embracing contact zones

October 3, 2007 at 5:23 pm (Uncategorized)

It truly amazes me that some things in history can just go unnoticed for centuries or even thousands of years. How can people get away with this? I kept asking myself this question as I read Pratt’s essay, and yet I know the answer, I’ve known the answer. This erasure of history has been occurring for ages. When Pratt said that Guaman Poma’s New Chronicle and Good Government circulated in Paris 25 years after its discovery and Western scholars finally had access to it 350 years after, I was shocked. Here was this valuable piece of information that wasn’t acknowledged until so many years later. The fact that it took that long for such an important document to reach the public…it just amazes me that there are some people that are so close-minded to other perspectives that they cling to the only thing they know, which could be very incorrect. I realize that people don’t want to accept the truth and discard everything they were taught, or, perhaps the misinterpretations that were created to cover up the truth.
I think also that the really remarkable thing about Poma’s letter was his interpretation of Christianity. He traced the religion back to Adam and Eve and claimed that one of the offspring of Noah was Amerindian. He replaced the city of Jerusalem with Cuzco, making the Andeans the privileged culture over the Europeans. Poma used the Spanish genre for his own purposes. At first, I wondered who was Poma to change history. But then I asked, who began history anyway? What is history except for the borrowing, stealing, and influence of other cultures and peoples? Also, who said that Europe has to be the center of everything? Why is this Eurocentric idea of everything sprouting right from European soil the dominant theory? History is just a few facts with a lot of room for interpretation, which is exactly what people have done, interpreted.
People, countries, and cultures enter Pratt’s “contact zone” everyday. Historians are scared of this “zone” and try to pretend that there is none, that clashing and grappling amongst different people never happens. Or rather, they know it exists and they just do their best to avoid entering it, which they’re been pretty successful at except when documents suddenly surface, such as Guaman Poma’s letter. This idea that some people don’t even believe in “contact zones” is the influence of a society dominated by a hierarchy of power that then smothers everyone with its beliefs, leaving no room for other perspectives. I think it’s a far reach to believe in “imagined communities” where it’s the assumption that everyone is united under the same mentality. As Pratt said, “it is assumed that all participants are engaged in the same game and that the game is the same for all players.”
This part of history, the truth of the Spanish conquest of the Andeans, didn’t even exist until the discovery of Poma’s letter. Pratt’s essay made me grasp the idea that all the history ever documented makes up only a small portion of everything that has happened in the past. The bits and pieces, and in some cases, large chunks of history that have been left out either accidentally or purposely are still a mystery, or worse, have been distorted to glorify one party.
Her analogy about her son and his schooling made me realize how my education in the past years has always been about conforming my ideas to fit that of my teacher. Recently, my Introduction to Africana Studies professor brought up the notion of the set-up of the classroom and how he didn’t agree with it. All the seats face the front where the teacher lectures. They are attached to the ground and students can’t move their chairs to join groups or even turn around in order to listen to another student’s comment without twisting and contorting their bodies into uncomfortable positions. The classroom was supposedly designed for the purpose of education. But what is education without understanding all the different and possible perspectives of things, which is acquired from interacting and conversing with others? I agree with Pratt in that the classroom should be viewed and used as a contact zone. With contact zones, the natural outcome is one of rage and pain, but people are also able to grasp and understand a new concept, something that many in this world, unfortunately aren’t open to.

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