After many comments & responses to our recent comics about Slovak-Roma situation, I have been thinking about my own hometown background and experience. It is true that Rabbit likes to explore and ask questions, and it is also true that Rabbit does not always fully address complexity of race and ethnicity in his own country (USA). Perhaps if we look briefly at some small piece of that background, it will add some perspective to Rabbit’s current adventures in Slovakia.
Many small towns in rural New England (USA) put up historical markers such as these, less than one mile down river from my home (shown full-view and close-up):
Every now and then you will come across one such as this (also nearby):
What does this kind of official historical statement mean? What does it say about town history and the place of Native Peoples, who built dwellings and gave birth in the area long before any European-style framed houses or babies appeared? What does it say about New Hampshire history in general, that native languages provide most of our place names, but native peoples remain largely invisible from much of “mainstream” history and culture? (OR, is that even the case, or does the questions merely demonstrate the asker’s own blindspots?)
One could certainly argue that native civilizations were not “part” of the new 18th century community called “Henniker,” but that would ignore the cultural, economic, and political relationships that necessarily grow between groups during community development, intercultural encounter, and large-scale population migration. What were those relationships? How did Natives and Europeans influence and change each other’s cultures?
The historical marker tells us nothing of this. It recognizes one side and ignores the other, and thus presents an incomplete picture of of a community’s history and identity. By omitting ethnic identity (“EUROPEAN CHILD”), it invites us to believe that human history in this area started (“FIRST CHILD”) with a house and birth in 1763. (We might note, however, that the official town website claims Henniker was “Incorporated in 1768”, so even this FIRST HOUSE and FIRST CHILD were not really part of any official “Henniker” either!)
ASIDE: The adjoining town of Hopkinton features an equally remote and forgotten historical marker noting the site of “Abraham Kimball, first white male born in Hopkinton, 1742” (see #20 on the PDF) — a wording which may shock modern schoolchildren by openly addressing race (and gender), but seems in this context much more honest.
Perhaps these are all questions for another project, but I raise them here to help show why Rabbit is so sensitive to similar questions in Slovak history and modern culture.
We might also note here the “abandoned” look of so many of these historical markers. That is, there are not multiple thriving cultural communities that carry out discussion of the history and contemporary issues behind them — there they stand, mute, forgotten, abandoned stone monuments left behind in remote places. This is perhaps the most eloquent warning of all concerning such societal problems (such as, say, contact and tension between Roma and ethnic Slovaks)…