Hilary Preston's Personal Archive Project

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Hilary Preston's Personal Archive Project


Hilary's Personal Archives

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The diasporic archive in fact shows that the archive is not merely a site, its content, or ordering system, but that it is also what it is not, what was left out, what was destroyed or hybridized as a consequence of adverse political contexts, and, perhaps so, what has, as yet, to be found, what is still open to interpretation..it is intrin- sically unstable, but also unfinished, in progress.

Gabriella Giannachi, "Archive Everything"

I’ve often wondered about lost histories, irretrievable memories and whose responsibility it is to carry histories forward, small histories that are unrecorded, stories that are either too important to let die or details of larger histories that seem insignificant but can be a part of something illuminating. Or events that occur for just me or a handful of people, never to be spoken of again, only living on in my mind or the minds of few, as if they may not have happened at all, wearing down over time until the memory takes on a fuzzy dream-like quality. This phenomenon of lost histories, the empty space and the question of responsibility to archive stories from an inside and personal perspective is embedded in the family histories.

"What remains of an archive, any archive, but in particular a diasporic archive, is often the result of destruction or plundering caused by conflict. (Giannachi: p98)."

This take is much more theoretical and political than my story, nonetheless it recalled a story my stepmother told me years ago. The members of my immediate family hail from differtent parts of the globe. I have an older brother who shares with me the same mother and father, a younger sister who is my Stepmother’s daughter from her first marriage (and who my dad adopted), and my youngest sister, my father and stepmother’s only child. My stepmother herself came from a mixed family. She was born on the island of Pohnpei, FSM, formerly known as Ponape when Micronesia was still a U.S. territory, and grew up with her stepfather and mother on the neighboring island of Kosrae. In WWII, Kosrae and Pohnpei were occupied by the Japanese.

Giannachi’s reference to the Spanish occupation of Guam and the relocation of the archives of the Spanish administration of the Mariana Islands in Guam to the Library of Congress and his reference (as well as a nod to the occupation of nonnative forces imposing limitations on the oral practices of the people of Palau)also got me thinking. I would like to extend this point to touch on the history of combined archives in storytelling through traditional dances- traditional hula being a good and commonly-known example, but I’m referring specifyically to a traditional Kosraean dance that I was privy to, along with my middle sister and stepmother when we visited a cousin of hers who tended a large garden where he grew indigenous plants, kept the grounds around ancestral lands and was literally a keeper of traditional ways that I had no idea about. His daughter danced a seated dance for us, a storytelling dance sitting on her heels, with only the arms and hands moving.

Giannachi refers to dance and performance as a ‘so-called ephemeral repertoire of embodied practice/knowledge…and says the archive ‘sustains power’, ‘archival memory works across distance, over time and space. I won’t even go into the ways in which dance was a means through which cultural history could be sustained through repressive circumstances. Needless to say I still think about the dance we saw, that quiet moment like stepping into a dream, just four of us watching something I’d never been aware of existing. Nor had my sister or stepmother when I’d asked them. Kosrae didn’t manage to hold onto many of the cultural institutions such as the dance that was maintained in other places (like Hawaii and the hula) that were also colonized by american christian missionaries. So where is this responsibllity and who does it fall on?

Before my stepmother passed away, she related a story of Japanese occupation of her island of Kosrae. In her memory of the story as told by one of her uncles, the Japanese soldiers had forced the islanders down to the beach by gunpoint where they were made to dig trenches in the sand for their imminent slaughter: a way for the Japanese to erase their military history on the island was to kill off the captives who bore witness. When they heard word that the Americans had landed on the island (at this point the story takes a Paul Revere shape in this ver long-wired game of telephone, wherein her uncle came riding his bike down the causeway), the Japanese instead turned the guns on themselves in a mass suicide on the beach, another act of erasure. And just like that, one history is preserved while another annihilated. Now that my stepmother has passed, and I don't know who else knows this story, whose story is it to tell? Where does it rest in history?

The archive of a family or a colonized group of people is much more than the documents, particularly (as mentioned in the article), as some of that history has been repressed or even erased. Erasure as we now know is a common tactic in times of war both in terms of committing atrocities and the attempt to erase those atrocities. The problematic memory and the oral history. I've asked my sister and she has no idea about this story, it’s not in any written archive that I’m aware of, so for now it’s my story to tell. Without it there’s an empty space in my family history. But it still exists, in the bodies of my sisters, in my body in the way of second hand memory and in the words that I write.



“Hilary Preston's Personal Archive Project,” VHS Activism Archive , accessed August 16, 2022, https://activismvhs.omeka.net/items/show/450.