submitted by Joie Ha
Walking through the Roman Forum will allow you to encounter large pieces of carved marble littering the paths. From columns to old buildings, remnants of ancient Rome lie across the entire area. Over 2000 years of material history in impeccable condition remain to be admired by tourists from across the world. The mystery and prominence of the Roman civilization is engrained in us as children, and seeing it in real life fosters an indescribable feeling of timelessness. Visiting Rome and other cities the last few weeks has allowed me to fulfill one of my childhood lifetime dreams of traveling Europe. I stood in the Coliseum where hundreds of gladiators fought, underneath Michelangelo’s infamous Creation of Adam, and in plazas that existed thousands of years before I was born and will exist for thousands after my death.
Having been raised in the United States, I grew up with a Western-centric lens that romanticized Europe. I consumed media that upheld Eurocentric beauty standards and reveled in the greatness of Western innovation and society. However, it was uncommon for me to see any representation of my own culture- Asian culture- in media. The images of Asian culture and people presented were often exoticized and fetishized. More often than not, ancient Asian civilizations were portrayed as barbaric and backwards, and not as advanced as Western civilizations. As much as we don’t want to believe that we’re strongly influenced by the media, it is an inescapable result of living in this day and age. So unfortunately I internalized some of those messages that my history was not as impressive or developed as Western society.
Visiting Rome allowed me to nourish my inner anthropology and history geek and it was no doubt an unforgettable experience. However, it also made me reflect on how skewed our media presents our histories. Yes, Rome was beautiful and ancient, but so is Bagan in Myanmar, Angkor in Cambodia, and several hundred other ancient cities in Asia. Having had the opportunity to visit these other historic sites in the previous years allowed me to see that the splendor and magnificence reserved for ancient European sites also applied to several aspects of Asian culture. Take for example, Angkor, the capital city of the Khmer Empire. During its existence, it became a megacity, home to .1% of the global population with an advanced water management system. Now Angkor boasts beautiful temples that are nearly 2000 years old revealing a legacy that we as Asian Americans don’t often learn about. As much as I enjoyed Rome, it put my other visits to ancient Asian cities into perspective. Ancient European civilizations may have taken predominant focus in our education and media, but ancient Asian civilizations are just as if not more impressive.