of consciousness that is anchored in the collective memory. In this sense, the collective can already be treated as the cemented past of the group that is constantly being objectified through the current rituals or activities. Thus, the individual is solidified to the group through the collective memory and stream of consciousness.

Immigration: Manifestation of Collective Memory

Collective memory would be observed clearly in the way immigrants behave and think. As immigrants go to one country to another, their definition of their race or ethnicity is constant in their stream of consciousness. Their collective memory is instrumental in carrying their traditions and customs along with them as they migrate to another country.

Anthropologists have been arguing that America is considered the land of various ethnic groups since time immemorial. There were many ethnic races that wandered and took their adventure in the said land. The United States has been a major destinations of various peoples from different parts of the world. For one thing, the Native Americans are said to originate from Northeast Asia in about 20,000 years age. However, some argue that there were peoples coming Polynesia, South Asia and Europe settled in the land who were considered the first Americans. There was also a strong argument that European migration had contributed a lot in populating the said country for about 20,000 years ago. The Africans were also considered part of the ancestors of the Americans because they were brought to the country some thousands years ago as slaves.

Indeed, the United States has been a country that is open to the influx of various races coming from different countries. In fact, the immigrants in the US have been growing exponentially especially the undocumented ones. This had occurred due to the leniency of the immigration agency of the US in allowing immigrants to enter the country. Interestingly, it is clear to the immigrants what is their ethnic origin and how differentiated their tradition from the general population of the United States.

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For instance, there are basic differences in Hispanic and Latino population. One basic distinction between the two is that Hispanics are Spanish speaking people coming various countries like Mexico, Puerto Rico, Cuba and other Central and South America and Spain. On the other hand, Latino is a person coming from Latin America. Hispanics are considered more of belonging to white race than the Latinos. This is important because Hispanics and Latinos are usually misconstrued as belonging to only one race which they are not.

With the arrival of Asians, Latinos, Hispanics, and other migrants in the US, the general assumptions about race and ethnicity have become imprecise. Some may misconstrue these immigrants as belonging to one race or ethnicity. Before, race was associated with skin color. However, according to the current definitions, skin color is no longer the sole determinant of race particularly among Asians and Latinos. These two immigrants belong to different cultural orientation but with similar skin colors. Ancestral or cultural origin has become a more determinant of race and ethnicity, not skin color. It has also been argued that race is not a biological but a social and cultural concept. The misunderstanding would come from the idea that people may be born in their country of origin but can be raised in another country with a different culture. In other words, race and ethnicity are not easily accounted for in some cases like Latino and Hispanic. It can be speculated that race and ethnicity have no absolute definitions.

But, for the immigrants, it is clear to them that they don’t belong to the American population in terms of culture and ethnic backgrounds. Their collective memory dictates that their traditions in their own country separate them from other minority groups in the United States. Their definition of their race would largely come from their collective memory that tell them that they just merely reside in the host country on a temporary basis. Even if they would stay for a very long time in the host country, immigrants are fully aware that they belong to a different race because of their cultural roots that are embedded in their collective memory.


The paper has demonstrated the operational usage of collective memory through the phenomenon of immigration. Indeed, collective memory exists because it has social functions. Individual memory is useless if it is not connected with the collective memory and vice versa. For that matter, individual memory exists side by side with collective memory. The shared memory is necessary to fill in the gap that the individual members would have to grasp in order to become part of the social group. This is manifested in the definition of immigrants about their own group as opposed to the general population due to the existence of collective memory.

Evidently, collective memory provides socially constructed definitions of race and ethnicity that helps immigrants in protecting their own culture. Immigrants have the tendency to integrate in the dominant culture of the host country but their collective roots facilitates the maintenance of their own identity as a minority group. Of course, immigrants are also longing for social acceptance, which is why they thrive to adapt the culture of the host country. But, collective memory serves as a shield from any factors that would disrupt the stream of consciousness as a group.

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