On Culture and It’s Absence in History Textbooks


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I feel as if a lot of my posts recently have been focused on topics discussed in my Social Work class this past semester. I guess that means it’s something I’m really interested in? Well, here is another video we watched in class and discussed. It is a poem by Fong Tran entitled “History Textbooks.” (The lyrics to the poem can be read here).

This poem focuses on the way history is presented to us in school. As a Native American, I’ve always been underwhelmed with the information about my culture taught in History classes.

“Eurocentric euphuisms like West expansion/Exploration, Manifest Destiny, and Spreading Democracy/Are just tactful translations from truth as/Slave trade, colonists, imperialism”

This whole idea has always been difficult to grasp. I loved History. It was always one of my favorite subjects in school. I thought it was captivating and so interesting. I still do. I love learning about past events, leaders, and movements. Until seeing this video in class, I could not realize why I never felt completely satisfied with my History education.

“History textbooks are written like/ A bad version of Lord of the Rings/ and I’ve been bored since the first book/ America is Frodo Baggins/ Uncle Sam if Gandalf/ And the evil Sauron/ Is made out to be every youth of color/ With a hoodie, Skittles and iced tea/ Or a man or woman/ In a turban or hijab/ Or someone with a family crest on his chest/Mistaken as a gang-related tattoo.”

After high school, I moved to a completely different region of the country to a pretty diverse school (At least more diverse than my high school…or my entire hometown). As I started to meet people from different racial backgrounds, religions, cultures and ways of life, I was struck with a realization that I was so incredibly ignorant. I knew nothing about other religions. I knew nothing about other countries or what their governments or daily lives were like. Ever since I moved, it has been a constant learning experience. I learned more about history from personal interactions than I ever did from sitting in a History class.

“Please tell my young students that/ Vietnamese people/ My people/ My History is more than 2 textbook pages about a war/ But we’re a culture/ A Peoples/ A Way of Life…We must reclaim the history that has yet been told to us”

As long as you are white and male, American History sounds like a pretty great time. If you’re a woman: a little bit less. If you’re a person of color: forget it! If someone had come up to me in high school and asked, “Sydney, tell me something about Vietnamese Americans. What about Hispanic Americans? What about Indian Americans?” I definitely would not have been able to list more than one or two things, and those things would have all most likely been about wars or something negative about those countries and their difficulties with the U.S. I want to hear the stories of these Americans. They are American just as I am. We claim to be a “melting pot,” but we forget that if we are going to use that title, we have to remember the reasons we became that. I want to hear about American History. I don’t want to hear only about the History of White Americans with a little bit of other cultures sprinkled in. Because that is not the truth.

“If you do not tell your stories, and write down your own histories, then someone else will. And I’m not saying it’s the man, but that someone is usually really white. Really old. And Really male. And the alphabet soup at the end of his name: Ph.D. confuses him. Confuses what he understands to be fact is really just an glorified opinion.”

So take this in. Recall what you were taught and what you were not. I am so beyond thankful that I have had the opportunities to learn from personal interactions over the past two years. I am so incredibly thankful that I have been able to have open dialogues about culture, race, power and privilege. I encourage you to write your own history. Think about your ancestry and your culture. You are more than just a by-product of a society of white males. Write your stories. Share your stories. We hold so much power in the ability that we have to speak, interact and share. Learn about the people you spend your time with, and let them learn about you.

“We will write our own stories, we will make our own histories upon canvas, upon page, upon walls, upon minds.”

On Moving Away


Moving away from family and friends is terribly hard and incredibly humbling. During my senior year of high school, I applied to eight different schools and I remember receiving the letters from all of them inviting me to study with them. After visiting Ann Arbor in February of 2013, I knew that I wanted to live here. It was new and different. It was beautiful and perfect. Shortly after returning home from my visit, I decided that the University of Michigan was where I wanted to be. It was a crazy decision. I would be moving to a state I had only been to once. I would be living with two girls who I had met on Twitter. I would be leaving behind everything familiar and everyone I loved. Most importantly, I would be moving away from Community Coffee, gumbo and SEC Football. (What even is the Big Ten?)

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The culture in Michigan was completely different than what I had grown up around for the past 18 years. Most of the people I meet have no idea how to peel a crawfish or what to do when it’s hurricane season. The number of times I have had to explain how and why drive-thru daiquiri places are somehow legal where I live is exponential. I remember one of my first nights in Ann Arbor, a girl I was talking to at a party said “Oh my gosh. You just said y’all. That is SO cute.” I knew immediately that I was in a completely different world. There have been a countless number of times that I have had to explain that, contrary to popular belief, there are lots of cities in Louisiana other than New Orleans, and that I actually don’t really live near it. The first time I heard a Michigander refer to Coke or soda as “pop” I think I almost cried. I still refuse to eat the “gumbo” and “po-boys” that the dining halls attempt to make for dinner. And don’t even get me started on the snow.

I miss Louisiana every single day, but living here has been life-changing. After that first visit last February, Ann Arbor has held a special place in my heart. I can remember being here during my first week, walking down East Liberty and seeing Michigan Theater in all of its beauty and thinking “Wow, I have GOT to Instagram this,” but also more sentimental thoughts like, “Wow. I cannot believe that I actually live here.” This perfect little town continues to amaze me and I fall more and more in love every day that I’m here. Sometimes I think about how I got here, and what made me finally decide to leave the familiarity of Lafayette. I think back on my last week there in August and how I had such a strange mix of emotions that I don’t think I even cried about leaving. I was excited and terrified, but also sad and so very happy all at once. Being in a new city all alone forced me to humble myself to ask for directions or even just ask for help. Living on a campus where I knew no one forced me to join clubs and to go out and socialize. Doing that allowed me to meet people from different states and even different countries. I’ve met some of the best people in the world here, and despite how much I complain about just wanting a Turtle Mochasippi (extra shot and whipped cream please) and an entire King Cake to myself, I would not trade the experiences I am having here for anything in the world.

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So if I am trying to make a moral out of this story, it would be: just DO it. If you are considering it, DO it. If you want to study in a different state or a different country for a semester, DO it. If you want to use your spring break to go somewhere new, DO it. Life is short (no matter how cliché that saying is), and there is so much to see and experience before it’s over. I know you’ll miss home. You’ll miss familiar faces and you’ll miss your mom’s good food every night (Mom, please send me red beans and rice), but you will never regret doing something different and learning something new. Home will always be there for you when you want to come back, but the world is just waiting for you to venture out and experience it.

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“It may be the satisfaction I need depends on my going away, so that when I’ve gone and come back, I’ll find it at home.” – Jalai ad-Din Rumi