Connecting to the Ancestors and Our Future

DSC049631830s cabin, Bacon’s Castle, Surry, VA

Over and over again there was a recurring theme in the interviews that I did for my thesis: Using historic preservation as a way to connect both to our ancestors and to future generations. Reaching backward to the past for the present and what is ahead for the future. I want to share some of the observations about that connection that were made to me by my preservation colleagues:

Michelle Magalong, Executive Director of Asian and Pacific Islander Americans in Historic Preservation (APIAHiP), described her visit to the Manzanar (CA) Japanese  American internment camp in 2013: “After WWII, bulldozers destroyed the barracks and structures. The foundations are still there. In between the barracks, some [internees] created gardens with ponds. They found plants to feel a bit of peace during their incarceration. Dust covered the ponds. Archaeologists came back and uncovered them. They re-created them and the water was turned on for the ponds during the annual pilgrimage day. What was tangible became intangible and they brought it back. That was poignant.”

Heather Youckton (Chehalis Tribal Member): “We look at things that’ll last beyond seven generations–things that will not be important today, but for our grandchildren’s grandchildren. For me, culture isn’t stagnant or preserved in time. It lasts and changes. It is what’s inside of you and goes everywhere that you go. It goes beyond the NHPA. It’s in our spirit. It’s who we are.”

Claudia Guerra, Cultural Historian, San Antonio Office of Historic Preservation (OHP): “We should think about it as as inheriting something. It is about what are we giving and heritage is a gift.”

Leonard Forsman, Chairman, Suquamish Tribe: “There was an intensive assimilation process and disconnection from culture and history that was once passed from generation to generation. So much of our culture was lost. I am speaking for me and for my tribe in that I think of places as a ceremony that survived or a new ceremony. Or natural features that represent an ancient connection to the landscape. That is more significant to us.”

Laura Dominguez, Co-Chair, Latinos in Heritage Conservation (LHC): “Within the Latino community, we are so frequently portrayed as newcomers or violent and that negates the fact that we’ve been here for centuries. We have roots here and our culture has been appropriated, our people erased. Being able to say this is where we’ve come together. To say we have this place, it has power. Value. It is real. We are here and have been here.”

Brent Leggs, Director, African American Cultural Heritage Fund, National Trust for Historic Preservation: “I’ve been thinking about the continuity of history. When I realized my parents went to Rosenwald schools, Booker T. Washington’s vision from 150 years ago was still active. I’m experiencing a historic building–connecting to his life–that gap between his life and the building is eliminated as we experience the building. It is beautiful to say that I’m a product of that vision. I am the face of that today. There is a transcendent piece of this work–such as his life is still real. Seeing him as an ancestor whose life we may draw from. I feel preserving our culture, preserving our history, is a shared responsibility. The proverb about the whole village is true. If we can continue to connect the spiritualness of preservation, we can connect to the public on a deeper spiritual level–we can connect them to our work.”

We don’t always talk about how our work speaks to our soul, but we should…as it can be beautiful. These connections are there to be discovered (or re-discovered!) and created.

This is something preservation can achieve.

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