Migrant Tales implies just that, stories about migrants. Stories go a long way in defining who we are. We tell the story of our life, our journey, our relationships, our belonging, and our struggles, hopes and triumphs. Through sharing, we can achieve also belonging. By properly hearing a story, we learn of the world and indeed, we learn more about ourselves.
We often though not always tell that story through language, and not always our first language, as a way to share with others in our community. Indeed, a living community is in many ways built with ‘shared stories’. Everyone has a right to tell their own story, and to hold many versions of the same story. No one story will capture all the truth of who we are.
Stories tell us many things. They tell about things that have happened, they tell about how people have treated each other, how we have treated other people, they tell about changes in our lives, they tell about our search for meaning, for purpose, and for belonging. We often find these things through work, through friendship and love, through families and through testing the world we live in, to see what gives.
For a migrant, a big chunk of their story is likely to remain untold or even untellable, especially in the public space. The cultural, geographical and embodied references that help to place others into our own story are just not easy to communicate. Likewise, a new language can blunt our expression to the point of making us appear quite simple or slow. The avenues through which we can share our story may appear dark and forbidding. Not only that, while we struggle to find the tools to tell our stories, others are busy telling a different story about us, and with all the ease and narrative force that comes with having native use of the language.
When someone is telling a story about someone else, one of the key things to disappear is nuance. What I mean is the complexity and texture of human experience, which defies any box or any stereotype. Ideas about the person become simplified, usually by putting them into a group. In the absence of real and lived experience emanating from the immigrant’s life, the native storyteller relies instead on creating a collective story, about a group, constructed with broad strokes and bold phrases. Not only do these particular natives seek to construct the story according to their own rules, but they in turn ‘give’ this story back to the immigrant and ask them to take it as their own. Immigrants are literally told what their story is to be.
There is only one way out of this sorry situation, and that is to encourage people to seize back their stories. Each story told identifies an individual and it’s only this direct knowledge and information put into the public storehouse of stories, that will counter the oversimplified ‘group’ picture that some seek to write on behalf of immigrants. People do want real knowledge of other people, especially strangers.
In the absence of knowledge about strangers, we tend to make things up, things that reflect our fears and our prejudices. But given the opportunity to hear another’s story told in an honest and heartfelt way, then most of us will rejoice and be happy that uncertainty has given way to empathy and a real sense of another.
We all have a story. Don’t let anyone take it away from you.