From cuddly toys to tea leaves – a child’s view of migration

When you’re a kid, moving house is a big deal. Moving to another country, learning another language, making new friends, facing a new culture… well, that’s a pretty huge deal.

During the Europeana Migration campaign, while adults shared stories about their childhood, we also heard stories about children from children, each illustrated by an object that means something to them. This blog explores some of the themes from these stories. 

This reminds me of my family

Perhaps unsurprisingly, most of the stories focus on an object that reminds the child of family members.

Ariadne’s is a golden badge which her dad got ‘for helping South Africa catching robbers’: a true superhero! ‘Having my badge makes me feel like I’m seeing my family. It has helped me remember my Great Grandma, and my Grandma who helps me paint with watercolour.’

Stella’s silver ornament ‘reminds me of my great grandma’s mother and her flossy cotton candy, silky and light caramels, bitter and rich chocolate, and vanilla cookies!’

My golden badge from Denmark, Ariadne, CC BY-SA

My golden badge from Denmark, Ariadne, CC BY-SA

This is what I cuddle

Sometimes it’s not clear whether the link between the object and the family member is figurative or literal… Elsa tells us that her bunny teddy is important to her ‘because it reminds me of my dad. My Bunny has one banana yellow nose, one green eye, two soft black eyebrows and two faint yellow ears matching with his feet.’

Salavador says something similar: ‘It looks like a bear with fluffy ears. It has beautiful paws and reminds me of Dad.’

So does Isobel: ‘Back then my Bunny had beautiful flowers in her ears and her nose was not as torn and her fur was as soft as a polar bear’s. But now she is a bit scruffy and not as soft. When I look at her she reminds me of my sister and my Mum and Dad but I will always have my precious little bunny.’

And a toy monkey with ‘super sonic orange eyes’ makes Aidan think of his dad, ‘When we are together, we always go to new beautiful, magnificent places.’

The Monkey, Aidan, CC BY-SA

The Monkey, Aidan, CC BY-SA

This feels nice to touch

Children experience the world in a different way to grown-ups. They talk a lot about how an object feels to touch, what it smells or even tastes like.

A holy thread feels rough and hard. A Rakhi soft and furry. A pen ‘smells like ice and tastes like salt’. A badge is cold and difficult to break. A cuddly bear smells like old toys and ‘sounds like soft little pillows when it falls’. A babygro smells of vinegar and ‘tickles a bit’. A soccer trophy ‘was ice cold’ and ‘as special as an old fossil’.

My favourite Rakhi, Het, CC BY-SA

My favourite Rakhi, Het, CC BY-SA

This makes me feel at home

For some, the object they describe takes them back home even though home is now somewhere new.

Shaariq told us about his grandmother’s invention – ‘Palla podi’ – a powder made from burnt husk and cinnamon for cleaning teeth. ‘When you add water or saliva it becomes black and it makes your teeth white and clean.’ Another child brought the Indian silver cup they were fed from – tradition has it that feeding a baby out of silverware makes them smart, strong and precious.

Several children talk of shells they picked up and treasured – a pocket-sized piece of home. Abigail has two golden bracelets made especially for her Nanna by her sister in Croatia. Calypso’s doll’s house helps her to feel at home having moved from Cyprus to the Netherlands. For Kamila, it’s a rubber toy pig from Uzbekistan given to her when she was six that she just couldn’t stop hugging that reminds her of home. And for eight-year-old Kavin, a replica of the Shard reminds him of his time in London and remains his ‘third most treasured item’.

My toy pig from Uzbekistan, Kamila, CC BY-SA

My toy pig from Uzbekistan, Kamila, CC BY-SA

This is my family

And of course, there are family photos. Nine-year-old Maanas moved from India to Brussels and returns every two years. He shared photos of both his father’s family and his mother’s family. And Maximilian says his snapshot ‘reminds me of when I was there in Switzerland to meet my family or go skiing. Some days I dream that I am in Switzerland with all my Swiss family eating delicious food in a restaurant or at the Badi Ruti swimming pool.’ 

Maanas's big family, Maanas, CC BY-SA

Maanas’s big family, Maanas, CC BY-SA

I made this myself

Particularly special are the hand-crafted and unique – drawings, letters, school yearbooks. Ananya loves her Tanzanian yearbook. ‘It is so lovely to have a yearbook, which reminds you of nature, friends and teachers of your school.’

Leon appreciates the school folder his parents brought from his school in England when they moved to The Hague. And Aadit hand-wrote his contribution about ‘the best moment in my life’ – when he travelled with his mother and little brother from Mumbai to Brussels to move to a new country, rejoining his father who he hadn’t seen for six months.

Clara Herreros shared a picture showing Spain – churros, an omelette and a flag – and Holland – cheese, a tulip, a windmill and waffles. While Ana Lucia’s drawing puts Australia and Holland side by side as she remembers being bitten by ants.

Not all the stories are of happy times. Drawings by refugee and asylum-seeker children reveal both traumatic experiences and hopes for the future.

Una niña albaceteña en Holanda, Clara Herreros, CC BY-SA

Una niña albaceteña en Holanda, Clara Herreros, CC BY-SA

This is mine, just mine

Some children talk about their object being special because it is theirs and theirs alone. A map of Uganda ‘belongs to me just me’. A teddy bear ‘has never belonged to anyone else’. Three shells on a beach ‘never belonged to anyone’. A way perhaps of gaining a little control when everything else is in transition.

My map of Uganda, Micah, CC BY-SA

My map of Uganda, Micah, CC BY-SA

This is my future

And the children talk of their hopes for the future – of revisiting their country of birth, of seeing family members again, of learning more languages, of learning to read the tea leaves with Nanny, or of wanting to ‘explore the ocean wide and find treasure because none of my family did’.

Reading tea leaves - a family tradition, George, CC BY-SA

Reading tea leaves – a family tradition, George, CC BY-SA

We thank them all for sharing their stories with Europeana Migration. 

Discover more stories of migration on Europeana Collections.

This blog post is a part of the Migration in the Arts and Sciences project, which explores how migration has shaped the arts, science and history of Europe.

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