Breaking out of Hotel California, and our past(s)

Here in the land of no seasons, fall is trying to break through. The morning temperatures are a bit lower so that the other day I could walk home from the mechanic who installed a new battery in my car with a detour to the grocery store. Constant Companion drove me back in the hot afternoon to pick up the faithful vehicle.

The next morning I took off in the other direction for a circular walk to the bank and the pharmacy. On the home arc of the circle, the road was blocked by the ubiquitous concrete truck at a home construction site. In our community, construction workers have not lost their jobs over the past seven months.

I was supposed to cross the street to avoid the truck, but there was ample room between the traffic cones and the truck. The flagless flagman on the other side yelled at me in Spanish – the default language here. “No hablo Español,” I shouted back over the truck noise. “You better move your ass to the other side. You’ll get hit!” was what he was trying to say …

My retort was, “That’s not a polite way to speak,” had no effect on this man. Perhaps that was all he could say in English, who knows? His inappropriate and rude rhetoric brought to mind the bullyish speech of our current (un)leader. Are his brutish manners acceptable now as proper behavior between people? I think not.

That brings to mind the sign on the bank window. The tellers there know me well; I’m the one who walks up to the drive-in! The sign alerted me to the fact that the bank would be closed on October 12, Columbus Day, now called by some Indigenous Peoples Day.

And this brings to mind calls in the museum world (my working world for a long, long time) to “decolonize”; what I consider to be abrasive rhetoric. Don’t get me wrong, change has been needed for many years. Change has been advocated for many years. I have been fortunate to be an agent of change in my own museum practice. My call here is for how we say it and how we accomplish change. I have been put off by the aggressiveness and the meaning behind the word – decolonize.

We cannot take back history. Colonization is a fact, and not only a fact of the Western (European) world. Colonialism has been the way of expansion by powers all over the world.

We can reframe history, insure that we include ALL histories in our cultural institutions. Insure that those who document and tell the history are community members. Insure that those who work in and govern our cultural institutions fully represent the community-at-large. Insure that objects, documents, artwork be returned to the source communities so that they can rebuild their own (hi)stories.

With that brief thought brought about by an encounter on the streets of my neighborhood and a posting at the bank, let’s celebrate Indigenous Peoples Day. Let’s not push the facts of horrible histories under the carpet as we make ourselves aware of where we can possibly go.

When I wrote about paella and Hispanic Heritage Month (see 10-2-20 post) I wrote about the Dia de la Raza that “celebrates … colonization … of Latin America,” taken from some web source about that day. I was shocked by the language used and I repeated it. Have we not gone beyond “celebrating colonization”?

Is it not time to put our efforts into recognizing the past for what it was did and put forth our best efforts to move on? By the way, why are the Americas still referred to as the “New World”? Think about that …

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