Seeing With New Eyes, by Alexis Cervantes

A few sprinkles of snow from the last winter storm remain, blanketing the rocks that barricade the vulnerable land from the Atlantic. Along the wrack line, cigarette butts lay scattered here and there, along with several plastic cups and even a shoe insole. Officer’s Row, a long line of quarters which once housed an officer and his family, remains in ruins from Superstorm Sandy. These buildings, destroyed and now without porches, directly face the Sandy Hook Bay. Trees appear so bare that you can see the bright blue and cloudless sky when looking through their leafless branches. The grass is even the same color as the sand. Everything just feels lifeless. I see now why I am the only one here. Though abnormally warm and sunny for a winter day, I have the entirety of Fort Hancock all to myself.

As I casually walk around the peninsula, I look around at my surroundings. A bright white lighthouse catches my eye over the towering stone wall as I stroll through what is left of former military batteries. There are still remnants of barbette mounts. This former U.S. Army fort was first constructed during the 1850s. The original design of the fort, created by Robert E. Lee, was locally called “Fort Lincoln” or “Fort Hudson”. It is only to be expected that this once powerful military location has connections to three powerful white men, all with notable names.

Lee, who inherited slaves from his mother, also married into one of the wealthiest slave-holding families in Virginia. Given his history, and his reputation as a racist, having Lee as the designer of this important fort tells quite the story, specifically regarding status and power as an individual in the United States. As discussed in class, the Calvinist “elect” includes people that “God picked himself as the favorites.” Lee, being rich and having a successful public image at the time, would have been seen as one of these special, hand-picked by God individuals.

Indigenous peoples, on the other hand, were the prime image for those that were not included in this elite status. Their skin color, way of life, and lack of fortune were seen as inferior, uncivilized, and unworthy of God; colonists wanted nothing to do with them, except steal their land. An image shown on the first day of class that has stuck with me since was that of a massive pile of bison skulls. These innocent bison, just roaming their land, were killed by European settlers in a way to force out Indigenous peoples. The invaders figured that if they got rid of the food supply of the Indingeous peoples, they would have to leave and find new resources, leaving the land open for European settlements.

On a related note, not only was land being stolen, but also innocent Indigenous lives. America is a country founded on genocide, yet refuses to recognize this massive astrocity. This country has the rhetoric of being a great and perfect country, thanks to the novels by James Fenimore Cooper, but that is clearly not the case.

Power and narrative go hand-in-hand. European settlers had the authority at the time; they had all the power and were forcing the Indigenous peoples to comply. With this power came the ability to pass on information, owing to their status and credibility. Growing up in a public school that is in a state of one of the original thirteen colonies, I personally never heard the term “genocide” connected to “Indigenous people” until I was a junior in high school. In fact, my sophomore history teacher outright refused to teach us anything other than the standpoint of white male in colonial America. Stories of American history just ignore the perspectives of Indigenous people because they did not hold any status.

After learning the historical context of Fort Hancock this week, I will absolutely be looking at my surroundings differently from now on. I will no longer just see this strip of land as my getaway and escape from the stressors of the real world, but rather an area with a dark history and ties to racists, as well as individuals that committed genocide on innocent groups of people.