YOUNG VOICES: Learn of history from people who lived it

2013-04-01T00:00:00Z YOUNG VOICES: Learn of history from people who lived itBy Grace Asiegbu
April 01, 2013 12:00 am  • 

It’s not every day that you’re impacted by the words of another person, much less a person you've never met before.

Most people just take advice or adages with a grain of salt, but what if that little anecdote is exactly what you needed to hear?

On March 22, Chinua Achebe, Nigerian author and professor, passed away at age 82 in Boston, Mass. I had the opportunity to read his latest — and last — novel, "There Was a Country: A Personal History of Biafra," for English class. The book is a memoir on Achebe’s life throughout the Nigerian civil war, and how it affected his life directly, since he was an Igbo man, a Biafran.

Being the daughter of two Nigerian immigrants who are both Igbo, I had heard tales of the terror of war from my parents, who were children at the time. It goes in that category of things you take with you, throughout your life, to enrich your sense of culture and identity.

There is something special when you hear older people speak of their lives, of their past. It’s almost as if you’re listening to history. You can read all about a historic event in school, but it becomes more real, more human, when you hear it come from the mouth of another person who lived through it.

I try my hardest not to overlook what my elders have to say. After all, they were 16 at one point in their lives, weren't they?

There is no doubt that the time my parents grew up in is much different than now, and the time my children will grow up in will be much different from now, as well. What never changes are human interactions, and the principles behind them.

Chinua Achebe gave a voice to millions, breathing the history of my people in his lifetime, whenever he got the chance. As he was professor of African studies at Brown University, I envy the students who were able to sit and listen to lectures given by Achebe. Reading his works gave me a sense of who I was. It ties me to a group of people that are forever bonded by culture, by language, by country.

Don’t get me wrong, I am a proud American. Born in Chicago and raised in the suburbs, my heart is here. But my heart is also in Nigeria, partly thanks to him. I cherish the words he wrote, and am saddened that he won’t be able to write anymore.

But Achebe isn't the only voice that I have to listen to. Our parents, grandparents, teachers, neighbors, mentors, they all have something priceless to offer to the growing generation — my generation.

Their stories and anecdotes remind us of how far humanity has come, and how much further we still have left to go. All we have to do is lend them our ears -- and listen.

Grace Asiegbu of Lynwood is a junior at Thornton Fractional South High School. The opinions are the writer's.

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