Junot Diaz’s short story “Fiesta 1980” is a wonderful coming of age story that strikes at a chord of universality. Anyone who has become a teen and entered the world of realizing your father is not super human, but human, and maybe even a son-of -a bitch strikes a familiar chord.
What the story also does, when considered by those of us who may grow accustomed to working in a mono-cultural environment, call to our attention that we all share a narrative, but that it may look different from where the individual characters start.
In the very dense, reading by Hollinger we find a look at how historians will deal with a national narrative. So pairing this tale of a philandering father, a son consumed with sickness when faced with his fathers’ own mortality and sexual needs, played out on the setting of 2nd generation Hispanic lower class culture is a great place to look at how we should not only consider telling the whole story of history, but how we should deal with it in museums.
Hollinger states that if “professional historians do not try to influence that narrative, and hence the national culture of which it is so vital a part, others will control the narrative and that culture even more fully than they do now.” (Masur 1999)
The suggestion is we have a powerful role to play in the perceptions and realities of our national narrative, by the work we do. If we, like so many who have come before us simply tell the stories of white men and women, or the white men and women and most acceptable minorities from history without characterizing, and familiarizing ourselves with what makes individual cultures different, we will rob real history from America’s true narrative. It becomes essential for a historian, a museum educator, or exhibit designer to know something about their audiences. They must consider how they learn, how they see their family, what their immediate peers groups are are and how this shapes how they will interact with the world.
Museums are poised to enter into the national dialogue, and “influence the narrative.” Our nation is has a burgeoning Hispanic population that drives economics, religious practice, fashion and even dietary habits of everyday Americans. It is time that we make concerted efforts to bring their stories into the work we do through exhibitions, public programs, and outreach as professionals we are charged with keeping watch over locations and collections, but we must choose “the knowledge we attain” or more importantly, the knowledge we can’t deny.
David Hollinger, The Challenge of American History,ed Louis P. Masur (John Hopkins University Press 1999) 326