Can you honestly remember when history stopped being about just what you were taught in school as a child? I learned at an older-than-I’d-care to admit age that most of what I learned in school was just part of what occurred. What had been taught to me was through one specific lens; it was not a collective narrative.
It was especially unheard of to speak from the voice of the oppressed or discriminated upon. The somewhat simple path of discovering that history was just a break of “his story” is clichéd at the very least, but I believe it is critical for future generation to learn think critically about history at a younger age than some of us did before harsh biases settle in for good.
In chapter four of our text book, the author describes a phenomenon that I had never pondered before: absent history. I’m sure many of you have heard the stories surrounding Thanksgiving, Christmas, and even the Fourth of July. When hearing about those histories, it was often a common experience that you would only heard about the victories and feats from the mainstream cultures while there is no mention as to what the other side of the story may look like. What I never heard about was the absent history.
“Absent history, of course, does not mean the people did not exist, their experiences do not matter, or their history has no bearing on us today. To consider such absent histories requires that we think in more complex ways about the past and the ways it influences the present and the future.” (Martin and Nakayama, 124)
I, of course, bring up the issue of absent history because I believe it is still a present day issue. The film, Precious Knowledge, displays a modern day attempt to make a certain aspect of history go absent
In Tucson, Arizona, there was an Ethnic Studies department created to help bridge the gap between Mexican-American students and the alienation they felt from their school. These classes helped engage many students of Mexican heritage by connecting them with information that was relevant to their lives and identities. They learned about Mexican accomplishments in history, literature, art, music, and just about every other subject.
Many of these students have never seen somebody that they could identify with being portrayed in a positive light. It empowered the students and made them enthusiastic about learning.
Then, somebody who did not understand that there can be a positive portrayal of more than one culture let fear take over and proposed to erase the program. The argument behind eliminating the Ethnic Studies department steamed from the fear of creating indoctrinated children with anti-American sentiments. They believed the program was creating racist thoughts towards “white” culture, and I believe they feared a rebellion. While the proof behind the benefits of the programs was heavily supported through student testimonies, test scores, and graduation rates, there was a fear surrounding exposing Mexican-Americans to histories other than that of the Founding Fathers.
However, this brings up questions again about what is “true” history. Why would it not be considered acceptable to teach children from the southwest corners of the country about Mexican-American history? After all, this area has historically seen a large population of Mexicans settling here. Is the idea of expanding “American” history to include Mexican-American, African-American, Native-American, Asian-American, and many other groups that identify both culturally and geographically within America, that terrifying? I think this idea of creating a history that only revolves around the east and the ideas in which the Forefathers believed in is a dangerous path to continue down. It creates an alienated population by allowing their history to remain absent.
“Recognizing a person’s history and its links to his or her identity in communication is a first step in establishing intercultural relationships. It is also important to be aware of your own historical blinders and assumptions.” (Martin and Nakayama, 152)
This quote was especially intriguing to me. I can’t recall if I’ve exposed this fact about myself yet, but I am like many of my classmates in the fact that my hometown is not exactly what you could call diverse. With that in place, I came to college with no idea about what other people went through and how their cultural experiences shaped much of their identity. Had I been more exposed to the fact that not everybody has the same back story, the transition may not have been so shocking when my classmates questioned the history I had been taught since elementary school.
The current climate towards creating a larger narrative for history is one that I find encouraging. I am not alone in hoping that more and more people will question and teach their children to question the history they are taught. While the history most of us learned through the “white lens” may have some validity behind it, it is important to question the absent history as well as other biases.