October 25, 2007

Celebrating Heritage?

September 15 to October 15 is the designated period to celebrate the heritage of yet another ethnic minority in the United States. Why are we compelled to celebrate things that we have yet to be comfortable with? Why does heritage make us look backwards while we consciously evade the here and now. Earlier in the year we also celebrate the Black Heritage Month, that over the years has become but a lip-service ritual in the name of tolerance and equality.

Heritage is a continuum, one that connects the past with the present; we cannot therefore celebrate it by glorifying merely the past of a people. For instance, slavery is as much a part of the American heritage, as is entrepreneurship; the glory of desegregation is a part of our young heritage as is the embarrassing Japanese American Internment. The tragedy of 9/11 has become embedded in our heritage along with the united healing that followed this catastrophe. A people's heritage is a work in progress and makes for mixed emotions, and it is insincere, unfair, perhaps impossible to present or celebrate it in entirety, so why even make these naive attempts!

A friend's mother wrote the following piece after she witnessed one such attempt to celebrate her heritage:


"In the 80's we talk about a raising tide of mediocrity. Now what we have is a tsunami. This is in response to the exhibit in commemoration of Hispanic Heritage Month at Cumberland County Library.

Hispanic cultures are not a can of Vitarroz or Goya products. We are the result of the Latin expansion in what now we call Europe, we are eight centuries of Arabic domination; we are the magnificent body of knowledge translated by the Jewish. We are the African influences. We are the heritage of the Mayas, Aztecs, Incans and Tainos among others. We are Indian languages still spoken in our times and European influences too. One of the most powerful influences is the Spanish language we all share. We are the Golden Age of literature. We are Cervantes, the picarest novel. We are Lope de Vega and Calderon de la Barca with his glorious "Life is a Dream" We are Luis de Góngora, Tirso de Molina, We are Duque de Rivas and Gustavo Adolfo Becquer. We are Benito Perez Galdos and Unamuno. We are Antonio Machado. We are Pio Baroja and Garcia Lorca We are "Facundo" and "Martín Fierro" and La Avellaneda. Do you know her poem "Al Partir" bring tears to my eyes every time I read it? We are Issacs's "Maria" What about "Doña Barbara"?. Yes, we are "Doña Barbara". We are Jose Marti one of my role models. We are Eugenio Maria de Hostos and Lola Rodríguez de Tío. We are the great Mexican novel "El Zarco" and the great Colombian writer Garcia Marquez. We are from the left and from the right. Librarians from Cumberland County Library we are not a can of Goya products. We are Francisco Goya the great painter consider the father of modern art. We are the magic realism of Isabell Allende and the feelings of Julia de Burgos and the passion of Nicolas Guillén. We are the music of Beny More and Tito Puente. We are Celia Cruz. We are salsa, merengue, bachata and tango. We are La Celestina and "Viaje a la Semilla" of Alejo Carpentier. We are regeton and contemporary writers such as Hijuelos or Cisneros who are part now of the United States literature.

Does Che Guevara have space in our culture? Yes. For many of us he was a terrorist, a mass murder and opportunist who executed many people. We do not want the library to become a center for communist propaganda. We want the library to be a sanctuary of ideas. All ideas. Do not remove the picture of Che. I do not want censorship in the United States. Let the trust come out. Display books about him from all points of view. I do not have problem talking about him. I have a problem displaying his picture without an explanation. Yes, we consume rice and beans, pastels, arepas or tequila but we create beauty for the world to enjoy and the library is the place to find it. We are not a can of Vitarroz or a picture of a terrorist without an explanation. He is an enemy of free markets. He is an enemy because his ideas are still alive. Do you want firing squads executing Americans because they like Ben Franklin? That is exactly the ideas Che will bring to the United States. We do not want that and we do not want a library to represent us with a bottle of tequila."

R. Hernandez


11 comments:

eshuneutics said...

Hi, id it is, so we end up posting about the same thing at the same time. Serendipity. I remember you writing about this before...I have changed my view. The "Runaway Diamonds" play was all that celebration should be. It was dynamic, taking the past and shaping people's perceptions now. Unlike this. I attended an African Drumming Concert for UK's Black History Month. It was awful! It represented, first of all, a fake past. And it created a false present with lots of children who hadn't a clue what they were banging about. The Africans in the audience were uncomfortable--this was not their heritage, their experience of a Christian Africa. In the UK, this is called the "Steel Pan and Samosa Approach"--it happens once a year, like a party, and does nothing to embed identity within the curriculum. I know what you are saying.

EYE said...

I think the purpose is to give space to each and every community. But the efforts ultimately make it to the surface level

EXSENO said...

I think that is a wonderful post. I think it hits the nail right on the head, as the saying gos.

