By: Angel Monroy-Aparicio •
January is an important month for many of us. It is the beginning of a new year as well as new beginnings. For those of us who engage in social justice work, January can be a time of renewal of our promises, hopes, and dreams to make the world a better place. Yet it is in this month of celebrations that we also need to honor the lives and history of activists who have come before us. Today I want to take the time to honor three historic figures of our times (Pre-Civil Rights America to the present). January marks the anniversary of the deaths of three important activists: Dr. Martin Luther King, Howard Zinn, and Fred Korematsu – three men who represent different eras of oppression and resistance, of division and unity, of struggle and justice who taught us that tomorrow will be better than today. More importantly though, they were common people who were conduits and living proof that the voice of the people can, should, does, and will make history.
Their stories are proof that the oppressed do exist, that they are not invisible as we are lead to believe. They are also not alone for the people will always make history even when it is not recorded.
Recently I have been involved in various discussions revolving around the question of what is history. Is history objective? Does recorded history reflect the struggles and stories of everyone or just a select few? Do we highlight only the achievements that individuals, groups of people, or civilizations made or do we included all of our history? I have come to the obvious conclusion that history is subjective to those that are in power. The elites, the conquerors, the ones who control the structures of dominance that are in place, are the ones who dictate to their societies who and what makes it into the books. The reality of subjective history is frightening, if not insulting, mainly because many of us are not elites and instead are made to feel nonexistent. We are the ones whose stories and struggles are overlooked, and systemically erased.
However there are alternatives. One of those alternatives is what Howard Zinn named “People’s History.” Take Fred Korematsu for example, who was labeled a fugitive for tying to escape from Japanese internment camps during World War II. Although Korematsu tried to sue the U.S.government for the legality of internment in Korematsu v. United States, he lost. Years later the ruling would be reversed by a San Franciscodistrict court after it was discovered that the FBI and military had lied to the government. Many Japanese Americans were compensated for an injustice committed upon their humanity. Korematsu is proof that ordinary people can bring about justice. Today the state of Californiahas made January 30th Fred Korematsu Day. Hopefully many more days will be named after social justice advocates.
Let us look at “People’s History” as the alternative narrative to accepted notions of history. Let us record the history and struggles of activists who are on the front lines of protests, often risking their lives and safety so that we can continue fighting for human rights. Let us record the history and struggles of activists who enter the very institutions that oppress us and are slowly but surely transforming and opening the system to the people. Let us record the history of kitchen table activists who may not always choose to be the faces of social movements, but yet whose tireless work and efforts provide us with the ideas, resources, spaces and countless other services to our movements.
We are often told that only leaders make history. Wrong! Let us change that narrative of “leaders” to “the people.” Zinn, King, and Korematsu are people; humble giants who envisioned all of us making history. You and I are people; we are part of time and space and need to leave our mark. Let us record our stories so that every day is Howard Zinn, MLK, Fred Korematsu, Rosa Parks, and Cesar Chavez day. Let our stories be a testament to future generations of activists and allies of social justice. Let our stories be proof that we existed and that we changed the world one person at a time.