How well do you think you know the history of this country? Is it just a succession of incidents parading along a timeline, or are the facts we recall from high school — even the less prominent ones — part of a broader narrative?
“There’s this history that is like a palimpsest right beneath what we think of as American History,” says Rubén Martínez, a professor in Loyola Marymount’s English Department who helped create a documentary film that premiered Monday, Sept. 27, on PBS, and is airing throughout the week. “This look at deep history is not just some attempt to dig up an exotic story from long, long ago. It’s to trace a historical through-line from past to present.
The film is called “When Worlds Collide,” and it focuses on the history of Contact — what happened in the 100 years after Christopher Columbus touched ground in the New World, opening the doors to an intermingling of two distinct cultures that would never be the same again.
Martínez, the Fletcher Jones Chair in Literature and Writing at LMU, hopes the film can help illuminate the lasting impact of that cultural collision. While Californians may be familiar with the legacy of Spanish colonialism and mestizo culture, people in other parts of the country may encounter reminders of that collision far less frequently. Martínez sees the struggle over reconciling the place of undocumented immigrants as part of that challenge.
“I’m pushing my daughters in a stroller around Echo Park Lake today because of what happened 500 years ago,” he says. “The immigrants that you see here today, about whom we as a country are having a nasty debate within which their voices are completely unheard, have a story 500 years old to tell you about where they come from.”
“When Worlds Collide” airs Monday at 9 p.m. on KCET.