Oral History and Marginalized Communities
In order to complete this unit and the Oral History Project, you will want to understand the following concepts in detail and comprehend their relevance to Ethnic Studies:
Decipher their definition and understand the relationship they have to one another, as well as to other concepts introduced in the class. Making connections between concepts is paramount in creating a critical theoretical framework needed to liberate the mind from social constructs that maintain oppressive power relations.
Marginalized populations are groups and communities that experience discrimination and exclusion (social, political and economic) because of unequal power relationships across economic, political, social and cultural dimensions. In short, they exist on the margins of society and social progress. These communities are often deprived by legal or illegal means of the enjoyment of rights and resources. Considering the English language has been used as a tool to marginalize oppressed groups, it may not be much of a surprise to learn that literacy and literature are also used to fight oppression.
Writing is one social practice that makes humans distinct from all other species. Writing was first developed by Mayans around 300 B.C.E.Links to an external site. This time period is referred to by the Master Narrative as the “Preclassic Period” of Mayan civilization. During this period, Mayans wanted their history to withstand the test of time and wrote them on stones and similar materials that were weatherproof and not easily altered. If it were not for this practice of writing on stones, there would likely be little evidence to prove Mayan cities are older than Rome. Practices like this — cultural practices that mediate human action to alter nature into human artifacts which can survive the test of time — are referred to as Material Culture.
Material culture is physical objects (pottery, architecture, paintings, etc.) that point to past cultures and civilizations. It was not until the “Postclassical Period” when hundreds of thousands of pages were created annually (yearly). Paper was used for accounting and mathematical purposes, including keeping track of monetary debt and sales as well as the movement of the stars and planets. The library of Mayan writings in 1562 by the acting Bishop of Yucatán (#Cancun), Diego de Landa, was carried out by Spanish conquistadores (colonial soldiers) as it posed it threat to the writings of Europe. The four books survived in European hands. One was named after a social club in New York City (Grolier Codex), while the other three are owned by European nations with names of the cities where they are permanently on display (Madrid, Dresden, and Paris). Even though these four books that did survive the ethnocide of the past, the book titles are not of the original authors. The colonial names given to these Mayan books by their new owners is a social practice that produces a Material Culture that supports the reinforces the Master Narrative.
The great book burning of 1562 is one example of a colonial pathology exercised against indigenous culture, identity, and history. It was not until this time period, first under Spanish colonization, that Mayans and other indigenous people became “illiterate.” Mayans knew how to read, write, and speak in their own tongue. A new language was forced on indigenous people using guns, germs, and god. Of course they would be illiterate just as much as any one of us would be trying to read a book in any one of the other over 7,000 languages spoken around the world. Until more recently, there wasn’t much effort to address “illiteracy” by indigenous people in European languages — caused by colonization.
The image below is published by the University of Texas, Arlington [1Links to an external site.]. The image shows a historical timeline of written communication. If you look at key dates in human history, according to the image, indigenous written communication is framed as if it didn’t exist, it was unimportant to peo
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