Preserving and learning from our history

Drew Bessinger

Clovis City Council

April 24, 2023 – Preserving our history is important for many reasons.  Sometimes it’s a key to remembering who we are as a nation, as a people, or maybe just as a family.

We can celebrate the things that make America great, and at the same time recognize that imperfect people acted imperfectly.

America is a nation of indigenous peoples, colonists, and immigrants.  As we moved west, we assimilated more Native Americans and Mexican people as we moved southwest.

Africans were brought here as slaves and some, like the Chinese and the Irish, were brought here as laborers or indentured servants.

Japanese-Americans, good and loyal Americans, were placed in camps following the attack on Pearl Harbor.  Even great nations are imperfect.

We have seen waves of immigration throughout our history of those “yearning to live free.”  America is still a destination for many reasons: religious freedom, fleeing a system where they were relegated to poverty, or just wanting to make a better life for themselves and their families.

My immigrant story began in 1849, when my great grandfather Andrew (Andreas) Bessinger came to America with his family from Germany at the age of 14.

At the time, Germany was a tapestry of feudal kingdoms and those without title or property lived their lives in poverty and servitude.

Andy served in the Union Army in the Civil War, and was later a fireman in Newark, NJ.  My mother’s side came from Ireland in the 1870’s joining the hundreds of thousands of Irish that fled Ireland to escape famine and servitude.

“Big Andy” Bessinger is the engineer in the 1894 photo.

Many people have become interested in their own genealogy so that they can learn about the lives of family members they never knew, or things they never knew about people they did know.

I know people who found out through DNA testing that there were family secrets. When I was young, my father spoke of an uncle who moved to a town called Madera in California.

Through DNA, I found my great uncle’s daughter in nearby Raymond. I hope to visit with her soon.

My father, who was a WW2 POW in Germany, died when I was 13.  He was part of a generation who lived through the Depression and war and chose not to speak about the challenges.

If I had a pocketful of granted wishes, I would want to ask him about his war experiences.

With the trend of late to “cancel” and topple the statues of historical figures who were imperfect people in an imperfect time, we lose the opportunity to understand the evolution of our nation and our culture.

I am concerned that public discourse, the right of Americans to agree to disagree about issues, is becoming a thing of the past.  People holding divergent opinions are harassed, menaced, and labeled with hateful names.

Our media, including social media, is awash with anger, accusations, and demagogy that appeals to the biases of ordinary people rather than by using rational argument to make their point.

One has only to look at 1930’s Germany, as the rise of Nazism sanctioned the attack and silencing of all opposition, took over public institutions, and identified, deported and later killed millions of people they deemed “undesirable.”

Other “Pogroms”, the officially mandated slaughter of people, have targeted peoples throughout the world, including our local Armenian community.

We all need to be on guard for the incrementalism of extremism in all forms. We need to teach our history and the history of our world, especially an unbiased report of the uncomfortable “messy” chapters, so that we never repeat the painful remnants of the past.

Those that fail to learn from the past are destined to repeat it.