“Unessay” Project

In “Better to be hot than caught” a Vendor in Mexico that specializes in migrant goods,

My unessay project surrounds the topic of migrant material culture. It looks further deep into what specific items people choose to bring or leave behind when leaving their home countries. Also, it looks into how and in what ways do certain items create a sense of home within a space. I was inspired to do my project on this topic because I am a daughter of refugees and I wanted to understand more about the realities of those leaving their home countries in hopes of building and creating something new elsewhere. This is relevant because researching this subtopic allows archaeologists to understand migrant values and their needs in relation to the global and political climate. Furthermore, by studying material culture, it allows archaeologists to understand the harsh realities migrants face and what their needs and desires are as a whole.

Through my research, I learned that the items people decide to bring with them upon leaving their home countries are all situation dependent. For the most part, people decide to bring with them things that are necessary to their survival like food and water. They also decide to bring with them sentimental items that hold no monetary value like pictures, keys, phone numbers, or protective amulets. These items along with some of the functional items that migrants bring help to evoke a sense of emotion and nostalgia. This is a term called memory objects. In relation to creating a sense of home, memory objects help to create feelings of nostalgia and memory but these items are not necessary to create these feelings. Things like music, art, and even flags can help create a sense of home. Over time, as culture changes and shifts, a sense of home changes as well due to a shift in values. Feelings that evoke “a sense of home” are dependent on many factors such as resettlement plans, presence of a diaspora, presence of cultural goods.

With my research findings, I decided to create a podcast that highlights all that I gathered from my sources. Creating a podcast helped me understand how the puzzles fit together by forcing me to highlight important details that I wanted to talk about and include. It also made me realize how much hard work goes into the podcasts that I love to listen to. I had to create a script to follow, record my audio, and then learn how to edit all within a span of a week. With my podcast, I decided to incorporate my research by asking questions that surround my topic and use the research material I gathered to answer the questions. It worked for me because it was simple and other methods I tried were overwhelming.

From the project, I took away a greater understanding and appreciation for the work archaeologists put into researching migrant material culture. Furthermore, it illuminated how much work still needs to be done to explore this topic. Finding academic sources was very difficult and surprising considering the global refugee crisis.


De Leon, J. (2012). “Better to be hot than caught”: Excavating the conflicting roles of migrant material culture. American Anthropologist, 114(3), 477.

Digby, S. (2006). The Casket of Magic: Home and Identity from Salvaged Objects. Home Cultures, 3(2), 169-190.

Marschall, S. (2019). ‘Memory objects’: Material objects and memories of home in the context of intra-African mobility. Journal of Material Culture, 24(3), 253–269. https://doi.org/10.1177/1359183519832630

Parkin, D. (1999). Mementoes as Transitional Objects in Human Displacement. Journal of Material Culture, 4(3), 303–320. https://doi.org/10.1177/135918359900400304

Savaş, Ö. (2014). Taste diaspora: The aesthetic and material practice of belonging. Journal of Material Culture, 19(2), 185–208. https://doi.org/10.1177/1359183514521922

Shanaathanan, T. (2015). Commemorating home: Art as place making, an artist’s narration. Journal of Material Culture, 20(4), 415–428. https://doi.org/10.1177/1359183515605858

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