Storytelling and the performance of family

IMG_0565When I started the course I had high expectations of our instructors, Janna Goodwin and Daniel Valdez, but I did not have high expectations for my theater or story telling abilities. I wasn’t very sure what the class was going to look like, but all I knew was that I couldn’t miss the opportunity to learn about story telling from the best. My experience with working in solidarity with farmworker rights organizations made me passionate about the power of story-telling and about the importance that people like Daniel and Jana have in this world. I had never considered myself to be a story teller or an actor, but I strongly desired to contribute to the important work of story tellers.

From my limited experience with theater, I knew that it could mean many different things for many people. It had always been hard for me to identify myself with Broadway Theater productions, and I hoped that what we were doing would look more like the work that Daniel Valdez helped create at the front lines of the UFW boycotts. I was excited when we were presented with readings about theater companies that would work towards disrupting the hierarchy that exist within traditional theater. Preforming devised theater activities in class to exercise our creative abilities made me more confident about my own unique abilities and contributions to the process. Devised theater put a lot more emphasis in the importance of the process as a whole instead or just creating an appealing end piece.  I was fascinated by the idea of devised theater, but it was also really interesting to learn about the challenges of creating a completely decentralized and grassroots piece of art. Learning about devised theater ultimately gave me a greater appreciation for more traditional theater as well and the ability to incorporate both into story telling.

Though learning about devised theater had increased my confidence, I was still not prepared to hear that I would be asked to tell the story of my own family history in front of a room full of strangers. I what the right stories were to tell and it felt vulnerable to make my personal stories public. From the beginning the stories of my classmates inspired me to learn more about my own past and to keep asking questions to gain a better understanding of who I was. Sharing and exchanging stories with my classmates quickly made me feel that I was connected to a larger community. Our class provided each other with support as we all uncovered amusing and sometimes painfully honest stories of our past. We all had a story to tell, and that made the process of seeking answers of who we are and where we come from less painful.

Working on this project was not the first time that I had tried to pry into my family history. In previous classes, I had tried to tap into the ancestral memory of my grandparents and I was met with more dead ends than answers. I had learned most of my family history from patchy stories that my mother tried to piece together for us so that we would know about where we came from.

This project inspired me and my mother to sit down together for the first time and work with my grandparents to piece together all of the fragmented pieces of stories that we all held. Working together in this way inspired all of us, and, to my surprise, it inspired so much curiosity in my grandpa that he also started searching for answers from others in the pueblo that we come from. My grandpa’s family history has always been fragmented because of violence and societal restriction, but I never imagined that one of my projects would inspire my grandpa to seek answers about his past.

Even before dress rehearsals, I could see the ripple effects that story telling had on our class and all of our families. The night of the performance, I felt like my guts were turning inside out from stage fright but I also felt a responsibility as a story teller to honor the stories of my ancestors and myself. Presenting my story alongside my peers, my community, who had also worked tirelessly to collect stories about themselves, gave me strength and pride to get in front of strangers and tell my story. Sharing my story with the people in the Regis Amphitheater gave power and strength to my story, and made me feel pride for my family and who they had allowed me to become.

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