I volunteered with the AIDS Quilt display while it was in Washington, DC for 2012. I was stationed to be there to answer any questions people might have about the display. During my time, it gave me the opportunity to view the Quilt myself and ponder over it’s significance and future. My mind turned to how this specific treasure, the largest piece of community folk art in the world, will be preserved and remembered.
Being in Washington, DC, I have seen countless items that are important to our national heritage preserved and displayed. I imagined some point, 100 years into the future, a preservation specialist would be handling the Quilt with their lab coat and white gloves to show it to some future History Channel documentarian. I imagined the Quilt hanging up in various museums, libraries, and other public spaces as a reminder to folks of the epidemic. In my mind, this future included HIV and AIDS having been cured and a vaccination having also been discovered. I wondered what people would say; think; remember about the Quilt.
Would they understand the horror of the loss of a generation of folks who had succumbed to this disease? Would they shake their heads in dismay and disbelief that a government would treat a growing epidemic with indifference; leaving their citizens to suffer and die? Would they get its impact in the same way some of us do today. My mind even wondered if, after there was a cure and vaccination, would people even remember that the Quilt existed. Would it continue to be displayed or would it be crated up; stacked in a warehouse somewhere; long since forgotten. The need to remember no longer there.
This last part is why I think it is particuarlly important that we record our stories. When I volunteered for the Quilt I was telling a co-worker that the Quilt served as a memorial, including those who may have no other recoginition of their passing because some hospitals and funeral homes refused to handle the remains of the deceased. Her response was a stunned “wow, I didn’t know that.” These are the types of details that have the potential to be lost to history. History’s prisim can be very selective; remembering only the overall story, but not the intimate details that were so often on display with patches of the Quilt. It is up to us as community to make sure that these threads; the stitiches of our lives that make up the whole cloth, don’t go unknown. We have memories–good and bad–about our journey to equality. Let’s make sure they aren’t gone when we are. Start writing them down. The future will thank you.