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Tag: Storytelling

Everyone Has A Suitcase Story

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Cheryl HamiltonBy Cheryl Hamilton, Suitcase Stories Director

“I am not sure I have a story.”

This is often the response when I speak with someone about participating in Suitcase Stories®, a signature program of the International Institute of New England. Suitcase Stories is how we explore storytelling through the lens of migration. We believe that sharing stories of refugee and immigrant life and other migration and cross-cultural experiences introduces people to new perspectives and brings communities closer together.

Responding to this question has become a bit of a fun challenge for me as director. With a smile and a raised eyebrow, I tell people I am confident they have a story. I know this because after three years of inviting people to participate in Suitcase Stories, I have yet to meet someone who doesn’t have a story  – regardless of their background. Even middle school students have identified suitcase stories from their lives –  and they have not even reached their teenage years!

All of us have a migration story. Whether we have moved to a new country or even a new neighborhood, we have experienced that feeling of “outsider,” or “stranger.”  Some people who participate in Suitcase Stories are immigrants, while others are a relative, friend or colleague of someone born in another country or from a different culture. Some people enjoy telling about trips that challenged their stereotypes while others share about passing down cultural traditions through generations. What ties all the stories together are universal themes such as courage, curiosity, fear, hope, family, and love.

Although helping a person identify a good suitcase story is not as difficult as people imagine, there is another question I am routinely asked that always catches my breath for a moment.

“Are you sure people are going to care about my story?”

I believe – and my experience with Suitcase Stories bears this out – I believe that most everyone sees the value in another person’s story. I have seen it in the surge of storytelling opportunities worldwide, as people seek meaningful connections outside of social media. Locally, we have seen an uptick in the popularity of storytelling events.

But what never fails to surprise me is that the people who question the value in their stories are more often refugees or people with significantly profound Suitcase Stories. These are people who have survived genocides, parents who adopted children from other countries, or youth with stories about being bullied because of their faith or race.

People don’t just present this question when we first meet. Sometimes they pose it minutes before walking on stage. A storyteller from Syria was especially skeptical before her performance. While she is an especially humble person, I also know that the lack of urgency and media attention around the protracted war in her home country justifiably contributed to her fear. But that global apathy is what makes her personal story so very important.

In her case, as with others, I reminded her that all our stories are valuable. I also delivered a familiar pep talk where I reinforce how storytelling is not basketball. No one is routing for a different team. People come to a Suitcase Stories performances or community workshops because they want to listen and learn. People want to better understand the experiences of their neighbors, and especially from voices we do not hear often enough in society.

So, I ask you: What is your suitcase story? And with whom will you share it?

As IINE’s Suitcase Stories expands to an online platform, we invite you to become a Suitcase Stories Circle member. Get started on crafting your own story by using our “Suitcase Stories Circle” resources – available to members only! More information online here.

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Suitcase Stories® featured at Institute of Contemporary Art

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Ten Powerful Immigrant Accounts from Suitcase Stories® Presented in Conjunction with the ICA Exhibition When Home Won’t Let You Stay: Migration through Contemporary Art
Performances Taped for the Stories from the Stage series, in partnership between the International Institute of New England, WORLD Channel, WGBH and Massmouth; videos will be viewed in the ICA’s Poss Family Mediatheque

BOSTON (October 21, 2019) – As immigration increasingly challenges our concepts of home, borders and belonging, ten deeply personal immigrant stories from Suitcase Stories® will be featured in the Poss Family Mediatheque at the Institute of Contemporary Art/Boston (ICA) in conjunction with the exhibition When Home Won’t Let You Stay: Migration through Contemporary Art, on view October 23, 2019 – January 26, 2020. This Suitcase Stories® video collection is produced in partnership between the International Institute of New England, WORLD CHANNEL,WGBH and Massmouth.

“Immigration is often debated in broad terms. Yet behind every news article is the story of an individual, a family or a community,” said Liz Cheng, general manager for WORLD Channel at WGBH Boston. “We’re proud to share these deeply compelling stories with ICA/Boston visitors, whom we hope will come away moved and inspired by each individual journey.”

Among the videos are the stories of acceptance and love through music; the hidden meaning behind a name; seeking education in a hostile environment; cross-cultural friendships; and even how a car helps a family realize their dream of becoming American. The storytellers come from many countries and backgrounds, including the Dominican Republic, the Philippines, Zimbabwe, Haiti, Afghanistan, South Korea and the United States.

“Immigrants make up nearly 14 percent of the U.S. population. To better support and understand their unique experiences in American society we need to listen to their stories,” said Cheryl Hamilton, Suitcase Stories® director at IINE and director at Massmouth. “Suitcase Stories® has proven to be an effective avenue toward empathy and we look forward to seeing our ten featured tellers on display at the ICA.”

When Home Won’t Let You Stay: Migration through Contemporary Art considers how contemporary artists are responding to the migration, immigration, and displacement of peoples today. Through artworks made since 2000 by twenty artists from more than a dozen countries — such as Colombia, Cuba, France, India, Iraq, Mexico, Morocco, Nigeria, Palestine, South Korea, the United Kingdom, and the United States — this exhibition highlights diverse artistic responses to migration ranging from personal accounts to poetic meditations, and features a range of mediums, including sculpture, installation, painting, and video.

“We are thrilled to be working with WGBH and IINE to present this video collection alongside our exhibition When Home Won’t Let You Stay. In tandem with the exhibition, these powerful stories of immigration will provide our visitors with the opportunity for further enrichment on the topic of migration from our community,” said Monica Garza, the ICA’s Charlotte Wagner Director of Education.

