Throughout the ACR Conversation some of the various historians, in this case Seed, Kozol, and Connelly, brought up the idea of the study of migrations and the subsequent interactions of the movements of people as a fundamental component of transnational history. I must admit that this facet of the field had never occurred to me, but when it did a collection of memories came to my mind.
Two summers ago, in my hometown I decided to work in our local museum. It wasn’t a grand thing, as it had neither the funding nor the resources to be especially during the start of Covid, and I was mostly confined to scanning old photos and newspaper clipping from the 1970’s and 80’s to make sure there were digitized and not lost forever. My favorite thing, however, was to go into the main entry room of the museum where a particular almost gazebo-like display sat telling of the origin of the various peoples of Bakersfield.
It displayed what I always known that my hometown of Bakersfield: that it is an immigrant community and that it always has been. A classic farming town nestled at the bottom of the Great San Joaquin Valley, work on the farms has attracted journeyers looking for work throughout history. Whether it was the Chinese, Filipinos, and Basques of the turn of the 19th century or the influx of Latinos and ‘Oakies’, a term I’ll use here as it how many locals refer to their past, fleeing the dustbowl or ill prospects as the 20th century wore on Bakersfield was home to many shifting peoples. On the display, too, it further showed the how small Native American presence gone now, that though mostly gone, once thrived.
Now while I loved this exhibit, I never truly understood why it always resonated with me until I read that ACR Conversation: Connections. What I was staring at in that showcase of people was a confluence of thousands if not millions of connections coming together. Infinite stories of an uncountable number of people who had lived and died in the city I grew up in. It struck me that I didn’t, nor that I probably couldn’t, know a fraction of them, but for some odd reason that didn’t, and still doesn’t annoy or sadden me. I realized that in doing transnational history, for the small part that it is, one can uncover and connect these threads of the world and put them in clear vision. That it becomes possible for a historian to illuminate a beautiful tapestry previously unknown. That thought alone made me pleased, and the contemplation that I had merely thought of my own, relatively small, town made me even more so. I now anticipate and am still thinking about the endless connections that must exist out in the world, just waiting to be linked.