Most importantly, though, happy Elizabeth Peratrovich Day.
That’s a holiday everyone in Southeast knows. In elementary school, I remember hearing about her fight against discrimination toward Alaska Natives while sitting criss-cross-apple-sauce on our school library’s carpet. My tiny peers and I sang “PERATROVICH!” with our tiny hands cupped around our lips like makeshift speakers. In middle school, we mixed up her day with Martin Luther King Jr. Day, since their stories were similar (and both holidays meant no school). A few years later, I was docked points for accidentally mispronouncing Peratrovich’s name during a debate tournament. In high school, we heard Elizabeth Peratrovich share her testimony in a documentary during Alaska History class.
“I would not have expected that I, who am barely out of savagery, would have to remind gentlemen with five thousand years of recorded civilization behind them, of our Bill of Rights.”
Yes, she definitely had a talent for massive burnage.
Now, before I go any further, a disclaimer: when I pitched this column, I was in a little over my head.
“Tasha About Town” is supposed to be about a girl (me) “rediscovering” her hometown. While I’m acutely aware of how different Juneau has become to me recently and how much more I appreciate it compared to when I was younger, this realization has been difficult to express in words. How can I write if I can’t verbalize how I feel?
So, I’m starting my verbalization process by breaking down my feelings of one thing: history.
Elizabeth Peratrovich is incredible. Yet, while I grew up learning about her, the rest of Alaska didn’t. This past summer, I met a slew of teenagers from everywhere in Alaska, but only those who came from Southeast had ever heard of Elizabeth Peratrovich. Unlike me, most of the high school graduates I met didn’t have to listen to Peratrovich’s story while sitting on the library floor. They didn’t hear about her in school, even though she was an integral player in Alaskan civil rights movement.
Juneau history wasn’t something I learned much about in school. Last year, I had the opportunity to write about Juneau history for the Juneau Empire. Writing about Juneau events of the 1980s deepened my knowledge of the place in which I grew up. Imagine that for 18 years, you didn’t know that the building above our Capitol was an elementary school — and that this elementary school was closed by our city government 30 years ago due to budget cuts. Or that your current senator, Senator Dennis Egan, is related to the first governor of Alaska.
My dog, a 3-year-old with the mind of a puppy, likes to conduct a game of “let’s see how long you can leave the door open before I ESCAPE” with my family. We win about 80 percent of the time, but when we lose, that means we have to chase my dog in the slush, calling for him to come back home. On his excursions, my puppy sniffs out the wildlife he encounters, bringing in muddy paws once he’s finished with his misadventure.
Learning about Juneau is a lot like this. Many things prevent me from escaping into the unfamiliar, the things I was never exposed to while growing up in Juneau. When I see the opportunity, though, my escape prompts me to find something completely new in my hometown. While it’s difficult for me to describe what Juneau is like to me, I can say that history — including the history behind incredible Alaskans like Elizabeth Peratrovich — is a great gateway to discovery.
• Tasha Elizarde is a recent high school graduate living in Juneau. Contact her at Tasha.firstname.lastname@example.org.