Mời quý độc giả đọc bản dịch Anh ngữ của Phạm Văn, từ bài viết “Trí Nhớ của Một Dân Tộc,” đăng trong thư tòa soạn Da Màu tuần lễ 15-21 tháng sáu 2020
“We shall overcome because the arc of the moral universe is long but it bends toward justice.”
-Martin Luther King Jr., “Remaining Awake Through a Great Revolution,” speech given at the National Cathedral, March 31, 1968.
In May 2020, protests against racial discrimination exploded after a Minneapolis policeman knelt on George Floyd’s neck and caused his untimely death. In America, these protests, while heartfelt and explosive, tend to come and go. One violent incident sparks a movement, but then it will disappear, only to rise again when another violent incident catches the headlines. George Floyd’s death reminds us that the problem of racial discrimination has not been rectified. It forces everyone to confront the fact that injustice and violence are still our festering wounds.
How long will we commemorate Mr. George Floyd? How long will we protest? Days, weeks, months? And will we then forget, until another deadly incident occurs, until another Floyd dies, before resuming our cyclical civil disobedience?
How long have we commemorated Sandy Hook, Columbine, Virginia Tech, the mass murder on Las Vegas Strip, or the violence in churches, restaurants, supermarkets, and shopping malls in Texas, in California? And will we forget until another tragedy occurs?
How long will we remember the story of Rodney King, and along with it the business district where many stores owned by Korean-Americans were burned to ashes? How long will we remember Harriet Tubman, Frederick Douglass, Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X, and Stokely Carmichael? Are the Ku Klux Klan with their lynchings and burning crosses just a distant trauma? How about the white-only fountains and the back section of the bus for “colored” people? How long will we remember the crowded ships from Africa, with slaves sold as merchandise for plantations owned by white people, and millions of lives perished with chains on their necks, hands, and legs before reaching the New World?
Will we always remember the sweat, tears, and blood of Chinese workers on the transcontinental railroad? Will we remember the Japanese-American youth volunteers who joined the army to fight against fascism while their families were forced to leave homes for internment camps? People proudly say that Ellis Island was the welcoming beacon for immigrants crossing the Atlantic Ocean, but do they know that San Francisco’s Angel Island was a detention center – where we imprisoned those who had crossed the Pacific Ocean to the New Word, before again expelling them into oblivion?
Will we remember a father and his daughter who drowned at the edge of the Rio Grande? And the mother shielding her children from ferociously-armed vigilantes at the border? How about the detention camps that separate children from their parents? And the mental scars those children will carry for the rest of their lives? How will we look back on the way we treated Hispanic soldiers returning from military duty, for them to hear people shouting “English only”? How will we take into account the fact that our government had incited riots and provoked bloody revolutions from the Alamo to Alta California, from Utah to Arizona, with the goal of annexing new territories to fulfill Manifest Destiny?
Will we take note of Native Americans who occupied Alcatraz for nineteen months in 1969 to draw attention to their history of mistreatment by the U.S. government? Have we regretted the way our troops had attacked teepees that housed only the elderly, women, and children; or how we had driven their survivors to remote reservations unfit for their traditional way of life, where they were sold alcohol to destroy their health and their willpower? Will we care to remember Native American boarding schools where children were not allowed to speak their parents’ language or sing their ancestor’s songs, and were forced to wear the white man’s clothes, eat the white man’s food, and embrace the white man’s religion – all in an attempt to erase their Native American culture? How many of us wish to remember that we were once new immigrants to the land where people had lived for generations before our arrival?
So many things to remember – not only past glories that make up our history, but also grave sins and missteps that presaged today’s predicaments.
What will we – who are red, white, black, brown, and yellow Americans – remember, and how long will we maintain our memory?
It’s hard for outsiders to understand the wrath of those shouldering the choking oppression that has lasted so many generations. No one can fully realize another person’s resentment and pain. However, we must realize that our past deeds have created an insidious and vicious legacy. We must remember our dark past, not only to prevent injustice from recurring, but also to ensure that rage won’t need to explode again – since a nation without memory is a doomed, unredeemable nation.
Humans are not created equal, unlike what Thomas Jefferson once asserted. Some people are born rich, some poor, some strong, some infirm. However, humans are one of very few species having the potential to create a more equitable environment for ourselves and our future generations. As a species, we run the risk of destroying this planet when we fail to remember – but if we have learned anything from our violent and tragic past, it would be the will to bend the arc of the moral universe toward justice, one step at a time.
California, June 25, 2020