There is not a governing body on this earth that has a completely clean track record. Of course, that would be too high an expectation, seeing as all people are imperfect. However, many nations have, in times of distress, committed crimes so horrible that they have the potential to find their place in history books and museums. Times of turmoil and xenophobia lead to acts like genocide and extreme censorship. Though these things are a part of human history, many governments continue to try to keep their dark secrets under wraps and deny their occurrence despite eyewitnesses and survivors that would say otherwise. If some of the biggest crimes against humanity are still being hidden, what will happen when the generation of eyewitnesses and survivors passes away? How will the memory of those events stay alive so that the generations to come will know what their ancestors have gone through, and so that they can avoid the same mistakes? The only way to avoid a complete erasure of the moments we should remember most is to make sure their legacy lives on. This can be accomplished by ensuring that international media is reporting on events as they happen. Attention from other nations can help in fostering outreach and intervention. Another is to keep alive the customs and traditions of a people that have been or are being persecuted and weeded out. Furthermore, celebrating progress and reflecting on the past can be an effective method to avoid future persecution.
In an article regarding the treatment of the Uighur population of China, an alarming outline is given of the interments camps people are being sent to. Many members of the Uighur community have not heard from family members back home in months or even years. For many, they may never hear from them. In an Islamophobic cultural eradication attempt, many efforts have been made by the Chinese government to completely remove the Uighur culture from its history. Mosque attacks are frequent, the Uighur language is banned from being taught in schools, and there are enforced restrictions on dress and practices. This process has been gradual but is currently at a point where Uighurs are disappearing and being tortured behind closed doors. So if this had made national attention, how come nobody has done anything about it? Well, the general language surrounding Uighurs continues to paint them as a happily residing minority nestled in a small region of western China. Part of the problem is that very little concrete information is known about exactly what is happening to the Uighur population. This cultural genocide did not gain national attention until the summer of 2018 but has been happening for decades. The lack of free press and international journalists in China is allowing these atrocities to continue. It is not enough to discover an issue once it has reached its worst stages. These events must be reported on in real time so swift action can be taken to prevent further tragedy.
When attacks like this are made on an entire culture, part of the struggle to remedy what has been lost is to keep those customs alive. The Seattle Times reported on an effort being made at the University of Washington to teach and preserve indigenous languages in the area. This effort stems from a long history of abuse and neglect on behalf of the U.S. government that had led to the almost complete eradication of many Native American cultures. For example, the last person to fluently speaks the Quinault language passed away in 1996. Now, members of the Olympic Peninsula tribe are trying to recover this almost lost piece of their heritage. Currently, the University of Washington, or UW, is attempting to provide for-credit courses in both Southern Lushootseed and Hawaiian. Though this is a small step, it is making huge waves in the struggle to preserve indigenous culture throughout the country. By engaging in a tribe’s language and customs, a person can learn the history of that group and how their obstacles have shaped that culture. Humanizing marginalized groups leads to a greater conversation about the causes for this marginalization. It is through education on these cultures that a nation can begin to mend the atrocities that have happened in the past and look forward to a brighter future.
Once the conversation has begun, the question remains of how to preserve that history for years to come. In the case of Harlem’s Muslim history, most of that story is just passed on by word of mouth. In this neighborhood of New York City lies a rich history of African immigrants who came and infused their culture into the makeup of the buildings and mosques that lined the streets. Now, most of those buildings have been demolished in the interest of high-rent apartment buildings and hip restaurants. However, a woman named Katie Merriman is giving free walking tours of the neighborhood to share its often forgotten history. She shared that the African National Memorial Bookstore where Malcolm X once studied is now an office building and that many important landmarks are left as empty lots. This minority culture is being erased and being replaced by more profitable institutions. No plaques or signs on the street will tell a passerby of a block’s history. That job is left to the few people that still know. With the rise of new civil rights movements, now is a better time than ever to reflect on the past and figure out what still needs to be done in order to never regress. An important element of this is informing the public of the struggles and fights that have occurred to get to where we are now.
Many people will argue that, since many genocides and cultural persecutions are covered in films and textbooks, history is already being preserved just fine. However, there are many events that most people do not know about. The persecution of the Uighur people is still a relatively un-talked-about topic, though they are in dire need of action right now. Centuries have passed since the beginning of the destruction of Native American cultures, but just now is any effort being made to save them. In most textbooks, the Muslim immigrants of this country will get one paragraph on a page, if that. Beyond these issues are the hundreds, if not thousands, of persecutions and genocides, both cultural and physical, that have gone on and still go on to this day with no coverage. It takes action on behalf of those with some sort of power to make a change. This could be college professors offering specialized courses on pushed out cultures and languages, or international aid groups paying more attention to the issues that go undiscussed. Non-governmental organizations need to push for freedom of the press and speech so that more stories can be heard. More needs to be done to rescue the individual histories of marginalized groups before they are lost forever.
How Do We Save History? by Skye is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.