No history. No noteworthy moments.
Arturo Schomburg moved to New York where he undertook the task of compiling historical documents that pieced together black history. According to the New York Public Library, Arturo Schomburg’s private collection of documents relating to black history included more than 5,000 books 3,000 manuscripts; 2,000 prints and paintings; and several thousand pamphlets. As a product of his life’s work, the New York Public Library now has the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture. His legacy consisted of providing the resources for the community to learn about Black & Afro-Latino culture. This in turn becomes a means of empowerment through the recognition of the contributions made by these racial groups to society.
While Arturo’s struggle with the problem of lack of recognition at the turn of the 20th Century may seem removed, a couple of weeks ago Alana Castro and José González arrived to the Washington University campus to tell their story about the struggle in Tucson, Arizona to re-establish a Mexican Culture Studies program. This is, in essence, an iteration of the same problem that centers on lack of education about the history, the legacy, and the cultural nuances of every community. In Tucson, Alana and Mr. González are fighting to reinstate the Mexican Culture Studies Program in public schools with the purpose of discussing the substance of Mexican identity and thinking critically about issues of race and culture. One of their major efforts has been producing a documentary called Precious Knowledge. The name of this documentary serves to echo the main argument in this piece, knowledge about your cultural background is empowering. Understanding the legacy of your culture and other people’s culture can be the difference between feeling oppressed and excluded, or invited to overcome racial misconceptions, institutional barriers, stigmas, etc. etc.
Neglecting to recognize the diverse backgrounds in society hinders a mature discussion on identity and the effects racial differences have on how we perceive our role in society. Conversely, by exposing people to the history and the achievements of individuals from different cultural communities you provide them with a narrative that gives them a sense of ownership over their position and respect towards the experiences of others.
This message was echoed by Prof. Selma Vital in the recent ALAS Discussion on the importance of thinking critically about identity in the context of Brazil. She began her talk by mentioning that when she studied the work of Machado de Assis, one of the most famous writers in Brazil, it was never mentioned that he was in fact mulato, of mixed African and European descent. She added that when she discussed this fact with her colleagues they accused her of being too Americanized, tainted by the blacks-white racial framework, or worst, discriminatory. Their counter argument was that in Brazil race is not defined in the same way as in the U.S., implying that the is less racial tension. Brazil however, is the country with the largest population of people of African descent outside of any country in Africa. And yet, only last year did they appoint their first Supreme Court Justice of African descent, Joaquim Barbosa. Prof. Vital argued that by making notice of the fact that this writer was of mixed descent you would provide the mulato community in Brazil with a role model from their youth. Moreover, it broadens the social conception of the contributions of mulatos in the Brazilian community.
The commonality that provides a juncture for all of these examples is: people value learning about cultural legacies. This has held true over time and across ethnic groups. Because, when one studies the history of a people, one can connect to the energy across generations that was determined to overcome obstacles and better the prospects of a society. A culturally aware member of any community is present in this thought and can tap into the potential to create their own legacy and overcome the obstacles in their everyday lives.
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