Wednesday, January 27, 2010
The Greatest Generation By Tom Brokaw
What I've learned from reading a variety of non-fiction books is that journalists say it best and Tom Brokaw is no exception.
I've been reading "The Greatest Generation" by Tom Brokaw for a few months now. One might think its taken me this long because I'm either a slow reader or it's boring. Well, one out two is correct. Usually, I have a tendency to devour books. I over compensate my slow reading with skimming and end up missing most of the point, so I deliberately decided to take my time with this book and only read it while I'm at the gym. Plus, its a hard back so its easy to prop open.
A few months back, my mom had a stack of books my brother was giving away, kind of a purging of his collection. I saw the book and remember hearing good reviews, this however, was before I discovered my love for all things WWII. I picked it up and asked my mom "How can Renato be giving this away?!" she said his wife had a copy, so if I wanted this one, I could have it. So I snatched it up. It sat on my bookshelf, along with all my other anxious books (yeah, I totally just anthropomorphize my book, what?! They're excited to get read, I know it!) until I felt a pull toward it. In the meantime, I read a few books of fiction, a non-fiction book about past lives, some short stories, many self help and finally, I was back to WWII and I settled in for this epic story, as if I were sitting at the feet of my grandfather (note to readers: I've never met any of my grandfathers, and even if I did, they wouldn't have been in WWII, they were both Mexican. More on that later.)
I often wonder why I have this "draw" to WWII or history in general. I love all things history. If I narrow it down, I come up with US History as my main focus and if I look a little deeper, I have a swelling heart for Ethnic Studies, any US History related to people of color. Within US History, what draws me the most is WWII, the Civil Rights movement, the civil war and the contact, in no particular order. But yet, time after time, I'm drawn to WWII, the greatest generation. Perhaps (and seriously, I'm just throwing theories out there) it's because my family wasn't here yet. I find it odd that I'd be drawn to something I'm not a part of. I think its also looking for this sense of belonging, looking for faces like mine during "The Greatest Generation" just so I know, I belong too. As I've mentioned, my family wasn't here in the 40s. My family's US history begins in 1969, after my parents got married and my dad moved back to the US. In history class, we'd have projects where they said "go ask your grandparents about WWII or where were they when Kennedy got shot?" And I never could. For one, my grandfathers were both in Mexico at the time and had no involvement in WWII, not even as the Aztec Eagle (Mexican fighter pilots that helped the US during WWII). I suppose, I always felt out of place, like I didn't belong. I think legions of immigrants post 1950s might feel that way, not having a kind of connection to the toddlerness that was our country at the turn of the century. I constantly fight for a sense of belonging here, even though I often see myself as an other. And the thing is, I am an other, but that doesn't make me less of an American than any one else. And I don't say that because someone has outright said that, I think I say it because I too am trying to convince myself that I belong in this country, even if sometimes it doesn't feel that way. I've lived in Mexico, and although I blend in, I still feel different. I live here and even though I've slowly started to not stick out like a sore thumb, I do sometimes feel like an other. So again, that's why I look through our US history to try to find myself in it, why during WWII? Perhaps because it was one of the most important times in our country, one of the most complicated times in our country, a kind of schizophrenia was going on. We must save the Jews from Nazi persecution, but yet, we had segregated armed forces. African-American, Indian-American, Asian-American soldiers all fought one enemy over seas, but came back to find themselves fighting another one: prejudice, Jim Crow etc. I find all this fascinating in a disturbing kind of way, but still I search, I search for a face that looks like mine through all the historical rubble.
Another side to this coin is a sense of responsibility. I feel our generation has lost touch with what's important in life. We're all about instant gratification: twitter, Facebook, pop culture. I want, instead of I need, right now, instead of patience. Rash decision, instead of carefully thought out plans. I'm not sure I'm making much sense on this, but all I can say is that reading about what people had to go through to get to wear they are, especially woman, has given me more of a sense of responsibility to do my part as well as a sense gratitude for the crap they had to endure just so I could go to college and/or not have to avoid restaurants that had signs saying "No Mexicans or dogs allowed".
I guess what I'm getting to with this entry is that history is an important part in the global sense of connection and belonging. Through someones act somewhere, I am where I am, and I personally find comfort in that. My sense of belonging has been damaged for quite sometime now but slowly, I've been finding ways to chisel away at the those parts of myself.
I'm not yet done with this book. I probably have 100 more pages to go, but I highly recommend it, not just to a WWII lover, but a lover of personal stories, personal histories. We all have one, we are all important, we all belong.