". . . But the past does not exist independently from the present. Indeed, the past is only past because there is a present, just as I can point to something over there only because I am here. But nothing is inherently over there or here. In that sense, the past has no content. The past -- or more accurately, pastness -- is a position. Thus, in no way can we identify the past as past." p. 15

". . . But we may want to keep in mind that deeds and words are not as distinguishable as often we presume. History does not belong only to its narrators, professional or amateur. While some of us debate what history is or was, others take it into their own hands." p. 153

Silencing the Past: Power and the Production of History (1995) by Michel-Rolph Trouillot

Monday, October 29, 2007

Sometimes Your Heart Will Break

At the library this young man appeared, bewildered and puzzled. He wanted something but didn't have the communication skills to explain what it was. He was sent to the reference librarian, which today wasn't me, but as I was probably the oldest person around he assumed it was me.

He might have been 20. He wanted to know something about the Dominican Republic, but it took a while to figure out what it was. This was the story, as I finally got it:

He'd been in a taxi over the weekend and the driver had mentioned something that evidently hit the guy's curiosity organ hard. The driver had said something like the DR had the oldest medical school in this part of the world. He wanted to find out more information about that. For some reason this excited him deeply, though he's not a Dominican himself.

I just happened to know something on this order, because Vaquero shot a music video there for his "Cowboy Rumba" album, in the ruins of what was the first hospital in Santo Domingo's Old Town that contains the Western Hemisphere's first cathedral, first monastery, first hospital, first university, and its first court of law. "In declaring the city a world heritage site, UNESCO recognized Santo Domingo as the cradle of European civilization in the New World." I told him that Columbus's son had been charge there, while Columbus would go back to Europe looking for more money to fund further explorations (for pillage and rapine, nevermind).

This was the most difficult reference question I've ever answered because the guy's education had been so deficient. He hardly knew who Columbus was. His sense of geography nearly non-existant. A computer isn't the most helpful when it comes to maps for explaining these things, so we found an atlas in a book to assist spatial orientation. He had no idea what to do in a library.

But -- something had excited him, something about which he wanted to know more, and it brought him to a library! I hope in my attempts to figure out what it was he was looking for I didn't ruin that excitement. Finding a history around here that would focus on the Dominican Republic and its early years with the Columbus family isn't easy, whether in Spanish or English. His reading skills are low too. I looked for online things instead, and magazines like the National Geographic, that have lots of photos. Fortunately the library has the CD-ROM National Geographic. Over the years the magazine's done a fair amount on Santo Domingo (the capital of the DR). And he does know how to use CDs etc. So I think I left him with the means to look for whatever it was he was looking for. I don't know if I made him happier. But I hope his experience in the library was unthreatening and pleasant enough to have him come back again, and allow himself to get excited about more things that he does not at this time even know exist.

I just can't help but think of how differently this very young man has been raised from how my 14-year-old friend, the son of our friends. It makes me cry. Because, you know, I don't think my young friend is intrinsically more intelligent, curious than this young man. It's that his opportunities have been so very, very, very great and so very much encouraged in every way, by EVERYONE he interacts with, from his parents, his other relatives, his teachers, and even the friends of his parents. It's just so DAMNED UNFAIR. Every kid should have these opportunities to learn and be enabled to follow her - his curiosity wherever it leads him - her. That this is not so in this country is a crime.


Frank Partisan said...

I think we need more info, as is he MI or MR?

Foxessa said...

I apologize that I don't know to what you are referring by "is he MI or MR?"

Love, C.

Audrey said...

This is something that breaks my heart, too and makes me crazy. People don't realize that part of a decent education is learning how to find the resources to educate yourself. I think you opened a door for him, at the very least, you gave him your full attention, and, I'm sure, a positive and fruitful enough experience that he will want to come back!