In her essay “The Message of American History,” Judith Ortiz Cofer explores the complex relationship between history and identity. Through personal anecdotes and historical analysis, she argues that the way we interpret history shapes our understanding of ourselves and our place in the world.
The Power of Interpretation
Cofer begins by emphasizing the importance of interpretation in shaping our understanding of history. She notes that even apparently objective facts can be manipulated to serve a particular narrative. For example, she describes how Christopher Columbus is often portrayed as a hero who “discovered” America, despite the fact that his arrival led to the displacement and genocide of indigenous peoples.
This emphasis on interpretation is key to Cofer’s argument about identity. She suggests that we can choose to interpret history in ways that support our sense of self, or we can challenge those interpretations and open ourselves up to new possibilities.
The Importance of Personal Narrative
Cofer also emphasizes the importance of personal narrative in shaping our understanding of history. She notes that her own experiences as a Puerto Rican immigrant have taught her to question dominant narratives about American history. For example, she describes how she was taught in school that Puerto Ricans were given citizenship as a gift from the United States government, when in fact they were granted citizenship in 1917 as a result of their service in World War I.
By sharing her own story, Cofer highlights the importance of diverse perspectives in shaping our collective understanding of history. She argues that by including more voices and experiences in our historical narratives, we can create a more accurate and inclusive picture of America’s past.
The Limitations of National Identity
Finally, Cofer questions the idea that national identity can be based on a single shared history or culture. She notes that America is made up of many different cultures and histories, each with its own unique contributions to make. Rather than trying to force these diverse elements into a single mold, she suggests that we should celebrate our differences and work to create a truly inclusive society.
In conclusion, Judith Ortiz Cofer’s essay “The Message of American History” challenges us to rethink our approach to history and identity. By emphasizing the importance of interpretation, personal narrative, and diversity, she suggests that we can create a more accurate and inclusive understanding of America’s past and present.