Written by Jabari Gambrel, AmeriCorps member serving on the Lamar Advertising team at Democracy Prep.
November is Native American heritage month. It is easy to forget, tucked between Halloween and Thanksgiving, but in our schools, and homes it is an opportunity to educate ourselves, and examine our shared history. In the unfamiliar “country” of Baton Rouge, I reflected on America's indigenous history. An inheritance of pain, and abuse that continues to this day, but one of beauty and a richness like expensive cake. I believe that to know this country is to know its fullness. My City Year was a deliberate choice to abide in this. To experience places I had never heard about and live in a context that is fantastical in its newness to me. I wanted to take up a new culture and understand the dynamics that drive it. Above all, I wanted to educate myself through participating in my countries educational narrative. Months that celebrate our respective heritages are opportunities; to explore, to learn, and to acknowledge our collective identities and shared futures.
Our Heritage is what we take with us. Our histories, tongues, and customs form our perspectives; in no place in the world is this reality more alive than in America. The American identity so inconstant that many mistakes it for being nonexistent. “The English language is hungry.” It amasses other languages and transforms its words and structures weaving itself into a living history. I believe the same is true of America. A country of such unimaginable migration, genocide, glory, power, and persistence. The history of this country is not only written into our language, it is our culture. A culture that breathes in the face of the modern world. An identity that is as prideful as it is profound. This is a culture to be seen.
Heritage months such as Hispanic-Latino heritage month and black history month are opportunities for our institutions to explore marginalized identities within the United States. To promote an educated and equitable future.
The Kindergarteners I work with have taught me about identity. Everything for them is new (including themselves). They are still surprised by the sound of their feet on the pavement, still testing their speed and voices, they are still growing. As I enter this first year of adulthood, it is at times hard to remember that I am still growing. Adults are expected to answer. Concretes and certainties have begun to rule my life. Yet amidst this, the children remind me that growth is a mindset, and there are still new things under the sun. They think of color and language as something curious, but not deep-rooted. Spanish and French are as foreign as some adult English and they grasp at all of them with equal opportunity. They are an echo of that American hunger for knowledge and exploration.
So this month I chose to reflect upon our indigenous history with a childlike curiosity, neutral in its ignorance, and powerful in its blind hope for a better tomorrow.