How will the world remember this moment in history?
What perspective will be written, what story heard, and above all who will remain in our collective memory? Collective memory is a form of historical storytelling — it cultivates our cultural identity through testimonios of our ancestors before us. As the daughter of Peruvian and Nicaraguan refugees, I became an Ethnic Studies educator to expose students of color to these legacies of survival and healing so often erased from our history books. And now, in the disorder of this political and social moment, what matters most is how we tell this story to future generations to come.
Protestors at LAX chanting against the Muslim ban on Jan. 31. Photo by Michelle Salinas
As historian Greg Grandin tells us: Trump, and Trumpism, is a symptom of the sickness, not the source. This history, an honest account into these volatile past weeks and months, must grapple with the systemic illness upon which the worst global refugee crisis since the Second World War was built. When future generations turn to their history books for an understanding of their communities past, will they read about the 26,171 U.S. bombs dropped over Iraq, Syria, Yemen, and Libya in 2016 alone?
Let the record show that Donald J. Trump is the symptom and consequence of violent, systemic white male supremacy.
Will history show that no country associated with President Trump’s executive order on immigration has produced a Muslim “extremist” who has carried out a fatal attack in the U.S. in more than two decades? Let us remember that Muslim-majority countries where Trump holds significant financial interests — Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Turkey and the United Arab Emirates — regardless of their ties to the September 11th attacks, remain exempt from the immigration freeze.
Protestors holding signs criticizing the Trump administration. Photo by Michelle Salinas
Will history build comparisons between the U.S. refugee diasporas of Latin America and the Middle East? Let history note that over the past century, U.S. investments in both regions depended on U.S. military interventions and covert operations to protect those investments. In the process, the U.S. has trained and financially backed some of the bloodiest and most violent military dictatorships in world history.
Tell the story of social anthropologist Irma Alicia Velasquez Nimatuj, a member of the K’iche’ ethnic group, who taught us that the “United States financed brutal counterinsurgency campaigns with forces it trained in the School of the Americas. By interfering in state policies and it shared responsibility for the genocidal campaigns carried out by the military regimes in Guatemala, including the government of Ríos Montt (1982-1983).” Let history never forget the 200,000 Mayan and Ladino people who lost their lives due to these policies, or the additional 1.5 million displaced from their land.
Latinos in solidarity. Photo by Michelle Salinas
Will history complicate Obama’s progressive legacy by reminding us that the U.S. supported military intervention in Libya, launching the country into political and geopolitical chaos, under his administration? Or, will history grapple with white feminism by holding Hillary Clinton accountable for her admiration for Henry Kissinger — a man responsible for millions of deaths and multiple diasporas across Southeast and South Asia, Southern Africa, the Middle East, and Latin America? Let history remember the late Berta Cáceres and the thousands of indigenous organizers, human rights supporters, political candidates, and environmentalists murdered following the 2009 Honduran military coup supported and promoted by then-secretary of state Hillary Clinton.
Long after the headlines and political noise, violence and displacement will remain a permanent reality for political refugees and their children. They will encounter silence in the classroom, museums, and the media on the historical relationship between the U.S.’s role in the violence that displaced their families in the first place. Why — a question that haunts all children of the diaspora — is hardly ever broached in U.S. popular culture.
This is where we come in: the educators, the organizers, the journalists, the small business owners, the movement makers — let us commit to building our own archives, our collective memory for future generations. Let us be accountable to one another, lending each other the confidence to tell migration stories that don’t fit the “American Dream.” May we fearlessly remind people that our collective memory is not just one of chosen migration, but of forced displacement, genocide, and slavery. Don’t be afraid to remind people that we are on the stolen land of a people who still exist, still thrive. May we all find the power of creativity to share these stories in all their complexity and intersectionality.
This moment in our history calls for a collaborative clap back. It requires us to show up — from supporting your local Muslim-owned business, from Halal carts and print shops, to joining community meetings and rallies. Perhaps most importantly, this moment requires us to make space for laughter and goodness across our communities. We are all living in a precarious moment set to define us for decades to come. Let history show that we built indestructible bridges in our collective pursuit of justice.