Thursday, August 5, 2010

Through a Historian's Eyes

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Historians can't be near-sighted;


Things are blurry when they're too close.

Dress for the occasion

Dee had eye surgery this morning,

Thirty minutes later

No blood, no pain . . .

One hour later—look at that!

But a whole new perspective.

Dee has always envied my 20/20 vision, but he's taught me to see things through a historian's eyes. Whenever I fret about the state of the world, he reminds me that it's all happened before, and that we can learn from the past.

Prejudices have come and gone in our country, and it seems like every generation has to learn the same lessons. These days Hispanics are being profiled and stereotyped, but a hundred years ago Italian and Irish immigrants took the brunt of racial aversion. Chinese people were only allowed in the USA to work on the railroads. Before "political correctness" was a concept, Jews and Poles were punchlines of rude jokes, and John F. Kennedy was feared because he was a Catholic.

Remembering history is a perk of getting old.

When I was a little girl, a Japanese-American couple put an offer on a house on our street. (This was Salt Lake City in about 1958.) Our suburban neighborhood had restrictive covenants that didn't allow Japanese people. Even though they were born in Hawaii and California, and the husband had served in the army in World War II, they looked Japanese, and therefore were not welcome.

A petition went around to keep them from buying the house. Ironically, a woman from Indonesia (not yet an American citizen) headed the attack. I remember a meeting in our living room where the neighbors (all upstanding church-goers) gathered to discuss the problem. The prevailing view was that property values would go down if these kinds of people were tolerated.

Well, the couple didn't buy the house.

This particular woman has since become very prominent in our community. People buy her books and line up to hear her speak. When she refers to the humiliation they faced in the 1950's because of their race, there is a hush in the audience. Who would be so racist, so condemning, because of their foreign sounding name or the shape of their eyes? It seems unthinkable, now, knowing who she is. Unfortunately, nobody in my neighborhood knew who she'd become.

Looking through a historian's eyes, we were a little near-sighted.

More perspective tomorrow . . .


Christie said...

Seriously - how crazy is it that he can't see one day, goes in for surgery, and then minutes later a lifetime of blurriness is gone! I am so jealous.

Travelin'Oma said...

Some of you might recognize the woman I'm talking about. Please don't put her name in a comment. I wouldn't want someone to google her name and come up with that story. Thanks.