Exploring the DP Experience through the Memoirs of the Second Generation

Laima Vincė Sruoginis (Vytautas Magnus University)

Canadian writer Antanas Sileika’s parents and American writer Daiva Markelis’s parents fled Lithuania in 1944 when the country was re-occupied by the Soviets at the end of World War II. They found shelter in displaced persons camps in the Allied controlled zones of Western Germany, and eventually immigrated to North America in the early 1950s, where both families struggled for decades before establishing themselves. Within this landscape of extreme loss, in the Lithuanian diaspora, family and community rituals kept memories of the homeland alive, which were passed down to the second and third generations born and raised on foreign soil. The diaspora community of the second half of the twentieth century was essentially a community made up of survivors of war, many of whom were coping with few resources to heal survivor’s guilt and displacement, while rebuilding a life on a new continent and in a foreign culture. The memoirs The Barefoot Bingo Caller: A Memoir by Antanas Sileika (born 1953) and White Field, Black Sheep: A Lithuanian-American Life by Daiva Markelis (born 1957) chronicle each memoirist’s search for their own North American identity while negotiating a cultural memory inheritance constructed from romanticized remembrances of their parents’ generation’s prewar independent Lithuania passed on through rituals of memory, society, and culture in the North American Lithuanian diaspora. Their narratives also function as postmemory narratives. The memoirs narrate coming of age experiences intertwined with the writers’ parents and grandparents’ trauma memories. Set in the two most populous North American Lithuanian diasporas, Chicago and Toronto, these memoirs reflect cultural memory experiences constructed out of collective trauma experienced by first-generation war refugees who had come of age in prewar independent Lithuania. These collective traumas are shaped into collective memory in the diaspora with the goal of generating post-traumatic growth for the North American Lithuanian diaspora community by passing on memory, heritage, culture, and by maintaining a cohesive society based on the rituals and traditions formed by collective memory. This presentation analyzes these two memoirs written by second generation North American writers of Lithuanian descent through the lens of Jan Assmann’s concept of cultural memory, Maurice Halbwach’s concept of collective memory. The mid-twentieth century sociologist Milton M. Gordon’s work on cultural pluralism in America provides context.