One day I pulled into a Connecticut gas station to check the air pressure on my tires. The weather was typical New England gray and chilly early Spring, so I didn’t want to spend more time outside my warm truck than necessary, but had noticed some slightly squealing on turns that concerned me. I hopped out, grabbed my pressure gauge and a couple of quarters for the air machine, and started popping the caps off of each suspicious looking tire. Ten minutes later I was ready to go; just another unmemorable stop at an unmemorable spot, destined to be forgotten within the week. One minute later it became an experience that has resurfaced in my mind at opportune moments for over fifteen years. Just as I was climbing back into the pickup, a woman approached me. Comfortable looking, dressed well, probably in her mid to late 50s. The car she had exited was a decent-looking sedan, but nothing too fancy. I thought maybe she was lost, as this was the time before smartphone maps, when people would print out mapquest directions and try not to crash into other cars as they rechecked their turns. She seemed nervous but excited, though, which was a strange combination.
“Excuse me, I’m sorry to bother you, but could you show me how to do that?”
As I walked her through the steps, we chatted. All her life, anything to do with cars was a man’s game. She drove every day, but knew barely anything about cars: how to check her oil, how to change a tire, how to work an air pressure gauge. It was all supposed to be very complicated and involved, far too much for her to understand. She’d wanted to know how to change that, but it wasn’t until she saw another woman doing it did she get the nerve to say, “I want to know how to do that, too.” The mystery disappeared. This was simple, straightforward, and vital to the safety of any driver or passenger in her car. And now she could do it, too.
Many of you have seen the Wonder Woman movie out now, or at the very least seen the avalanche of articles about it: the women-only screenings, the lists of kindergarteners who now have female superheroes to emulate, the adult women who didn’t expect to find themselves crying in the theaters, moment after moment. Being able to see that representation is vital to something in our very core, our very ability to see ourselves in those roles, to see ourselves as more than a bystander, a victim, or a sidekick to the real hero.
Yesterday we celebrated fifty years since the Love vs Virginia civil rights case ensured that interracial marriage was legal in the United States of America. Three years before that ruling, on June 12th in 1963, civil rights paragon Medgar W. Evers was assassinated in his driveway by a white supremacist. It took three attempts to get a jury to convict him. Yesterday, also on June 12th, we remembered a horrific hate crime, the Pulse Nightclub shooting, that took the lives of forty-nine innocent members of the LGBTQ community, many of whom were also people of color. In six days will be Juneteenth, the oldest known commemoration of the end of slavery in the United States, a holiday that has existed since 1865 and which far too few Americans are familiar with. If you’re in the central North Carolina region, you can also join in the Juneteenth Celebration at Historic Stagville in Durham, NC: https://www.facebook.com/Stagville/, or check to see if a similar interpretive event is happening in your area.
Please also take ten minutes to watch representatives of Biscayne National Park powerfully demonstrate what how what we do can play a role in putting all these things into context with the narrative of our history, our country, and our world, through a tribute to the victims of the Pulse Club Massacre:
Representation always matters.
Today I want to honor and thank all the interpreters who work tirelessly to ensure representation of all our community, who aren’t afraid to take a critical look at their exhibits, their hiring practices, their programs, and their outreach to see where they could improve, whose voices may not be being heard. Your work helps people understand the experiences of people who may live in very different versions of the same place, and it helps us grow, ourselves. It’s a difficult truth that the interpretive field isn’t populated with as much diversity as it should, and we need to make sure that as many people as possible can see themselves doing what we do, so I want to encourage all of us to either keep up the working, learning, and growing, or to have the courage to see where we can begin tackling a lack of representation from whatever point we find ourselves starting from.
What, and whom, and how, we represent matters.