On Culture and It’s Absence in History Textbooks


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 Words, Their Impact & Depression

to this day

I have become increasingly fond of spoken word. I have subscribed to several YouTube channels and blogs that post videos and recordings of spoken word poems. A particular poem was posted in 2013, but has been gaining popularity recently. Now with over 15 million views on YouTube, Shane Koyczan’s To This Day has launched a massive discussion on bullying, depression and human impact. [Before continuing to read, please watch the video here or read/listen to the lyrics of the poem here – I will be using quotes from the poem the rest of this post].

“We are not abandoned cars stalled out and sitting empty on a highway. And if in some way we are, don’t worry. We only got out to walk and get gas.”

When I first watched this video, I couldn’t stop the tears for a while. Everything Koyczan said made me feel so understood. This past fall, I was diagnosed with Generalized Anxiety Disorder and dysthymia (a chronic type of depression in which a person’s moods are regularly low – more long-term than symptoms of major depressive disorder. However, symptoms are not as severe as with major depression). I have been struggling with these symptoms for years now, and these past few months have been really hard as I cycle through different medications. This video could not have come at a better time in my life.

Koyczan begins by telling his own story. We all have our stories of how this stuff has affected us. We all take stressors in our lives different ways. Each person has something called “resilience.” This is defined as “an individual’s ability to properly adapt to stress and adversity.”1 Some people have more resilience than others; therefore, they can cope better with stressors in their lives. My story can be traced back to my childhood – elementary and middle school, specifically. I’m not going to go into specifics since those are details that I consider very personal, but I can say that Koyczan saying, “I am not the only kid who grew up this way” is completely true.

“School halls were battlegrounds and we found ourselves outnumbered day after wretched day.”

He references the typical rhyme we were always told when being bullied: “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.”

 “As if broken bones hurt more than the names we got called”

I always told myself that as I got older, things would get better. People wouldn’t call me names because we would all mature and grow up, right? Wrong. As we all matured, the cruelty only matured with it. Even now in college, I constantly hear people calling others horrible names. This culture of bullying and name-calling has got to stop. And it stops with us.

“He lived like the uphills were mountains and the downhills were cliffs, four-fifths suicidal. He tried to kill himself in grade 10 and a kid…had the audacity to tell him to ‘get over it.’”

Becoming a person who is aware of their words and the impact they have on others can be a huge step in the right direction. [Trigger warning] The stigmatism of mental illness in our society is constantly fueled when people say things like “I’m so depressed” or “Kill yourself” in front of people who are struggling with these things. Depression is a disease. OCD is an illness. Suicide is someone’s daily struggle.

“As if depression is something that can be remedied by any of the contents found in a first aid kit.”

I did a semester-long project in my Social Work class this past semester focusing on Mental Illness Awareness on college campuses. I went around campus interviewing professors, student leaders, faculty, and friends. If there is one thing that I can confirm after this process, it is that everyone struggles with something. Everyone struggles, and we need to be aware that some people struggle with things that can be very hard to understand, like autism, depression, anxiety, Obsessive-Compulsive disorder, ADHD…the list goes on.

…but at night while the others slept, we kept walking the tightrope. It was practice and yeah, some of us fell. But I want to them that all of this is just debris leftover when we decide to smash all the things we thought we used to be. And if you can’t see anything beautiful about yourself, get a better mirror.”

Dealing with this stuff is (excuse my French) shitty. It’s hard to deal with. It’s been hard for me, so incredibly hard. But there is one thing I do know for sure: you are not alone in this. There are other people who feel like you do. There are other people who understand. When I found people who understood how I felt, I knew that I could get through this with them. We can work as a team to beat this, and it will not be the end of you. You cannot let it win. To those who don’t struggle with this personally, you can help. You can be supportive and understanding.

It is not a sign of weakness to ask for help. You are strong and brave, and you can get through the things you are struggling with. If you are in crisis, please call 1-800-273-8255 or Text ANSWER to 839863 (24/7) (Here is a list of other hotlines).

Great article on helping loved ones with depression here.

Thank you for reading and for listening. I love you all. ❤

“A pearl is a beautiful thing that is produced by an injured life. It is the tear [that results] from the injury of the oyster. The treasure of our being in this world is also produced by an injured life. If we had not been wounded, if we had not been injured, then we will not produce the pearl.” – Stephan Hoeller

1  http://goo.gl/bevy