On Feb. 23, the UC Berkeley Multicultural Community Center hosted Paul Ortiz, author of “An African American and Latinx History of the United States.”
Ortiz’s recently published book tells the history of the Latinx and African American peoples in the United States through a more critical lens of the way Latinx and African American history is told.
Ortiz poses questions about the way U.S. history is taught in high school and how it oftentimes is taught without a deeper analysis of the histories of people of color. He encourages a shift in the way history is taught to young people, and advocates for an approach that tells indigenous histories.
“A lot of the book comes out of experience as a classroom teacher,” Ortiz said.
Ortiz is currently a history professor at the University of Florida.
Ortiz referenced questions he’s received from students about why history is taught in high schools where certain histories are emitted from the curriculum.
“When you pick up a history book about U.S. history it should move you to tears,” Ortiz said.
The first chapter of his book was designed to get the readers thinking about the beginning of the United States. Ortiz emphasized the importance of both Haiti and Mexico in the the context of the U.S.’s creation.
“The Haitian Revolution is probably the single most important revolution in the Americas. It trumps the American revolution because of course it was a successful revolution against slavery,” Ortiz said. “It establishes the first independent republic in the Americas [and] it quickly becomes a beacon of liberty and freedom for oppressed people everywhere.”
Ortiz urges its importance in the very beginning because he sees that it is often not recognized for its importance in mainstream U.S. history, like many other indigenous narratives.
Mills student, Andrea Ortiz Galdamez, reflected on her own history education after hearing Ortiz speak. Galdamez attended public school herself and said she could relate to what he was saying.
“What Paul Ortiz had to say was important because it is true that history is taught in a very white colonial way in public schools,” Galdamez said. “I always think about how we would teach history in a decolonial way.”
Hayden Britton, a student at Laney College, attended the talk. Having read part of the book, he compared the way he had learned history previously with what the book discussed.
“When you have a government that still practices many old colonial practices and way of running a country, you can guess education gets affected directly too since it is derived by the government slightly,” Britton said.
Ortiz also emphasized the need for accessibility in texts like his. He mentioned that his book was designed where each chapter can be taught individually by teachers, or the book as a whole.
“We need to have a curriculum that shows us how we, and people like us, without any power whatsoever, changed this country.” Ortiz said.