Throughout the year various months are dedicated to the heritage and culture of historically marginalized peoples. November is Native American Heritage Month as well as Sikh Awareness Month. Last month was Filipino American History Month, and before that was Hispanic Heritage Month (Sep 15- Oct 15). Since these months often overlap and vary in mainstream popularity, some heritages go unacknowledged by the general public.
Matthew Laurel is an academic support coordinator at Berkeley High School and teaches the Asian American Pacific Islander Literature course. In October, Laurel’s class commemorated Filipino American History Month by learning about the relationship between the U.S. and Filipinos. “It’s about knowing your history so you can know yourself,” said Laurel.
For Laurel, the distinction between history and heritage months is important.“History looks at the triumphs, the traumas, the different experiences that Filipinos who come to the United States have gone through … whereas heritage is more about the food and cultural traditions,” he said.
Laurel acknowledged that there is often an overlap between a people’s cultural traditions and historical legacy, but he also stressed the importance of maintaining an understanding of the focus of each month so as to not undermine its purpose.
Both heritage and history months help raise awareness within the greater BHS community; education about a people’s history can transform the narrative surrounding marginalized communities and promote equity of voice and inclusion. Laurel said “(Heritage and history months) empower and provide solidarity for communities of color at Berkeley High.”
Jessica Hipona, the commissioner of multicultural affairs and a sophomore at BHS, says that being aware of and talking about these months and cultures has a positive impact on individuals in the community. “It’s like, oh wow, somebody else sees me and my culture,” she said.
Co-president of the BHS Multicultural Student Association, senior Mina Hardwick told the Jacket, “Heritage and history months provide a sense of connection for the communities they represent, while also spreading awareness for issues faced by those communities.”
For many groups, their histories have been undermined and overlooked. “Usually whiteness and European whiteness has always kind of been centered in education … I don’t remember learning anything about Filipinos in my history or literature classes in high school,” said Laurel, “so I really wanted to use this month to correct that narrative.”
Hipona is currently organizing Multicultural Week, set to take place next semester. She says its aim is to shine light onto the many cultures at BHS “that aren’t normally represented.” Multicultural Week continues the spirit of heritage/history months for which “the ultimate goal,” as Laurel described, is having representation “embedded throughout the year.”
Learning about the histories and heritages of BHS’s many communities can make people more open and comfortable around their fellow students. It’s the realization that “we’re all here,” said Hipona, “we’re all human, we all come from lots of different places.”
Hipona places value in “having conversations about your own culture … just having it be a normal thing to talk about.” The conversations promoted by history and heritage months are a means to “lift the veil of mystery,” as Hipona puts it.Similarly, Hardwick sees these discourses as a “start for resolving the tension that builds up between different communities.”
In order to promote the recognition of historically marginalized communities among BHS, Laurel says that solidarity is key. “It’s not a competition,” he said. He sees “learning from each other’s successes” as the way towards cultivating mainstream understanding.
Months of cultural awareness “can be used as a springboard for continuing to celebrate the diverse demographics of this school,” said Laurel. Historically marginalized groups can learn from the successes of each other and collaborate to help ensure solidarity and the representation everyone deserves.