I recently had the pleasure of being on a panel at the NJ History & Historic Preservation Conference with Barbara Little, Program Manager of the National Park Service’s Cultural Resources Office of Outreach, and Fon Wang, Principal at UCI Architects in Philadelphia. Our session was about the role of historic preservation in democracy and social justice and the preservation of the history of multi-ethnic and underrepresented groups.
I believe that historic preservation is about communities, as well as structures. Place is identity. Whether it is a barrio, a Chinatown, a reservation in South Dakota, or the streets of Baltimore, place is somewhere of meaning and residents want their histories and stories recognized and heard. They want to see themselves too. Preservation work is being done, often without it being called that. However, the field speaks a language that we need more minority professionals to become fluent in.
There is no question as to why the histories and stories of underrepresented groups should be told. The question should be why are they not being told?
Given our field’s history, it is easy to see how the stories of those who were “quieter” or viewed as “less important” were more likely to be untold. Inclusion does not have to mean exclusion, and telling these stories is not at the expense of other groups. It is about a fuller story about the history and ideals of America and what make us all American.