How does a refugee boat symbolize heritage? What heritage does a refugee boat symbolize? How is the symbolic image of a refugee boat used in heritage production by taking part in political debates and conflicts? What function does refugee heritage have in today’s public domain and what is the role of museums, heritage sites and memorial sites in this public domain?
These are all core questions for examining the phenomenon of forced and undocumented migration, which is examined in this paper by focusing on the heritage produced by the Vietnamese refugee diaspora following the Vietnam War (1955–1975). The analytical sources for this examination are the Vietnamese boat people memorials—the intentions behind their construction and reception.
Four themes of refugee heritage are discussed: the function of ‘difficult histories’ in professional storytelling, the alternative exhibition arenas, such as ‘liquid museums’, the transnational and global interpretations of ‘cosmopolitan heritage’ and the ideas of ‘heritage diplomacy’ for directing shared uses of refugee heritage in post-conflicts.
The question that is asked here is how the boat refugee heritage contributes to defining what heritage management is as a public service that reflects the needs of present and future generations, thereby seeking to discover whether the phenomenon of forced and undocumented migration can contribute to deepening the understanding of what heritage is, what it is useful for in society and for whom.
Torgrim Sneve Guttormsen is an archaeologist (PhD) and Research Professor at the Norwegian Institute for Cultural Heritage Research (NIKU)
NIKU project in English: https://www.niku.no/en/prosjekter/immigranters-kulturarv/