Guantánamo Public Memory Project

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The Burton Barr Central library in Phoenix will be hosting the Guantánamo Public Memory Project. The exhibit features 13 panels that explore the history of the United States Naval Base at Guantánamo from the beginning of U.S. occupation in 1898, its varied uses over more than 100 years, and its current role in the War on Terror. Nancy Dallett, Assitant Director Public History Program for The ASu School of ASU School of Historical, Philosophical, and Religious Studies discusses the project and exhibit.

José Cárdenas: Burton Barr Central Library in Phoenix will be hosting the Guantanamo public memory project. The project is a collaboration with Arizona State University's Public History Program in the School of Historical, Philosophical and Religious Studies. The exhibit explores the history of the United States naval base at Guantanamo. Here with me tonight is Nancy Dallett, Assistant Director, Public History Program for the ASU School of Historical, Philosophical and Religious Studies. Nancy thanks for joining us.

Nancy Dallett: Thanks for having me.
José Cárdenas: This is a fascinating project. Can you just explain the logistics for me.
Nancy Dallett: Yes, we have an exhibit at the Burton Barr Library on the second floor. And that kind of serves as the back drop for a variety of different programs that we are going to have. Probably in 10 all. It ranges from panel discussions to an art installation to something we call the human library, series of four films. So there are many different ways for people to get engage.

José Cárdenas: Let's talk about the exhibit what. Will people actually see?

Nancy Dallett: The exhibit is comprised of 13 panels that were created by public history programs.

José Cárdenas: We have a picture of that; we'll show if we get a chance.

Nancy Dallett: Okay. 13 public history programs across the country participated in developing a panel each. They basically asked a question about the long history of Guantanamo.

José Cárdenas: Each panel captures a certain segment in time? For example it starts with, what, development of the base?

Nancy Dallett: Spanish American War. Starts there. Then continues on with the very unusual leasing arrangement that we have that holds now, takes us through World War I. The development during World War II. Especially the Cuban balseros who were detained there followed by the Haitian refugees that were there and finally the enemy combatants that are there now.

José Cárdenas: So there's a lot of history to cover in the program. You've got these different exhibits; you're covering very critical times in American history. What's the overarching theme that you're trying to capture?

Nancy Dallett: We're trying to get people to understand the long American history there. Many don't quite understand we have this unusual relationship with Cuba. We have very interesting and complicated relationships with Cuba itself, Cuban-American relations, but this 45 square miles is our first foreign naval base. Over time it's been used, opened and closed, opened and closed. When we talk now about closing Guantanamo, it's really about closing the use of Guantanamo that it's most currently housing the enemy combatants.

José Cárdenas: So there are a lot of unusual things in the exhibit itself. One of the most interesting things I thought when I read the description was this human book project. Tell us about that.

Nancy Dallett: The human book project is something that is flourishing throughout Europe but it's kind of new to this country; comes from Denmark. The idea is for people to sort of bring out your prejudice and your ignorance and your curiosity, really. Have a face-to-face 15 minute conversation with someone that you would never have an opportunity to meet and get to know.

José Cárdenas: Give me some examples of that.

Nancy Dallett: Some examples for the folks that are going to be participating would be someone who served as a chaplain there during the time of the Cuban and Haitian refugee crisis there. People who were teachers there. Maybe someone who grew up there. We also want to get across the idea that this was home for many people. They grew up there, there was nothing really exceptional about the military base there. Maybe they served there. Maybe they were a balsero. Variety of ways you can get at the story of this really diverse history.

José Cárdenas: The way it will work is you go to the library and check out a human book for 15 minutes?

Nancy Dallett: Check out a book. In some ways the books will compete like their book covers do. You'll tell your little story with just in words. In written words, then we'll select the people who come to visit will check out the book, they'll have a 15 minute conversation. They can do it two people, two on one, however they would like to do it. We also have a gentleman coming from San Francisco, Peter Hanenberg. He's been interviewing people who have been involved with Guantanamo since 9/11. He's compiled an amazing array of interviews. You can talk with him about what he's learned. You can also listen to the interviews that he's collected.

José Cárdenas: So let's talk about logistics. What's the time period for the exhibition and give us a sense for the different aspects of it when they occur.

Nancy Dallett: The exhibit will open October 19th and run through November 24th. Each Wednesday evening during that period there will be a panel at the Phoenix Library. We're talking about a range of things from the Spanish American War through the Cuban Balseros, the Haitian refugees to the war on terror. We're also looking at what's really relevant about this to Arizona, and so some of our evenings will focus on Japanese internment and also indefinite detention of immigrants.

José Cárdenas: You mentioned off screen that's something you want to convey what. Does it mean to have indefinite detention?

Nancy Dallett: That's the very question we want to explore. In what way has it become acceptable that for instance with executive order 9066 during World War II, the President made it legal for us to detain Japanese citizens in internment camps. We now do it with the enemy combatants that are there and here in Arizona we do it in immigration detention centers, for instance in Florence.

José Cárdenas: Sounds like a fascinating show. People can go online for more information?

Nancy Dallett: Yes,

José Cárdenas: Thanks for coming on Horizonte to tell us about this.

Nancy Dallett:ASU Public History Program

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