When I was growing up , our teacher in El Salvador used to teach us social studies and every year we were taught the history of the Spaniards coming to Latin America in increasingly gory detail. The Spanish Pizarro, who promised the Incas gold but ended up slaughtering everyone in his way including Atahualpa. The musuem in Antigua Guatemala, which still contains torture devices they used towards the Mayans. It was more than known how horrific the Spaniards were. Christopher Colombus was another story. ” He conquered America and brought in Glory”.
We weren’t taught how violent he was, how he was a cannibal who raped and murdered and tortured people. In El Salvador, the conquered and conqueror are combined in the blood.
This is not the case in the United States. History books have long whitewashed Christopher Colombus. They have long celebrated his glorified pillaging and sacking and thought it as progress. We don’t talk about everything he did to contribute to the Native American’s suffering because we don’t acknowledge it. It doesn’t exist.
Whitewashing history means simply erasing it from existence. When I was walking around in Madrid in the palaces I was shocked to still see giant Iron doors of the Conquistador raising his hands to the sun and the Indigenous people at his feet looking at him in adoration. I was shocked to see skulls in nunneries decorated with ” gifts from overseas”. When we went to the ” Museum of the Americas” they spoke of all the tribes in America yet in the map there was a mysterious ” drop” in the population no one explained why. Gone were the gory stories of Pizarro and his pillaging, of the horrors done to the Aztecs. Gone were the tales of conquest and forced marriages in Latin America with the spaniards and the indigenous people. It simply was ” washed out” from history.
Today is Colombus day but what it really is the whitewashing of history. Whitewashing erases the truth and makes it more palatable. Until we recognize these wounds and traumas we can’t possibly move forward. Until we have museums about what happened in times of slavery we can’t possible understand it and not make the same mistakes. We aren’t our ancestors but by not talking about what happened and whitewashing history we are complicit in the lie.
A couple of years ago I wrote a post about how violence can become normal in El Salvador. I was thinking of this the other day when I think of the insanity that has become the United States in the past seven months. But I am always shocked how people just think everything that is happening is normal.
The truth is , we can normalize anything . It’s the classic analogy of the frog boiling in water. Our human minds can’t seem to grasp that our lives have turned upside down. The truth is, people have lives to lead. The rat race continues.
When I was in London after the riots, the charred remains of so many businesses could be seen in the skyline, yet people kept going on as normal. When the Occupy Madrid movement happened, most people sidelined the streets where people were occupying the avenues and kept going . Most people just keep their heads down and plug themselves back into the matrix. Having gone through two earthquakes, a flooding, a civil war and a series of natural disasters it seems human being’s resilience forces people to continue. When we see tragedy or turmoil in the films we don’t see what happens next. We just recognize the turmoil briefly and continue on. The problem is that we bury it all inside and don’t deal with this trauma.
When we abolished slavery, we didn’t automatically abolish racism. Yet society acted as if it did. When the civil rights movement ended in the sixties we didn’t automatically achieve all civil rights. When women tried to for equal rights we didn’t automatically solve all problems with sexism.
The truth is, we created a whole other subest of new problems but human beings chose to ignore it, patch the leaks with super glue and hope for the best. When natural disasters happens, or a war or an unexpected political turmoil people are forced for a brief cosmos in time to deal with the traumas and unforeseen leaks in the system. We are forced to confront our worst fears : Maybe society isn’t as progressive as we thought, maybe we aren’t truly changing but just putting small changes into a system that is already sinking.
People believe ” I need to take care of my family” but when a natural disaster or tragedy happens, we realize that it’s not just ” Them ” who are affected but ” Us”. When we can no longer look from afar in our nice homes, and our comfortable couches, when we are forced to face the collective trauma then we can truly come to terms of what needs to be done. But the truth is, we rather not. We rather leave it to politicians, and activists and donate cash to causes. We rather stuff our pockets and try to ” Get on with it”. That’s because we are overwhelmed in a system that is drowning us but we still need to find a way to keep afloat. We don’t realize that we aren’t truly alone. We are all drowning and together we need to stop focusing on this crumbling foundation and we have to build a new one. In order for that to happen we have to recognize the injustices , the racism, sexism and horrific nature that society has created. We have to stop being a Them and become an Us.