December 18, 2016

History Now

Visitors on how refugee issues have touched their lives

By OMCA Staff

With contributions from Claudia Leung, Digital Communications Specialist

History, of course, is not just what is written in textbooks; it is ever-present and ever-evolving, as visitors are experiencing firsthand in a dynamic section of the Gallery of California History at the Oakland Museum of California. With the title “History Now,” this space invites visitors to make connections between past and present issues and respond to thought-provoking questions.

The inaugural topic this past spring was the refugee crisis—the one dominating today’s headlines as well as refugee crises from other eras. The exhibit featured posters from OMCA's collection designed in 1915 to raise money for Armenians and other ethnic minorities fleeing genocide in the Ottoman Empire. The posters illuminated how this humanitarian emergency has parallels throughout time, and a magnet board poses questions such as “How do the images we see of refugees influence our attitudes toward them?” Visitors are invited to share their thoughts and post them on the board.

“The intention is to create a dialogue about important events,” says Experience Developer Christine Lashaw, who developed this space with Suzanne Fischer, associate curator of history and contemporary trends. “We want to deepen the conversation about living history.”

With today marking the United Nations International Migrants Day, we take a look back at the important dialogue spurred by the installation in the Gallery of California History. Below are a selection of visitor responses to these prompts and today’s urgent issues.

How have refugees and refugee issues touched your life?

“My dad is a refugee and he did nothing wrong. I love him very much.”

“Some of my Syrian family moved here after years of enduring violence. To know what they’re escaping makes me wish we are more understanding of their plight.”

“I’m a refugee from Nicaragua. 1987.”

“I WAS a refugee.”

“Married one!”

“We had to spend 1 year in a Thai refugee camp before the Americans would accept us. My cousin was born in the camp. None of the adults will talk about refugee camp life until this day.”

“I have taught ESL to refugees in VA, DC, and NC.”

“Refugees are a large part of the reason I chose to become a lawyer.”

“My Girl Scout troop and parish is supporting a Syrian refugee family.”

“My grandmother was a refugee from Palestine.”

“My grandma & her family were refugees from Nazi-occupied Amsterdam. <3 to all refugees.”

“We are all humans and earth is our home. We should help and shelter each other. Peace.”

“We are all going to be refugees at one point in our life.—Future refugee.”

“Part of my people were Native Americans & part European ‘refugees’ or immigrants. We can not right the wrong the Europeans did on the Native peoples of the Americas; however, we can at least not be hypocrites too! Let them seek refuge here.”

“Where did the indigenous people of the Americas have to seek refuge?”

“Family is here because of refugee admittance; I am here because of it. We need refugees as much as they need us!” 

Currently, History Now features Warriors Pride, Oakland Pride, a temporary installation about the impact of the hometown team. The next topic in History Now will focus on issues of Native Californian sovereignty and land rights.

Portions of this story originally appeared in the Spring 2016 issue of Inside Out, the Oakland Museum of California's Member magazine. 

The opinions quoted from visitors do not necessarily reflect those of the Oakland Museum of California, its staff, Board of Directors, or other affiliated parties.