Sharing a Memento When Words Fall Short

By Breanne Vailes

DPL’s Cultural Inclusivity Services team has curated an online audio-visual exhibit that includes stories and mementos – Mementos from Home. The project invites participants from a variety of cultures to share a memento that represents a special time in the past. The project also provides a space to learn others’ stories, featuring jewelry, pieces of clothing, or coins that represent warm memories. The people, location, sights, and sounds that the memento represents will never be the same. Yet, the memories will not be forgotten thanks to the retelling of their stories. Mementos from Home resurrects these moments for others to appreciate as well. The special objects themselves elicit deep emotions, and the terms saudade and “nostalgia” begin to depict aspects of these feelings.

The Portuguese word saudade is a nuanced nostalgia that does not have an exact translation in English. Saudade includes both happiness elicited from a past moment, person, or place and also a sad understanding that the past will never happen again in the same way. Portuguese writer Manuel de Malo defined saudade as “a pleasure you suffer, an ailment you enjoy.” Remembering past pleasures can bring both pleasant and painful emotions, like the concept of “bittersweet” in the English language. Mementos embody these intricate feelings and allow someone literally to hold onto the past to both enjoy and mourn the reminiscence.

Similarly, nostalgia involves remembrance of an unreplicable moment. New Americans often experience nostalgia for their homeland. Yet, people can live in one place all their lives and still experience nostalgia. After all, a moment includes events that will not be the same again. In Colorado, one might remember a crisp, breezy autumn day with a scent of a sweet treat baking in the oven, the excitement of a school year rhythm beginning, cozy cuddles at home with the evenings getting darker and cooler, and the sights of orange pumpkins and fragile, crunchy leaves that cover the sidewalk. Annual seasons include particular rhythms, but each autumn includes different people and circumstances that make it special. Maybe a significant milestone is celebrated one year, perhaps someone has a health concern that disrupts normal routines, or a world event, like a pandemic, changes every aspect of life. Nostalgia involves holding on to the sweet memories of those familiar rhythms, and a memento is a physical reminder of a specific moment with particular people in a beloved place filled with certain sights, sounds, and aromas. When someone knows home will never be the same again, a memento holds extra value.

Both saudade and nostalgia can describe aspects of what a memento means, but sometimes written language fails to communicate the essential emotion of a memory. That is why the Mementos from Home project includes oral stories, photos, and written accounts of what the contributors’ mementos mean to them. If you have an item that evokes these emotions for you and would like to contribute to the Mementos from Home project, you may upload your story and a photo of your memento.

Written by Cultural Inclusivity on