You can’t erase history

Young girl holding folded paper crane at the Bellevue College Restoration Ceremony Levvy Hedera/The Watchdog

The most important lesson I learned growing up was learning from my past mistakes. The ability to reflect on your past behavior is a necessary step in becoming a better person. In a societal context, it helps us develop enough understanding of how people in the past messed up, and how to avoid that ourselves. It’s why history is a massive part of our education system. You can’t learn physics without learning about the story of Isaac Newton. You also can’t learn about art without learning about Picasso and the Spanish Civil War. 

On Feb. 19, local artist Erin Shigaki unveiled her mural “Never Again is Now” on campus, which recounts the day President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed a bill mandating the forced internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II. Located at the C Building, the piece in particular directly mentioned and criticized Miller Freeman, a local businessman, for his role in pushing anti-Japanese propaganda. This was especially significant given that time over 60 Japanese-Immigrant families in Bellevue owned land that eventually became Bellevue Square. Later that same week it was defaced with Freeman’s part specifically whited out. This of course caused an uproar. On March 3 the “Rememberance Ceremony” was held at the coutryard. Many were in attendance, including affinity groups like Tsuru for Solidarity and the JACL, the nations largest Asian civil-rights organization.

“It starts with acknowledging our sins,” said Shigaki Tuesday afternoon. This was fresh off the heels of BC letting go of Dr. Jerry Weber, president of the school’s board of directors. “We’ve even seen the United States apologize for the incarcerations, so I don’t see why we can’t continue to do those things.” From Tulsa to Rosewood to Bellevue, communities of color in this country have had their wealth stripped from them and thus have been set back for generations. In Bellevue’s case it’s another chapter of America’s history of xenophobia, especially towards East Asians. This mural incident is a microcosm of a more significant issue with American society. America’s reluctance to confront its past has only caused more harm to marginalized communities. On some level I can empathize. America touts itself as a place of equality and opportunity, despite its history contradicting that idea. For many people, that’s a conversation they’re not willing to have.

To be clear, this is less about the school’s board and more about the bigger context of our country’s problems and the poor ways we deal with them. Understandably, the school board wanted to de-escalate this as much as possible. However, what I and many minorities fear is that it will go back to business as usual. There won’t be greater discussions about discrimination towards immigrants. No discussions on how media normalizes xenophobia, where it stems from, nothing. These are discussions that can make people rethink their perspective and society’s altogether.

While many people may see these discussions as divisive, they’re missing the point. When you come out of a toxic relationship, you don’t file that away in your brain and never think about it again. You ask questions like: “What went wrong?” “What could have been done differently?” “What were some red flags?”  It’s through that line of questioning that you get straight to the heart of the problem and find valuable insight.  Insight that you will use to progress and evolve, something Germany has done for a long time now.

Despite Germany, like most of the West, seeing the resurgence of far-right in its politics, the measures they’ve made in acknowledging their dark past is admirable. Their Holocaust Museum crystallizes this to a tee. Located in Berlin, the exhibit pulls no punches displaying all of the horrors of that time. In the country’s education system, kids are even taken on field trips to where the camps used to be. The country also went as far as paying reparations to those affected. This, in turn, gave Germany the fresh start it needed to truly move on and be the best country it can be.

Transformation is a powerful ethos in the American consciousness. It manifests in different ways. Whether it be getting a workout regimen or self-help books, people yearn to be their best selves. But you don’t fully achieve that unless you face those demons. It’s time that America faces ours.