A week before Spring Break, one of the editors at Michigan in Color, Na’kia Channey, reached out to me spontaneously.
“Hey. Would you like to come to D.C. with us to photograph?”
“Uh … I guess.”
Before the trip, I was told that the purpose of this trip to D.C. was to explore the forgotten history of marginalized communities centered in our capital. As part of my job description, I would photograph the trip and government buildings.
There we were in Washington, D.C. When I strapped on my camera, I realized I’m not simply a photographer in journalism. I, too, am a person of color. As an Asian immigrant in America, this matters to me personally. It is important for us to understand marginalized communities and our histories.
During our visit to the National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC), it was interesting to reflect on the knowledge we already had prior to the visit. While a lot of exhibitions were extensive information built off of what we already know, the display of a free black woman in 1781, Elizabeth Freeman, caught my attention.
The fact that the story of Freeman is barely discussed in classes made me think about all the forgotten history of marginalized communities that isn’t mentioned in our society.
History and cultures of other people of color matter to me personally as an Asian immigrant.
Growing up in Hong Kong, where 98 percent of the population is Asian, I was never exposed to diversity. When I moved to the United States, I gradually realized that roles have switched – I am a minority in this country.
Support within the marginalized community is crucial so that we are united and have a common ground of understanding. This was seen carried out in American history, such as the Chicago Rainbow Coalition where local ethnic groups joined together for the Black Power movement in the 1970s. Not to mention, Yuri Kochiyama, as a Japanese American, was an essential political influencer as well as creator of alliances during the civil rights movement. Therefore, I see learning about other marginalized groups within the community almost as an obligation that I hold.
We humans are exceptional at recognizing behavioral patterns, and history exhibits will always exhibit similar patterns.
As we observe and digest the history of our pasts, we become historians ourselves, interpreting the stories of our past. Through the understanding of how activism was carried out in the past, we adopt similar patterns and mold activism today, like Black Lives Matter, which will eventually become history and shape our future society as well.
Born in the post-millennial era where the majority of the U.S. population will soon be minorities, diversity defines our generation as well as the “new America.” However, even as the number of people of color grows, the power that white people hold in society inevitably still affects how people of color are viewed in our society today. While we heighten the importance of people of color in society today, we are also shaping the society in 20 years, when people of color become the majority population. White post-millennials growing up will also be shaped by the influences of people of color. With that said, I see my job as a journalist of color and my fellow journalists’ jobs as important.
What may seem radical yesterday is just the history of the today. What may seem radical today will become the history of the future.
Artists always push conventional boundaries to provoke a new way of thinking. Visiting Busboys and Poets to watch slam poetry performed by artists around the U.S. allowed me to rethink how art and culture is an integral part of history. To me, the host, Charity, was one of the most inspiring of all. As a queer woman of color, Charity’s poems conveyed her frustration through her personal experiences to the audience in the rawest way possible. With Black History Month coming to an end, it was a poignant end to reflect on issues such as intersectionality between marginalized groups as well as conversations we should be having in the future.
Here we are. Transcended by time, we stand at the crossroads between present and future. While we read and digest stories of our past from historians, we, too, are historians ourselves.