Remembrance of Vietnam as Memorial Kinship

Article excerpt

"This intricate practice of remembrance is bound up with the possibility of hope."

Roger L Simon (2000, p. 17)

"This do in remembrance of me."

1 Corinthians 11:24-26

If one phrase, one response, was to be identified as the one that I have most often heard in my two and a half decades of teaching and teacher education, it would certainly be: "It's history. Why can't they just get over it!"

I have never believed that I had the ultimate answer to that obstinacy, and have most often rued the reality of my wanting it when my own family, those nearest and dearest to me, have made the same protests. And I am certainly not alone in taking exception to such statements.

Leonard Pitts (2001), columnist for the Miami Herald, highlighted the issue while spotlighting its ramifications in his column:

Here in Fortress America ... we have this smug conceit that we live at the end of history. So enlightened have we become, so much progress have we achieved, that we feel free to close the books on yesterday's evils.

But, . . . you see, progress is neither preordained nor necessarily permanent. Enlightenment is a prize that's always in play -never fully won, always there to be lost. So good people must ever remember, must ever stand guard. We must remember the past because it is how we arrived at the present moment; but more importantly, we must remember actively so that we continue to learn, to stand guard, to progress.

Much like Thunderheart (1992), 1 have heard and seen the thundering hooves at Wounded Knee when the Sioux people were massacred (December, 1890), but I have had no claim to such remembrance unless I embrace memorial kinship and acknowledge that we are all related. I do not have to be Sioux, I do not even have to be American Indian, to cringe before the soldiers, and mourn the cries of the innocents.

Some of my closest friends, both White and of color, say that I am Purple -a person of deep perspective, an individual who perceives the interrelatedness of all humanity and does not distinguish between shades of skin! But I am too steeped in the study of Whiteness and White privilege (McIntosh, 1989; McLaren, 1997; see also, Fischman, 1999; Nieto, 1999) to feel satisfied by that interpretation. I know that I enjoy privileges that others will never experience and that these privileges are often a result of birth, including: my skin is considered white, my first language is English, my ancestors immigrated voluntarily from Europe, my appearance does not make me a target of profiling, my education was in the United States and includes a Ph.D. (And while I would be the first to argue that I had to work for my Ph.D., I recognize that my place in history did not prohibit my education.)

Purple people, I believe, live in memorial kinship - "a persistent sense of belonging to something or someone that is other than the grounds on which one recognizes oneself" (Simon, p. 18). People live this kinship without thinking it, a part of their knowing before even knowing it.

Roger I. Simon (2000) explains memorial kinship and the practice of zakhor1 regarding traumatic history:

Whether within or across generations, testimony is always directed toward, indeed requires, witnesses: those prepared to accept the obligation of reading, viewing, listening, and subsequently responding to an embodied singular experience not recognizable as one's own.... What I learn in such an encounter are not just the facts about another's life or even facts about my own, but that I can be challenged, awakened to an at-tending to my attending. (pp. 18-19)

It was this attending, this witnessing, that so struck me during my time in Vietnam. While I had anticipated a memorable experience, my focus had been on the excitement I'd been feeling since my Bro had announced to me that he had purchased my ticket to fly to Vietnam with him and be with him for his marriage. Trung, my Bro, adopted me some 8 years ago in a way that I have come to understand from my Vietnamese and American Indian friends -it is the intention that makes you family. …