Sunday, November 18, 2012

World History and the Story told by the powerful

Reading about the history of PR, I think there are two stories to be told here - one that tells of the native inhabitants dying of small pox in 1512-15. Mostly all the natives died (30 to 60,000) and those that did not, were made slaves. It is a story of subjugation of a people and a massacre.

But, the other story is the story of Christopher Columbus. He found the new world. It took him 5 weeks to cross the atlantic to find land. Can you imagine doing something never done before? That he made 4 trips to the new world tell of adventure, courage and of course, the desire to find gold. This must have been cutting edge for the world at that time. The Madrid Times would have said "New World Found!! Our horizons have expanded!". You can feel the electricity around this - people talking about it, the navigational tools that Columbus used. The shipping technology that allowed him the 5 week non-stop journey. And the possibilities ahead - land, gold and who knows what else?

The Roman catholic church played a role as well. The second cathedral in the americas was built in San Juan just a few years after Columbus' visit. Proselytization was big but of course, there was no regard to the human condition of the natives. How could the church be so blind? It was just institutionally so powerful. It is hard for them to see.

Even the years since, while slavery was thriving, people were not thinking about it. They were thinking of the commerce and industry that was been created. Slaves were just resources to be bought and sold to maximally leverage your portfolio.

Where am I going with this? Even today, one can surf the latest technological wonders of our time - we are in the internet age. In Silicon Valley, we are riding that wave like crazy. Facebook, Zynga and Instagram. That is a powerful story.

Is there another one we are missing? The story of the vanquished? The story of factories in China with basic pay?

Here in PR, there is the story of a flourishing tourism industry with flashes of opulent wealth and a story of minimum wage jobs where the workers cannot afford the food in the hotel restaurants.  

I also wonder about the role of the church. Both the catholic church but also the dominant church in any country. What powers do they hold that betray some of the values of compassion and being with the broken?

Props to Howard Zinn for the idea of who gets to tell history - mostly always the victors and powerful

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