“Why should we learn U.S. history when we are from Central America? That makes no sense,” said one of my high school peers during a history class.
Although it was a trivial remark made more than two years ago, I still vividly remember questioning the same thing myself. Why should I care which American president bought which land? Why should I learn about Jefferson and Hamilton’s feud? I am from Central America, so why should I care? Turns out, we all should care, and not only about U.S. history particularly.
Coming to the U.S. to attend college was a distant dream in the back of my head. When I was accepted into John Brown University and moved to Siloam Springs, flashbacks of my history class came flowing like a river. All those years of “unnecessary” knowledge began to pay off, and I was able to relate more to a new environment despite my lack of previous experience. If you ask me if there is anything I have learned that has not helped me, I would routinely deny it.
JBU, even as a small college campus, is immersed in many cultures from all parts of the world. It is a blessing to be part of the many beautiful differences concentrated in one space. However, if our mentality is that others’ history and heritage are not important to our daily living, we are wasting the potential we have to empathize and connect with others. There is much more beyond your town, your city and your country.
It is no wonder why countries around the world learn about the United States as a requirement. It is, after all, the world’s most powerful country as of 2020, according to Business Insider. But there is a problem when we only consider one side of the story. Because we have chosen to care only for own history and for own culture, we fail to see the importance of other cultures and why they mean so much to our combined experience.
Amidst all the political and social discussions happening around me, I have learned that I can relate to my peers’ concerns and opinions because their future matters to me. At the same time, I make sure, as a Hispanic woman, to inform others about our history and heritage because we matter too. It is easy to criticize people’s actions when you don’t know their stories, but ignorance just leads to discrimination, and discrimination leads to hate.
However, sometimes I stumble upon the idea that by embracing everyone’s history or culture, it might feel like we are erasing someone’s struggle or experiences. I believe that there is a certain point where we stop relating to a particular story, but that should not stop us from listening and carrying someone’s burden. Because we are human beings above all, we can relate to others, and that happens when we are willing to listen first.
Embracing our collective experiences as a condensed story does not only help us relate to our peers better, but it also helps us bring those stories back to our individual identities. For instance, seeing for myself the U.S.’s dark history of racism and discrimination throughout the years allowed me to ponder about a very similar but unacknowledged issue in my country: for centuries we have neglected indigenous people’s rights and needs, and the situation keeps getting worse as their tribes, dialects and customs are becoming extinct. Because no one back home has dared to speak up in favor of them, I would have never realized that the same struggles I could have only imagined happened in the U.S. were happening a few miles from where I live.
Maybe the person who sits next to you in class shares the same struggles as you. Maybe the person you see every day at the cafeteria can relate to your experiences more than you think. Maybe the person you don’t dare to talk to because they look different from you can empathize with your past more than some of your friends. In the end, your history is not only yours but ours. By embracing everyone’s past, we are not replacing one side of the story with another. We are completing the beautiful thread of history that God has set for us.