Last semester I found myself sitting between two friends in our public speaking class. The friend to my left is Moroccan, while my friend on the right is Spanish. The class began with an activity regarding famous speeches from celebrated orators, and each group of three needed to choose an example. We were brainstorming for possible cases; the obvious ones arose: Dr. Martin Luther King JR, Nelson Mandela, Winston Churchill, Malcolm X, etc. However, we wanted to pick someone who wouldn’t be part of everyone else’s shortlist. This transitioned to more niche or local examples from our countries. My Morrocan friend suggested Hassan II, the former king of Morocco. She emphasized how he is an emblematic and inspiring figure for many of her people, as well as being known for his excellent oratory skills. Without prior reflection, my Spanish friend pounced in opposition. She claimed to not be very sure of who this person was but was clear that the teachings she received about him were clouded in a negative light. In a moment, we all became silent and met each other’s gaze with widening eyes. Without vocalization, the trio realized how the historical turmoil between Morocco and Spain had entirely influenced each other’s educational angles.
A Moroccan and a Spaniard were taught completely antonymic perspectives of the 20th-century Western Sahara conflict. In November of 1975, Hassan II’s Green March, 350,000 people and 25,000 Moroccan military members entered the relevant Saharan area. The present Spanish authorities drew no opposition, and Franco’s government decided to begin negotiations with Morocco over the transfer of executive power of the territory the day after the manifestation. One person was taught stories of liberation from imperialism, while the other was taught about the weakening of their country’s international power. Same event with absolutely different connotations.
This is one of the countless examples of how a story’s ethos heavily depends on who is telling it and how it is being told. Personally, my life has been protagonized by different perspectives. By the age of 19, I had lived in seven cities, spanning six countries and four continents. All I’ve known is being placed in a new position where new points of view and historical context form the bedrock of people’s psyche.
Being from Latin America, the harshest opposition in perspective came from living in the United States and Spain. Both the Spanish and the Americans were taught that their historical intervention in foreign countries was a way of manifesting the grandiose nature of their nation. In a general sense, it was all for the “greater good.” While I commonly disagreed with these stances, I have come to the realization that most people develop in a sort of echo chamber where there is a generalized way of seeing the world. This perspective is not questioned because why would they challenge it? Their friends, family, and all they know are rooted in these lenses. However, I have witnessed firsthand how once a conversation arises with an opposing viewpoint, an eventual logical and emotional growth is met. Once you hear the emotive ties, it is troublesome to a certain point to discredit their feelings. Many times, people have simply not been exposed to your particular stance. No one has ever presented the issue to them in that way.
Nevertheless, all conversations about concrete issues should be grounded in fact. Events and statistics must be the common ground for discussion. A meaningful exchange is impossible if a consensus of reality cannot be met. Thus, once this basis is set, the interpretation can vary greatly. Therefore, history and stories are a series of events that can be seen from different angles. While we should all agree on what transpired, the weight of importance of certain factors, the connotations, and the ramifications can be put into question. Instead of entering a conversation with the goal of imposition, enter with an open mind and heart to grow as an intellectual and, more importantly, as a person. History is a story dependent on the writer. With the plethora of variables that form each and every one of us, we must see the facts yet be perceptive of how they are presented.
Featured image by: PA Times