Why I Majored in History

Lerick Gordon-Cuevas ’22

I chose to major in history because I love stories. Growing up in a Puerto Rican family, there was always a story to be heard in our house; whether it was my father reminiscing about the summers he spent in the Puerto Rican countryside on his grandparent’s farm, or my grandfather telling us stories from his time in the service, I was never far away from a good story. My love of history naturally grew from this fascination with personal stories. I enjoyed learning about the events and people that had come to shape the world as I knew it, much like the stories I’d grown up listening to. But I soon began to realize that the history I was learning about in the classroom, the stories we read again and again in our textbooks, largely excluded people like me. Where were the Puerto Ricans? Where were the BIPOC that I’d grown up with all of my life? Aren’t our stories important too? These were the questions that I was hoping to answer when I became a student at Pomona. And it was here where, as an undergrad who knew nothing except that he liked history, my eyes were opened to the field of Chicanx/Latinx history. For the first time in my life, I was finally able to see myself and my experiences in the history I was learning about. Becoming a history major seemed to be the obvious choice for me after that.

I really enjoy the flexibility that comes with majoring in history. Being able to take upper division courses and seminars with little to no prerequisites allows me to choose the classes that truly interest me, whenever I want to take them. And with the wide variety of fields that are offered, I’m able to learn about the histories of people from all around the world during a variety of different historical eras, all while being able to focus on my own specialization within the major. Having the freedom to create my own specialization through the history major’s Comparative, Transregional, and Thematic (CTT) pathway has also been very rewarding, as it allows me to take courses in both Latin American and U.S. history that in turn help me analyze the shared history of the two regions through the unique lens of the Latinx Diaspora.

Through Pomona’s RAISE program last summer, I was able to combine my love for history, the unique experience of growing up in a Latinx military family, and the tradition of oral histories in my family to conduct historical research of my own, specifically on Latinx military veterans and their oral histories. My research project focused on Latinx experiences within the U.S. military, ranging from the Vietnam War to the present day. Sharing the stories of these veterans was so important to me because it gives other people insight into the unique Latinx experiences/identities in the United States, within the framework of the military, while also acknowledging the fact that Latinx and other BIPOC have disproportionately served in the U.S. military for decades. Highlighting this rich and troubling history is not only valuable to the fields of history and Chicanx/Latinx studies, but it also allows other Americans to recognize the sacrifices that these Latinx women and men have made for a country that has refused to treat them as equals time and time again. Through this research, I was able to combine the different things I love to help create something meaningful and important: highlighting the sacrifices of Latinx veterans in the armed forces through their own words and stories.

Gabby Lupola ’21

Coming into Pomona, I thought I was going to major in international relations (IR). On my first day of Intro to International Relations, the professor asked “What keeps you up at night?” and I realized although I care deeply for what happens in other parts of the globe, my interests (primarily the Pacific Ocean and the plethora of islands found within its expanse) were considered both foreign and domestic. Oceania, containing Polynesia, Melanesia, and Micronesia, is not a monolith: its people, culture, and history are as diverse as the marine life it shares an environment with. I hope to make critical interventions in the common history told about the Pacific and its Native peoples.

By being at a liberal arts school, everyone preaches that the major itself isn’t as important as what you make of it, and I’ve found a lot of joy and freedom in becoming a history major. Since my freshman year, I have taken at least one history course every semester without even knowing I would major in the discipline; it’s a natural inclination because I think what happened in the past informs our present and can help shape our future. I chose this major because I have the opportunity to create my own pathway in terms of regional focus (Transpacific meaning Asia, the U.S., and Oceania) whilst also being guided by the principles attached to being a historian.

All the departments have amazing, devoted faculty from my encounters, but I promise all the history professors I’ve come into contact with at Pomona (Professor Ken Wolf, Professor Angelina Chin, Professor Tomas Summers Sandoval in class) and at the other 5C’s are amazing people and professors. I’ve found mentors and genuine supporters of my educational journey through the History Department.

Something else I find comfort in: history is an imperfect task. Professor Summers-Sandoval stated this early on in my All Power to the People class, and it resonated heavily with me. Although I love history, there are so many flaws to the process; who gets to tell the story, what gets remembered, what we choose to note and what intentionally gets left out. The why is always the most fascinating part, as it fosters constant vigilance and space for new voices to try and explain why. History is not a dead field or dying discipline because there is always room to grow; history happens every day. For my intents and purposes, I want to unpack Native erasure as well as address intergenerational harm and trauma by providing a more well-rounded and Native-centered outlook on Pacific Islander history. Our peoples are resilient, outlasting centuries of oppression, and our stories deserve to be told both orally and preserved on the written page. For me, there is so much hope and promise in history.