Repressing History : A Culture of Amnesia


I started reading this book a couple of years ago and it spoke of a couple of things that I find fascinating. One of them was Spain’s ability to bury the past without ever recognizing it happened. It talks of people ignoring the torrid and horrific history that they were forced to iive by , and decide to live by a collective culture of amnesia. But the wounds are still there, bubbling underneath the surface to become clear time and time again. Spain is a country that was ripped apart by civil war, and whom Franco destroyed and killed many of the regionalized areas around them. This is perhaps why the country is so insanely regionalistic in nature. Ask a man and he will not tell you he is from Spain, he will say he is from Barcelona and he is Catalan.

I wonder how many generations back do we fester and harbor in our past which can greatly decide how we view the world.  When I was in Spain, I wondered if the xenophobic prejudices towards Moroccan people could be traced all the way back to the time that they held part of the country in their power. I wonder if the disdain of the Gypsies is something that goes far back than anyone cares to think about. 

There are so many prejudices that is festered in society simply because we inherit them from our ancestors.  They are buried deep within the family structure and our notions of who we are.  I wonder if we knew the truth about our history if our perspective would change.

I realize now that this is a practice done by most of the countries in the world. We tend to bury the uncomfortable and painful parts of our past and rewrite it to make ourselves feel better. The historical textbooks are always placed on the perspective of the nation they are in. Not only does this blatant refusal to see the truth harm us but ultimately it can be detrimental towards building of true peace.

I remember strolling through the Latin American history museum in Madrid, and while they spoke about the SPanish conquistadores to Latin america, there was no mention of the horrific slaughter that occurred when they came . There was no mention of Cortes, of Pizarro and other countless amount of suffering that has been constructed along the way…. the only thing that was mentioned was the glorious travels, of the diversity of the indigenous people, and it’s culture.  The same thing happened when i went to Barcelona and saw some plaques that were in honor of Christopher Columbus’ travels and his ability to bring back countless riches. Or in the monasteries which still have large doors depicting the Indians gazing admiringly at the Spanish in all their God like glory.

In the United States, it was not until I went to college that I found out the truth about thanksgiving, about slavery, that I read such great works like Black Elk Speaks and Bury my Heart in Wounded Knee or Frederick Douglass that I became aware of the other side of the story. 

In El Salvador, a civil war was lived on that tore apart most of the country and gave rise to two opposing politics which are knee deep in it’s history. One was the Arena political party and the other was Fmln. One was tied to death squads, the extreme right and upper class the other supposedly to Guerillas , civil warfare, bombing, socialist values and poorer classes.  This is not necessarily a true depiction but just like with the war in Spain and Franco, very little war crimes have been put to light and those which have have been greeted with extreme controversy. However, in the recent elections you can hear both parties spew slogans that date back to that painful period twenty years ago.  Neither side acknowledges the pain and desperation that they put the country through at that time, and simply resort to finger-pointing.

It is much easier to engage in finger-pointing tactics than to fully acknowledge the painful past to move forward.  This creates veils and a buried shame of our past that we feel we cannot talk about. Why then do we teach revised history to our children? Why did we make a sad fact like what truly happened to the indigenous people in America into a huge and joyous celebration?

There is another force at work when we recognize the true history of our ancestors. That is, when we open this can of worms it becomes divisive as all the feelings that were just bubbling on the surface overflow. But if we do not recognize these sordid tales of our history we might be doomed to repeat it.

I am not sure what the answer is, but the biggest thing we should all work on is creating a unifying thread in humanity instead of unconsciously holding on to those elements which divide us . The barriers between cultures and countries are carefully constructed illusions.

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