About WORLD Channel
Based at WGBH in Boston, WORLD Channel tells stories that humanize complex issues. WORLD shares the best of public media in news, documentaries and fact-based informational programming that helps us understand conflicts, movements and cultures that may be distinct from our own. WORLD’s original content offers a national platform to makers examining issues too often ignored by mainstream media. These emerging and master filmmakers spotlight a diversity of voices, telling stories not heard elsewhere. WORLD has won a National News & Documentary Emmy, a Peabody Award, an Alfred I. duPont-Columbia Award and other national honors — including 1st and 2nd place Native Media Awards, an RTNDA Kaleidoscope Award, a Media for a Just Society Award, two Lesbian & Gay Journalist Awards, a Gracie and an Asian American Journalists Award. Carried by 157 partner stations in markets representing nearly 65% of U.S. TV households, WORLD can also be experienced as a broadcast channel as well as via WORLDChannel.org and social media platforms. Stories from the Stage is the award-winning WORLD Channel original series that showcases the extraordinary stories of ordinary people.

About The International Institute of New England
The International Institute of New England (IINE) has been serving immigrants and refugees since 1918. More than hundred years later, the nonprofit organization now operates resettlement, education, job training, and legal services programs in Boston and Lowell, MA, and Manchester, NH for more than 2,500 refugees and immigrants from 70 countries. Suitcase Stories® is one way IINE educates the public about the value new Americans bring to New England and the country. www.iine.org

About Massmouth, Inc.
Massmouth is a Boston-based non-profit organization that promotes the timeless art of storytelling. The organization transforms the way people tell and listen to stories locally and nationally. Massmouth organizes storytelling events throughout Massachusetts including competitive slams, unique showcases, and custom events. The organization also delivers storytelling courses and curated performances for businesses, non-profit organizations, and individuals.

About WGBH
WGBH Boston is America’s preeminent public broadcaster and the largest producer of PBS content for TV and the Web, including Masterpiece, Antiques Roadshow, Frontline, Nova, American Experience, Arthur and more than a dozen other primetime, lifestyle and children’s series. WGBH’s television channels include WGBH 2, WGBX 44, and the digital channels World and Create. WGBH TV productions focusing on the region’s diverse community include Greater Boston, Basic Black and High School Quiz Show. WGBH Radio serves listeners across New England with 89.7 WGBH, Boston’s Local NPR®; 99.5 WCRB Classical Radio Boston; and WCAI, the Cape and Islands NPR® Station. WGBH also is a major source of digital content and programs for public radio through PRI/PRX, including The World and Innovation Hub, a leader in educational multimedia with PBS LearningMedia™, providing the nation’s educators with free, curriculum-based digital content, and a pioneer in services that make media accessible to deaf, hard of hearing, blind and visually impaired audiences. WGBH has been recognized with hundreds of honors: Emmys, Peabodys, duPont-Columbia Awards and Oscars. Find more information at wgbh.org.

About the ICA
Since its founding in 1936, the ICA has shared the pleasures of reflection, inspiration, imagination, and provocation that contemporary art offers with its audiences. A museum at the intersection of contemporary art and civic life, the ICA has advanced a bold vision for amplifying the artist’s voice and augmenting art’s role as educator, incubator, and convener for social engagement. Its innovative exhibitions, performances, and educational programs provide access to contemporary art, artists, and the creative process, inviting audiences of all ages and backgrounds to participate in the excitement of new art and ideas. Spanning two locations across Boston Harbor, the ICA offers year-round programming at its iconic building in Boston’s Seaport and seasonal programming (May-September) at the Watershed in an East Boston shipyard. The ICA is located at 25 Harbor Shore Drive, Boston, MA, 02210. The Watershed is located at 256 Marginal Street, East Boston, MA 02128. For more information, call 617-478-3100 or visit our website at icaboston.org. Follow the ICA at Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

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Meet Biar Kon

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All you really need to know about Biar Kon is this: in the right shoes, under a spotlight, he is unstoppable.

During last week’s Suitcase Stories performance on World Refugee Day, he gave a tour-de-force storytelling presentation before a crowd of almost two hundred people.  In his dapper patterned suit and bedazzled shoes, he mesmerized the audience with the story of his experience in Dadaab refugee camp in Kenya. You can see a video of his story online here.

Biar was born in Sudan, but he and his family fled their homeland in 1993, and for the next two decades, Biar lived in the Kakuma and Dadaab refugee camps in Kenya. In 2015, Biar and his family resettled to Boston and then moved to Lowell, MA.

Currently a student at Middlesex Community College, Biar will complete his associate’s degree in Business Administration this fall. After graduation, Biar hopes to complete his bachelor’s degree and earn his master’s in business administration with a minor in political science at a university in Boston. Obviously a dedicated student, Biar said that in his spare time he reads business books — his latest favorites are The Science of Getting Rich by Wallace Wattles and Think and Grow Rich by Napoleon Hill.

On top of his busy academic schedule, Biar also serves as an IINE intern in Lowell, where he helps resettle refugees and interprets for some Somali and Swahili-speaking clients.

When he tells the story of his early life, Biar purposely draws a connection between his own experience and what he imagines children today are enduring at camps in Africa, and in detention centers in Texas. As he said in his “Suitcase” story, he remembers how it feels to be powerless over one’s own life.

Biar is a bit shy about his hopes for the future. He said his “biggest motivation” is the dream of one day opening his own business. Until that time, though, it seems he will study, learn, help people, and continue to share his own powerful story in the hope that those who hear it will be inspired to give a young person a chance to succeed – just like the chance he feels he received when he came to the U.S.

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