For much of its existence, a majority of U.S. history has been told through the narrow and exclusionary lens of “American exceptionalism.” A distortion of the historical record where historians have steered a one-dimensional, Eurocentric, white male-dominated narrative that has presented historical figures and events in ways that were always framed in the most heroic of fashions. These narratives have routinely been used to indoctrinate students from an early age, and to whitewash events and historical figures alike while conversely excluding others.
While much of the country has been divided along political lines regarding the recent debate over reform of curriculum used in classrooms to teach students about U.S. history, a handful of innovative historians and educators have forged ahead by publishing bold, new texts that seek to remove the veil of mythology that has long been draped over the U.S.’s brutal history. Among this new wave of progressive, envelope-pushing historians is the Radical History Club, a publication based in San Diego, California, that produces a series of professionally researched and illustrated decolonized history zines that detail long-neglected areas of U.S. social history, focusing on the experiences of BIPOC communities, women, and other marginalized identities.
Founded in 2019, RHC is the brainchild of graphic designer Stacey Uy, who researches, writes, and illustrates the series. Uy’s mission for the series has been to challenge capitalist, colonizer perspectives and refocus our understanding of U.S. history through the lens of oppressed and marginalized communities. Uy’s earliest inspirations for RHC were rooted in uncovering the Filipino roots of the Delano Grape Strike of 1965 while attending college. Uy, who is Filipina Chinese American and the daughter of two immigrant parents, grew up in the city of Bakersfield, California, just half an hour away from Delano, and was shocked that she had never been taught that history in public school.
Despite growing up just outside of Delano and having volunteered at the United Farm Workers, Uy had never been told about the Delano Manongs nor the role Filipino laborers in fighting for the rights of farmworkers. Uy felt a stronger connection to the movement and a sense of empowerment upon learning about its Filipino origins.
“Having the whole history erased or not known to me, felt like I had missed out on something,” she said. “It really gave me a sense of purpose and belonging knowing that my people have a place in this movement, and knowing that people who came from the Philippines had a role to play in and that was very validating.”
Uy later moved to San Diego where she attended UCSD, earning several degrees in art history and psychology. Uy would eventually utilize her graphic design skills and experience researching art history in college towards RHC.
Uy took visual inspiration from several primary sources that influenced the visual look and retro design of the series. One was Kitchen Table: Women of Color Press, a publishing collective showcasing writing, culture, and history of women of color and disenfranchised groups. She also took inspiration from The Black Panther, the newspaper of the Black Panther Party. Much of Uy’s inspiration was derived from Emory Douglas, the Minister of Culture for the Panthers who oversaw the art direction and production of the paper, creating much of the party’s iconic imagery.
“Douglas is one of my favorite artists of all time and the striking power of being limited to just two colors and using visual imagery to get that message across to invoke a feeling is a gift that he has given to the world,” Uy said.
Pulling from radical literature combined with Uy’s adoration for vintage pamphlets and documents from the ‘40s, ‘50s, and ’60s solidified the series’ dusty, vintage aesthetic.
Uy debuted the first issue of RHC, 001: Reconstruction: The Struggle for Freedom in “Post-Slavery” America at the San Diego Zine Fest in the fall of 2019. The response was immediate, with teachers, librarians, and activists quickly buying Uy’s first printing to use in classrooms, libraries, and teach-ins. Uy has since released three more installments covering COINTELPRO, the L.A Chicana/o Student Blowouts, and Housing Discrimination in the U.S. since its debut. Likewise, RHC has increasingly become a popular resource among educators in high schools and universities.
Ed Nuñez is a teacher at San Pasqual High School in Escondido, California, who assisted Uy on research for issue 003 and shared the impact of using RHC in his own classroom.
“I need accessible texts like the RHC to exist so students can see themselves in history,” he said. “I want students to know about their heritage and feel like they are a part of a larger community and that they matter in this world at this very moment in time. The RHC is a valuable tool that has an opportunity to be a catalyst to create change in our classrooms across the nation.”
Kayla Burner, an assistant professor of English at Southwestern College who has also used issue 003 of RHC in her classroom as part of a unit on education and student resistance. Burner detailed the impact the series has made on her students.
“Most of my students are people of color and from other marginalized communities, so it’s critical to not only read more accurate accounts of history, but to discuss and reflect on the types of materials they have previously been exposed to in school and how those representations have shaped them individually and the society more broadly,” Burner said.
Burner not only celebrated the joy her students felt seeing themselves in the curriculum that was empowering, but the feeling as an educator herself who longed for such resources as a student.
“As a Chicana, I grew up believing all of the horrible things I saw, heard, and read about Mexicans. I was ashamed of my roots and I can honestly say that for so long, I was trying to be white,” she said. “I think that this shame is largely connected to my education and the way history was presented. I very much received a colonized curriculum and almost all of my teachers were white.”
Burner ultimately hopes that by exposing students to materials like RHC, classrooms can become spaces for students to acknowledge, love and appreciate who they are. With RHC continually becoming more popular with educators, Uy hopes to release the second volume of issues 005-008 starting in early 2021. Ultimately however, Uy hopes that RHC can not only honor people’s resistance, but serve as a stepping stone for change and help people find their own place in the struggle.
“It’s not just something that happened in the past or something that’s going to happen in the future, every generation has to try to be a part of this movement,” Uy explained. “We don’t have to continue living this way, these systems were built to keep us in our place and we don’t have to continue ignoring how they were built up.”