Archivist disdains myth for fact; hear him at the library
Myth or fact? Does it matter? Guy Rocha, Nevada state archivist, will tell fact from fiction at a Nevada history program at the Douglas County Library in Minden Friday at 7 p.m.
Rocha has made a point of exploding myths since he was in grade school.
“I was always in search of the truth,” Rocha says. “It came to me over time during my childhood there would be conflicting accounts [of history]. What was I supposed to believe?”
History is distorted, he explains, sometimes for a political or other reason, sometimes inadvertently. As he grew up and went on to college, Rocha decided that he wanted to search out the truth.
“My intent was to find out what was really happening,” he said.
An archivist has that ability, he says, because he or she works with the original, source documents.
One of the myths Rocha will dispel on Friday evening is the reason why Nevada became a state. The conventional wisdom is that the Union needed Nevada’s gold and silver to fight the Civil War.
“That’s absolutely wrong,” Rocha said. “That’s fallacious. It’s a misunderstanding of the nature of the federal government and why Nevada became a federal territory versus why Nevada became a state of the Union.”
People attending the evening’s program will find out the answer. A hint: The reason why such a simple answer has been taught to schoolchildren for years and years is because it’s simple.
“People have a hard time understanding anything that is complicated,” Rocha said, adding that many of the myths that he will talk about at the library program fit the same mold. History is made less complex, and thus less accurate.
Other reasons exist for changing history. Some old stories, such as tales of JFK and Marilyn Monroe meeting at the Cal-Neva Lodge at Lake Tahoe, titillate. Others cover up what people might find shameful, such as the treatment of Native Americans by the pioneers of the last century.
“I think the integrity of the past is compromised when we play tricks on the living and the dead,” he said.
Rocha also believes that how a community views itself in the present and how it conducts itself in the future can be traced to an understanding of its true history.
“We learn from our past,” Rocha says. “Let’s confront our past, to better enjoy the present and build a better future. To do that, we must dispel the myths or study them as myths and enjoy them as folklore, but don’t pass them off as fact.”
Rocha also worries about how information is easily manipulated in the electronic age.
“Anybody can set up a Web site,” he said, and say whatever they want.
“It’s easy to influence people. There are a lot of powerful people who are spin doctors,” Rocha said. “They are hired by [political] campaigns to create an image.”
People who want to be informed citizens must be prepared to question what they’re told.
“Thinking critically, asking the right questions, and you can be an informed consumer,” he said. “That’s why I’m speaking at the library. People need to ask the right questions and know where to go. The library is there to go to.”
Some of myths that Rocha will dispel are pretty amusing. And the true story, in many cases, is just as much fun.
Rocha will speak courtesy of the Friends of the Douglas County Library, an organization dedicated to supporting and promoting the public library. The program is free and open to the public.
For more information, contact Library Director Carolyn Rawles-Heiser at 782-9841.