It is the same way every race should feel. We are a composite of many things past and present.

Sanjay said...

Id, I really liked this post. Thank you for talking about this issue. I have a few thoughts here some may make sense, some may not and some may not be something we may agree upon. I am not sure anyone is being compelled to celebrate the heritage of yet another ethnic minority. Isn't this something that is done most in schools and libraries? And there is always an option to not partake right?

I do agree with your description of heritage in that it is a continuum. But a peoples heritage will always be a work in progress, and by it's very protean nature will never be at a point where there will be a uniform consensus about what is and when is the right time or thing to celebrate.
Heritage is never completely formed just as you say. The notion that it is too complex and cannot be celebrated in it's entirety and hence don't bother is also somewhat naive. People celebrate their heritage in numerous ways, on a national level, in a community, on a family level with their loved ones and kids and on a personal level. Merely looking at something the state does and encourages is not the complete picture in my opinion.

And on what basis do you refer to these attempts as naive? As much as a nation will institue programs and policies to correct past wrongs, heritage and reminders of it are an important part of this process. I did not know till I came across black history month that there were some fairly famous black scientists and poets? How can one discount the effect of this on young minds? It does not mean that people are evading the present here and now. although some do.

And your friend's mother put it very well too. But is she responding to something akin to Latin culture being distilled to a "Hispanic cultures are not a can of Vitarroz or Goya products"? I suspect this is a metaphor for something she saw? Perhaps some of the programs celebrating this are not doing it right?

I do agree that there teremdous diversity in the stories of both African - American and Latino folks but not celebrating all of that or cevering all of that cannot be reason to not celebrate it, maybe a better job has to be done of that?

Having said all of this, I have to say I am one of those folks who roots dont run very deep. I am not quite able to explain this. I am aware of my roots and my "heritage" and it plays a role in who I am, I just don't seem to dwell on it too much. I saw a very interesting documentary "fotografias". There is a post about it here. It does deal with heritage and identity and the effect of that on a son and mother. Not quite related to your post but I thought you may find it of interest.

We may not agree about everything but I loved reading what you had to say.

Lotus Reads said...

You chose a great topic to post on Id. I have to admit that as an amateur ethnologist I really do love heritage days, I love celebrating different cultures and my one fear is that one day we will be so homogenized that we might not have different cultures to celebrate. However, you do have a point when you that some heritage festivals have turned into a lip-service ritual in the name of tolerance and equality. I think Heritage Days or months have to constantly reinvent themselves or they run the risk of being irrelevant.

Dr. Deb said...

I think the intent is good spirited, but I agree with your thoughts.

How do we know said...

i agree with ur friend's mother a lot! And also with u.

Id it is said...

sanjay,
Where is the need to 'celebrate' heritage which is neither tangible nor defined to begin with. The whole task seems so foolhardy and thus unnecessary given that heritage cannot be transfixed or pin-pointed; it's far too inclusive and yet remarkably exclusive to those who call it their own. Given this dichotomy why venture to even define a heritage let alone 'celebrate' it. Besides how does one celebrate it, and which part is the final product that deserves the recognition of being celebrated, and what guarantee is there that the very part celebrated will not change drastically in the process of an evolving heritage!
Pardon me, if my thoughts are a tad bit rigid and harsh sounding, but at some point we have to stop paying lip service to the feel-good traditions that we have created to hide our weaknesses and to glorify our mediocrity.

Id it is said...

Lotus,
That's exactly what's happened: "Heritage Days or months" have become "irrelevant". Who cares what heritage month we are celebrating; do you think students in school care about it, unless it's for a grade. Why set up false traditions that no one buys into? Do you really want every Dominican to celebrate Dominican heritage represented by Sammy Sosa, or a current day Indian to celebrate his heritage in Gandhi's 'Ahimsa' movement. Heritage cannot be captured in individuals or in isolated events, it is a conglomerate of people, times, and events, and is constantly in the process of remake and building upon, so why fragment it, even if it is to celebrate?

I raise this argument even at the risk of sounding confrontational, which really isn't my intent, so forgive me if I sound abrasive.

human being said...

thanks a lot Id for directing me to this post... great... i escape anything that becomes a dogma...
it's very dangerous...

moreover, think we should always be analyzing and criticizing any phenomenon... it's the only way to grow... to make less mistakes...


"We want the library to be a sanctuary of ideas. All ideas. "

she's absolutely right... all of them... selections have always had a sense of bias for me...

think i should come to review your previous posts... sure i'll find more sparkly things...
:)

sildenafil said...

I think it is a great idea to celebrate heritage because that is where people come from. It is our roots and we can not deny it. We can not escape from it so it is better to celebrate.