Opinion

Storytelling Fosters Global Community Amid Displacement

Photo courtesy of Lior Sperandeo | CBN DocumentariesIn 2015, thousands of Syrian refugees would arrive daily to the coast of Lesvos, Greece. Pictured is one arrival, met by humanitarian organization IsraAID.

The characteristic struggle of the world today is that of displacement. The art of storytelling can prove a powerful tool in fostering global connection and community amid this disruption.

Globally, numbers of those uprooted from their homes continue to rise in response to political unrest, warfare, climate change, evictions and development projects. It’s no wonder the figures we now recognize as inheriting the brunt of the modern world, frequently in the media, are the refugee, the immigrant, the vagrant homeless and the internally displaced person (IDP) — one who is forced to flee their home but remains within their country’s borders.

The Rohingya, at this moment in time, continue to flee Myanmar to escape ethnic persecution — more than 600,000 taking temporary refuge in neighboring Bangladesh since Aug. 25, though many have gone elsewhere. More than 400 families are served by The Rohingya Culture Center of Chicago in Rogers Park (2740 W. Devon Ave.), according to The Phoenix, forming the largest concentration of Rohingya in the United States.

Extremist groups such as Boko Haram have created 1.9 million IDP and 200,000 refugees from Nigeria alone.

Since 2008, more than 26.4 million people have been displaced due to natural disasters, some possibly provoked by climate change — including Somali droughts, Pakistani floods and Nepalese earthquakes.

In 2015, 43.3 million foreign-born civilians lived in the United States, a historically immigrant nation, with roughly half of those coming from Latin America.

According to the 2016 Annual Homelessness Assessment Report to Congress by the Department of Housing and Urban Development, nearly 550,000 individuals in the United States experienced homelessness that year — nearly a quarter of them aged 18 or younger.

Recent gold mining and oil-field developments have displaced an unreported number of people across Papua New Guinea (PNG). The Duna, a PNG Highlands ethnic group at the center of their country’s displacement, may be able to negotiate their own uprooting with their native language, one that has seven different words for asking, “Where…?”

This prompts: How many “Where’s” does this world know?

One mode of storytelling, among many, that attempts to answer this question is poetry.

Warsan Shire, a Kenyan born, British-Somali poet, captures this global urgency in her 2014 poem, “What They Did Yesterday Afternoon”: “i [sic] held an atlas in my lap/ ran my fingers across the whole world/ and whispered/ where does it hurt?/ it answered/ everywhere/ everywhere/ everywhere.” And in the poem “Unity,” contemporary indigenous PNG poet Apisai Enos speaks a similar pain, referencing generations of children uprooted from home, “who know not their father and mother.” He writes, “…like delta islands they drift/ further apart in pools and streams of blood/ Awake mother …/ pull them back by their navel cords/ into the warmth of your [heart] …”

These sentiments, though unique in crucial ways to the cultures from which these poets speak, echo feelings of loss and disarticulation characteristic of the world as a whole today. Despite their distance, their stories reveal the deep and universal connections that underlay those who have been torn from home — ones ultimately rooted in love and the desire for reunion.

Loyola invites students who have been uprooted to share feelings of dislocation creatively — through poetic forms of storytelling. The journal Kaleidoscope — a literary publication curated by Loyola University Chicago Empowering Sisterhood (LUCES) — invites women to explore their self and community in this year’s issue entitled, “Naming Your Truth,” Amnesty International’s Annual “Slamnesty” event encourages spoken word storytelling and inclusive organizations such as Students for Diversity and Multicultural Affairs abound with opportunities for students to examine their marginalized identities, who and what pushes them to the boundaries and how this has impacted their deeper selves.

Shire herself has said she is most interested in stories that go untold or told inaccurately, often traveling with a Dictaphone — a small cassette recorder meant to record speech for subsequent transcription — so that she may write of immigrant and refugee experiences more truthfully back home. In today’s world, such Dictaphone-attention to one another’s stories will prove instrumental in fostering mutual understanding worldwide as we continue to explore our conception of place, that which we have lost and that which, in the words of Enos, we pull back into the warmth of our hearts. Such is necessary for our neighbors both at home and abroad.

It’s vital that we grant more accessible platforms to individuals, especially the young heirs of this global struggle, to express their unique experiences with displacement and the cruelties that often accompany. This includes oral storytelling methods for the illiterate and anonymous storytelling methods for the otherwise compromised. Dictaphone or not, sharing others’ stories, as does the media, should always come as the second best option to allowing the uprooted to share these stories themselves. And of course, with the intention of sharing one’s own story comes the hope — and, I think, the need — for others to listen.

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Opinion Editor

Gabriela Valencia is a part-time believer in magic and a full-time believer in light. She studies Chemistry and writes poetry at Loyola University Chicago, where she currently works as Opinion Editor for the Loyola Phoenix. Post-graduation, she hopes to further explore the intersection of journalism and creative writing, wherever that may be.