My father once went to visit the Dominican Man Museum in Santo Domingo. This museum tells the history of Quisqueya (Hispaniola), now known as the Dominican Republic. It is an archaeological museum and it explains the origins of the first inhabitants of the island, what race they were; the experience of the Tainos (the inhabitants of Quisqueya) when the Spanish arrived; the conquest; and the historical transformations that took place at this time and led to the total extermination of this race. It also looks at Spanish settlements, the culture brought over from Spain, the commercial need to import cheap labour, the arrival of the slaves and their presence in the Americas.
My father was taught a somewhat different version of the history of the conquest of the Americas to that which is told in the Dominican Man’s museum. They explained that he, as a Spaniard, should be proud of the Spanish Conquest. They told him that “we bought culture, language, religion" and “good customs” to an “almost savage” population. This version of history transmits the idea that “Thank God we discovered America, if not, what would have become of them!”.
Having been exposed to the flip-side of history, my father left the museum crestfallen he felt bad for and deceived by all the horrors that had been committed without him knowing about it. “They never told me this, it was totally the opposite”, he thought to himself.
After thinking about it and reading the explanations in the museum, he said he no longer felt so “proud” of the Conquest. When he was a little boy he had been taught a version of history where the Spaniards were the “saviours”, he now discovered another version where they were the “culprits”.
Who was he supposed to believe? Who was telling the truth? How much energy could be wasted thinking about this and looking for someone to blame for things that happened before we were even born... And the truth is that we have so much to do to improve the world we are living in… We could start by telling history objectively, without resentment, we can learn from yesterday and work for a better today… But to do this we don’t need to feel guilty or victorious about anyone or anything, and even less so about acts that took place in an era that is not our own.