It would be easy to drive past Ox Hill Battlefield Park in Chantilly, Virginia, and miss something extraordinary inside.
Not only is the small suburban park the sole Civil War battle site in Virginia’s most populous county, but it’s home to a first-of-kind interpretive sign.
The sign is bilingual, but not in English. There are other interpretive signs in English nearby, but this one is just written in Spanish and Korean.
“We didn’t want to just regurgitate the same story in Spanish and Korean,” said Drew Gruber, executive director of Civil War Trails, a program that has worked with communities across six states to connect visitors with the history that happened there. “We tailored that story to the immigrant population of Fairfax (County).”
Not only does the Civil War Trails sign connect Fairfax County’s current residents and visitors to the story of the battle, but it also includes the experience of some Civil War soldiers who were non-native speakers.
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Nearly one in every three Fairfax County residents was born outside the U.S., according to 2019 U.S. Census data. Additionally, 20% of the population identifies as Asian American, and 16.5% identify as Hispanic or Latino.
“For me, (the sign is) a symbol of acceptance and recognition that we’re sharing this American history, as Americans, as Korean Americans,” said Hyun Lee, a graduate student, professor and member of the Virginia Council on Women, who lives in Centerville.
Paul Berry, who lives in Reston and chairs the Virginia Latino Advisory Board and serves on Virginia’s Office of New Americans Advisory Board, marveled at how far the Commonwealth has come.
“Not too long ago, there was actually a legal fight over translating things as simple as voting ballots to make sure that Spanish and other languages were on there,” he said.
For Gruber of Civil War Trails, the park’s multicultural visitors are “not altogether different from the immigrants who did fight there.”
“It’s difficult to say just how many people fought at Ox Hill did not speak English, but it is absolutely documented that many soldiers on both sides did not speak English and had things translated for them,” he added.
That history is included in the bilingual sign.
Gruber said several other communities, including Nashville and Baltimore, have reached out with interest in similar signs for their own historic spaces.
“I am so grateful for this effort, that we’re elevating the voices,” Hyun Lee said.