How Should Societies Remember Their Sins? A Zócalo/Mellon Foundation Inquiry How Should Societies Remember Their Sins? A Zócalo/Mellon Foundation Inquiry
Umar Rashid, "I only have eyes for you, my enemy. Consider the jaguar a blessing. Or, Guerilla warfare in the Yucatan peninsula. Anansi travels.", 2021. Acrylic and mica flake on canvas, 72 in. x 72 in.
Image courtesy of the artist. Photograph by Claudio Rocha.

“How Should Societies Remember Their Sins?” is a two-year editorial and event series supported by the Mellon Foundation. Blending scholarly essays and personal stories, we will explore how societies around the world collectively remember their transgressions and make attempts at repair, and how we might imagine new paths forward.

Why a Polish Resistance Fighter’s ‘Failure’ to Stop the Holocaust Resonates Today | Zocalo Public Square • Arizona State University • Smithsonian

Why a Polish Resistance Fighter’s ‘Failure’ to Stop the Holocaust Resonates Today

Jan Karski, and a New Play About His Life, Remind Us of the Importance of Truth, Valor, and Memory

Jan Karski was born in 1914, and trained as a soldier and diplomat. He joined the fledgling Polish Resistance at the onset of World War II, after Poland was attacked by both Germany and Russia. Karski worked as a courier, delivering messages about clandestine German and Russian operations to the Polish government-in-exile in London. In late 1940, he was captured by the Gestapo and tortured for three days. He feared he would reveal secrets and tried to kill himself. The Gestapo took him to an army hospital, where he recovered from his suicide attempt and then escaped, a pivotal scene in the play …


How to Treat the ‘Wounds to the Soul’ | Zocalo Public Square • Arizona State University • Smithsonian

How to Treat the ‘Wounds to the Soul’

A Therapist Assembles an Emotional Toolbox to Help Us Grapple With Collective Trauma

Individual trauma may be understood as the consequences of experiencing an overwhelmingly stressful event or series of events. Collective trauma—what happens when society as a whole experiences shattering events—is, as sociologist Kai Erikson puts it, a “blow to the basic tissues of social life.” Collective trauma …


Going Back to Blair Mountain | Zocalo Public Square • Arizona State University • Smithsonian

Going Back to Blair Mountain

The Largest Armed Labor Uprising in American History Is Finally Getting the Remembrance It Deserves

For most people, the memory of the largest armed labor uprising in American history is unknown, buried beneath the dirt of West Virginia’s Blair Mountain alongside bullet casings and relics of coal camp life. In miners’ families, the stories stayed alive, passed down around kitchen tables and on front porches. …



FALL 2022

How Should Societies Remember Their Sins? | Zocalo Public Square • Arizona State University • Smithsonian

Beyond debates over keeping statues up or tearing them down, and changing the names of schools and streets, lie more fundamental questions at the intersection of personal and public memory. Whom do we remember, who remembers, and whom does remembering serve? What do we owe to those who lived before us and those who come after us? How can we expand our definition of monuments to include not just physical, public works but other types of remembering?


Could a Truth Commission Unite America? | Zocalo Public Square • Arizona State University • Smithsonian

Could a Truth Commission Unite America?

How Fractured Nations and Communities Reckon with History and Move Toward Repair

The truth commission is a widely used transitional justice instrument—and one that can offer the most insight to Americans looking to reshape the collective memory and conscience of our nation. These official fact-finding bodies investigate, document, and disseminate accurate information about past wrongdoing and human rights violations authorized or carried out by the state. The United States can certainly learn a great deal from the successes and failures of these commissions in countries …


Ukraine in My Blood and on My Mind

A Foreign Correspondent’s Family Served Russian Imperialism, and Then Was Destroyed By It

A thick, dusty file records the progress from life to death of my grandfather Boris Bibikov, an official of the Communist Party of Ukraine, at the hands of the Soviet secret police. The file documents his arrest at an exclusive Party sanatorium in Gagry in July 1937, and records what happened to him until his execution near Kiev, in October of the same year …


Event: What is Our Responsibility for Our Government’s Wars?

‘It’s Difficult to Win Hearts and Minds When You’re Holding a Gun’

Watch the event and read the Takeaway by editor Talib Jabbar.

Lieutenant General (ret.) Robert E. Schmidle, Jr., Air Force veteran and social worker Noël Lipana, and Farnaz Fassihi, journalist and United Nations Bureau Chief at the New York Times, visit Zócalo to discuss what it means to bear responsibility for war and its atrocities, and why that matters …


Why Is the Santa Susana Nuclear Accident Still Being Covered Up?

Excavating Six Decades of Buried Secrecy, Neglect, and Flat-Out Lies in the San Fernando Valley

In 1979, the year of Three Mile Island, I exposed another nuclear accident—another partial meltdown—in the Los Angeles metropolitan area. It occurred at the Santa Susana Field Lab, a reactor and rocket-testing facility in the mountains between the San Fernando and Simi Valleys.
Back then, the story was both news and history. The Field Lab opened in 1947, at the onset of the Cold War, and the reactor accident happened in 1959. The Atomic Energy Commission (AEC) and a nuclear contractor kept it secret for 20 years, but there was no denying the evidence …


Looking Deportation in the Face

Looking Deportation in the Face

The Fence Between Tijuana and San Diego Reminded Childhood Arrivals of Their Exile—Until They Used It to Share Their Stories

I first met Jorge in June 2017, at a Father’s Day celebration at Friendship Park in Playas de Tijuana. We were steps away from the border fence separating Mexico and San Diego’s Border Field State Park. Jorge, who was one of the only young folks there that day, and he reminded me of my younger brother Jose, and my friends back in Compton. Jorge, who was 26 years old, wore a long white t-shirt, high white socks, and baggy khaki shorts. He had a short haircut, tattoos …


What Can We Learn From the Failings of William Mulholland? | Zocalo Public Square • Arizona State University • Smithsonian

What Can We Learn From the Failings of William Mulholland?

The 'Father of Los Angeles' Was a Link in a Chain of Theft and Loss—And Its Consequences Ripple Into the Present

Mulholland engineered the Los Angeles Aqueduct. That metal pipeline, double-barreled, each tube nine feet in diameter and pocked with rivets, spans more than 230 miles of desert, crossing peaks and canyons between the Eastern Sierra Nevada region and the city to the south. Since 1913, the Los Angeles Aqueduct has collected water from my home valley and carried it away …


illustration of a funeral procession

After 150 Years, Is L.A. Ready to Remember the Chinese Massacre?

Long Buried, the Bloodiest Night in the City’s History Surfaces Amid a New Wave of Violence

One of the bloodiest nights in Los Angeles history took place 150 years ago, on October 24, 1871, when at least 18 Chinese (about 10 percent of L.A.’s Chinese population at the time) were slaughtered by an angry mob of Angelenos. Why does almost no one know about it today? …


Zócalo Receives Major Grant from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation

Zócalo Receives Major Grant from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation

Two-Year Event and Editorial Series Will Launch in October 2021

Zócalo will publish original, multidisciplinary works including essays, photography, illustrations, and poetry. Participants will include scholars, artists, and others whose personal histories intersect with the question; the project also will highlight creators from a range of underrepresented groups. By providing a kaleidoscopic view of how America has remembered its sins, the project aims to reimagine the subject’s future …


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