Remembering Your History : A Collective Experience
History is very important. I didn’t realize how important it was until I listened to two young ladies of Asian decent incorrectly discuss my history. But, this article isn’t to chastise the two young ladies because the history is not their own. However, it is meant to offer an observation and critique on how we all learn history, its importance, and how it impacts our lives and the people we work with and engage with on a daily basis.
Think back to when you learned something of historical relevance in middle or high school. If you can still remember it, what made you remember it? What did you find most engaging about the topic? Take the same effort and try to remember things that you don’t feel you know as well, but were taught. For me, I know a lot about the Civil Rights Movement, the various periods of evolution, random taxonomy of animals, species, not to mention quite a few a elements on the periodic table. I found each of these things very interesting because they either fascinated me or had significant value to those around me. If you ask me why North Korea and South Korea are divided or why it’s so cheap to live in Cambodia versus its surrounding countries, I probably couldn’t tell you.
One thing I feel is vital to learning history, which we lack in today’s society, is collective experience with the facts we learn. While in school, writing a list of dates, we feel we are learning another person’s history or may not assign any significance or weight to these dates beyond the A and high AP exam score we might receive in the future. We are rarely introduced to history and taught it in a way that is super engaging and we feel a part of. Although this may seem rudimentary, what are the most important dates to you that come to mind? I venture to guess your birthday and the birthday of your close family members (mom, dad, sister, brother, grandmother, bestfriend, ex-boyfriend/girlfriend – whether you try to erase it or not, and tax day) might pop up somewhere in the mix. Why are these dates important? Well, I don’t know about you, but if I forgot my mom or my bestfriend’s birthday, you might find me in the hospital. These dates have significant emotional and physical importance in my life and to those around me. Similar to the socio-cultural histories we learn about in school, we may or may not be engaged due to the simple fact that they don’t directly impact our day to day lives.
As these young ladies began to incorrectly define Jim Crow laws and why Brown vs. Board of Education was significant was to ask, “Who taught you this and why are you trying to learn it.?” They rattled off dates without differentiating the importance behind them. They attempted to explain the significance of things such as the MLK, Jr.’s assassination, or the abolition of slavery, but could only understand from the textbook perspective that they obviously crammed into their heads the night before. But, I wonder, what if they were to have someone who grew up in the Civil Rights movement come to speak about what it was like to march with MLK or someone who grew up with the “White Only” signs demarcating saloons, water fountains, and other public space. I wonder if they would have remembered the pain in someone eyes as they recount what it meant to be deemed inferior because of something you couldn’t change, would it have made things differently. Most importantly, by understanding that this is the history of a particular group of people and is an integrate part of American culture, I wonder if they would have been more careful to mis-remember history and discuss shoddy definitions with a black person standing right next to them. Out of respect of the person, I think I would have at least lowered my voice and not pretend I was an expert, especially if they were standing right beside me.
Ultimately, I think how you learn history is just as important as who you learn it from. If I had one of my Korean classmates explain the reason behind Korea being split into North and South Korea, I’d probably remember it because I’d remember everything from the way they explained the stories to the personal anecdotes. After all, before the institutionalization of education, that’s how we all learned, oral tradition. I think this everyday ignorance of people and their stories, especially in our nation considered the “melting pot” or “salad bowl of diversity,” is disappointing. We immediately relegate people as inferior because they think, look, and/or act differently. We shy away from people, cultures, and customs that we don’t understand, and, most of us at some point in time, only seek to be around individuals that are just like us and share our own histories. As long as we do this, we will ignorantly mis-learn the history of others which is inevitably linked to the history of our own.
The next time you’re sitting on the train or having a conversation with someone, think about how more enriched your life would be if you were able to tap on the beauty of your history as well as someone else’s. If you were able to identify an event in another person’s culture that has significant importance and impact to you, simply because it was important to them. It might change your life and the way you interact with people. After all, every day that you live is history in motion.
Cheers to shared experiences, creating history, and learning from those around you!