At a young age, I realized the strong impact stories had on me. It's how I made sense of the world and my own identity.
"We are All Made of Stories", ain't that the truth. We all have experiences that create our sense of self and develop our perspectives. It's by sharing those experiences through stories, that we human beings connect with each other and hopefully deepen our understanding of ourselves. Stories come in all sorts of forms and mediums and I believe any good story cultivates relationships within others and most importantly, with oneself. A good story has the power to transform into empathy.
My Origin Story
Alright, Storytime. I was born in the Philippines and moved to California when I was eight years old. I was barely learning English and spoke elementary Tagalog. I learned English through watching Disney movies with English subtitles and PBS KIDS shows like Clifford the Big Red Dog, Zoboomafoo, and Arthur (shoutout to those who wanted their class to be featured at the end of the show). Every episode had a story with a message about being a kid and all the ups and downs that come with it. Many of these shows were about building friendships, embracing curiosity, and gave insight on different social relationship dynamics, like how to get along with sibling(s) at a young age or the consequences of not telling the truth.
With every Story, I learned something new about the world or how people interacted with each other. And as a shy little Brown immigrant girl, these stories kept me company when I felt lonely or couldn't express in my own words how it felt being caught in between two languages. In some ways, I was people watching through a screen. To be real though, the more I assimilated to the American culture and the more time I spent at school learning English and constantly taking in American media, my native language vanished and disappeared without even knowing it. It kinda blows my mind, but even as a kid, I unconsciously did what I thought I needed to do at the time to survive in a new country.
“And as a shy little Brown immigrant girl, these stories kept me company when I felt lonely or couldn't express in my own words how it felt being caught in between two languages.”
Essentially, watching TV and movies was my teacher outside of school. It taught me the nuances of life and human behavior. And as I grew up, I began to question more things that were far more complex and messy for Arthur and his friends to answer. So come high school, my Kuya (older brother), started watching One Tree Hill and got me hooked on it. My Pisces heart loved the depth of this show and how different characters navigated through high school and beyond when it came to relationships, learning to be authentic to oneself and the pursuit of passion and greatness. It intertwined literature with great music and had my type of drama. But again, let's be real, a group of white teens in North Carolina did not reflect my reality.
The Turning Point
While Brook, Lucas and Peyton from One Tree Hill were in a love triangle for the 50th time, I had no love life in high school and struggled to fit in as the scholarship student of color that attended a private school in Marin. Yes, it was bougie and the student population was pre-dominantly white and wealthy. Again, I was caught in between worlds- between wealthy Marin and the streets of Richmond. As a high school student, I had a major identity crisis which led to depression and anxiety. I saw the disparities within education, the lack of access to basic necessities, and had no idea how to connect with classmates who traveled abroad during school breaks or simply had a head start in life that I didn't have. And yet I gained the privilege of attending a prestigious school that offered me a quality education and all I could wish for was to extend all the resources and opportunities to my friends back home. Where was the TV show or movie to reflect this messiness?! The complexity of identity, race, social class, and issues of access were not portrayed on mainstream media at this time..., then comes in Youtube.
“The complexity of identity, race, social class, and issues of access was not portrayed on mainstream media at this time...”
I See the Light at the End of the Tunnel
Youtube was the first place I saw Asian American representation. People who looked like me had a platform to tell their stories and share their creativity. While feeling othered in America, their narratives were centralized on this one platform. For the first time, I felt seen and validated. Shoutout to Wong Fu Productions, AJ Rafael, Michelle Phan, and JK Films for keeping me company during my high school days and pioneering Asian American representation. I watched talented, passionate, and multifaceted personalities that debunked the Asian stereotypes. They paved the way for other Asian American to share their voices and stories.
At some point in high school, I knew I had to find my own community that I can connect with in real life so I joined Asian American youth programs in Oakland and Berkeley. They challenged me and asked important social justice issues while helping me and other youths navigate identity through workshops, conferences, and summer programs. And in these spaces, hearing other teens tell their stories and having the safe space to share my own was the most powerful thing I could experience as a youth of color in an identity crisis. I named my experiences through writing and shared moments when I felt paralyzed by silence. I learned I wasn’t the only one feeling disconnected from my culture and there would be people to support me in my journey of reconnecting to my roots. It was amazing to have met mentors who had their own stories to share and wisdom to hand down to us as the next generation.
All my life I felt 'othered' so I yearned and looked for counter-narratives to piece together my world and my identity. When I got into college and took Ethnic Studies, I was mesmerized by the Social Justice Warriors that further talked about these experiences who then coined theories, wrote academic journals on the experiences of People of Color and ultimately shared stories about coming to higher consciousness. My mind was blown in every class and every reading. So thank you to Audrey Lorde, Bell Hooks, Gloria Anzaldua, Maya Angelou, Yuri Kochiyama, Freire, W.E.B Du Bois, Langston Hughes and especially to Leny Stobel, Mike Viola, Mark Bautista, Manisha Anantharaman, Ate Allyson, Manang Arlene, Manang Dawn and Manong Rod for your Stories. They have helped me find moments of liberation, healing, and a great sense of pride.
From media to books to everyday conversations, I learned that every Story is Knowledge passed down. Every Story is Wisdom given to another to gain perspective. Every Counter Narrative is essential to be seen and heard. And I seek to uncover and discover Indigenous Stories to reconnect to my deepest roots. With every Story I have the amazing opportunity to listen to, I am constantly weaving together my world, my identity, and my communities together. I become more whole through them. This is why Stories are Important to Me.