Another Way West

By Jane Stenson

 

Story Summary:

 At age 16, in 1855, Jane’s great-grandfather sailed from Long Island, N.Y. around the Horn to San Francisco where he was stranded! He took a job with Wells Fargo as a treasure agent in the Sacramento-Shasta Mining District…the home of the Shasta Indian Nation. In 1860 he rode the first leg east for the Pony Express. He was also a member of San Francisco’s Vigilance Committee, a group of 6000 men, committed to establishing “law and order.” How do we seek understanding of both the pride and the discomfort our ancestor’s stories?  (more…)

Brush the Dirt from My Heart

By Connie Regan-Blake

 

Story Summary:

 Storyteller, Connie Regan-Blake, was invited to come to Uganda by “Bead For Life”(www.beadforlife.org), an NGO helping women lift themselves out of extreme poverty. Many of them are displaced people from the horrors and atrocities of civil war in northern Uganda and are dealing with the ravages of AIDS. Connie was welcomed into their homes and hearts as if she was family and she listened to their profound and transformative stories. This is Namakasa Rose’s story.  (more…)

I Wanted To Be an Indian

By Jo Radner

 

Story Summary:

 Stories about our ancestors help us understand who we are. Encountering troubling revelations about her forebears and their Indian neighbors in colonial New England, Jo asks what it means to tell – and live with – her whole, complex history.   (more…)

Passing for WASP

By Storyteller Carol Birch

 

Story Summary:

 Carol believes this statement: “To build a bridge from one culture into another and make pluralism a cause for celebration, we have to have one foot firmly planted in who we are.” However, in exploring her Polish and Scottish roots, Carol wonders if she’s really been living what she teaches. (more…)

Spring

 

Story Summary:

 Storyteller Jim Stowell tells how an immigrant woman is faced with trials and hardships, and how she established a sense of pride and dignity for herself and her family.

For a print friendly version of the transcript, click here: Spring

Discussion Questions:

  1. What is an “illegal immigrant?”
  2. Why is a first home a dream come true? How does owning a home possibly change a family? A community?
  3. What is the difference between hope and dignity? How are they the similar? How does “hope” and “dignity” show up in the story? In your life?

Resource:

  • Illegal People: How Globalization Creates Migration and Criminalizes Immigrants by David Bacon

Themes:

  •  Crossing Cultures
  • Education and Life Lessons
  • Family and Childhood
  • Housing
  • Immigration
  • Living and Traveling Abroad
  • Stereotypes and Discrimination

Full Transcript:

Hi, my name is Jim Stowell. And the story, “Spring,” is from an evening of stories I did entitled, “Joe,” that was produced by the great American history theater.

Spring. See a woman’s face. See her face. Hmm, late 30’s early 40’s, dark skin. At one point in her life, she was an immigrant. At one point in her life, she was an illegal immigrant. Oh, illegal immigrants much maligned these days.

See her face as she looks at her first house. She’s never owned a house before. She’s never owned anything like this before. See her face as she looks at her first house and you will see joy. A joy that’s so intense it makes her cry. Now watch, as she walks up to the front door of her house and the door opens and we see the empty rooms of the house. See her face as she sees her first home.

See her face and you will see pride. But this is not the kind of pride that goes before the fall. This is the kind of pride she has earned and has every right to. When she crossed the Rio Grande, she was carrying the baby and her husband helped with the two younger children. And they crossed from Mexico into Texas, and, somehow, they ended up in Minnesota. And then, alas, as too often happens, the husband was the one that had the most trouble making the adjustments and he started to drink. He became a drunk. This was not him in Mexico. And then, he started to hit her. And he beat her, and he threatened her, and he threatened the lives of her children.

She made another decision and she left. And she went from house to house, to keep her children safe. And she was desperately poor, living in an apartment with friends, selling tortillas. And one of her friends came to her and said, “You know, there’s this place in Minneapolis called, “Project for Pride and Living,” PPL, maybe you should go there because they have a job training program. She went. She took the program. And when it was over, the people at PPL said, “Well, you know, we don’t just train you how to work. We help you get a job. How can we help you?”

And she said, “I’m going to work here.”

And the people at PPL said, “We love that, we do. We like you. But we feel there’s no jobs there. So, how can we help you?”

And she said, “I’m going to work here. If you’re putting me out the front door, I’m coming in the back. If you put me out the back door, I’m coming in the front. I’m going to keep coming in the door until you finally hire me. Because I have to work here. Because I want to help other people the way you helped me.” They hired her as the receptionist.

Now I see her face as she sees her first home. Her first home as an American citizen. See her face and you will see pride.

Now hear the voices of her children as they run past her into the empty rooms of the house, filling the rooms with life. See the face of that little boy or that little girl as they look in their own room, now no longer sleeping three to a bed. They not only have their own bed, they have their own room. See that child’s face. You’ll see joy all right. Their own room, oh, you’ll see joy all right. But…You’ll see pride there as well.

Now see that woman’s face as she sees the look on her child’s face and, oh, you’ll see joy. A joy so intense…it makes her cry again. See her face as she sees the look on her child’s face.

See her face…and you’ll know what dignity looks like.

Sudden Story

Storyteller Laura Simms

 

Story Summary:

 This is the true story of storyteller, Laura Simms, telling a deeply traumatized boy – an ex- child soldier from Sierra Leone, West Africa – a story in a taxicab in New York City. The story within this story relieves his misery and, in the process, Laura discovers the power of the tale and the boy’s innate and potent resilience. (more…)

The Bridge Collapse

 

Story Summary:

 A bridge collapses in Minneapolis and the media is there. Suddenly, watching the stories of all the heroes from that day, Kevin is aware of the great diversity in his city. Citizens of every color and creed were there to rescue and help people in the midst
of this tragedy. Another friend of Kevin’s tells him how upset he was when people from other countries showed up to work in a local factory. Then, this same friend hears his grandmother being interviewed on the radio as a “first generation” American and realizes that we are all immigrants.

For a print friendly version of the transcript, click here: The-Bridge-Collapse

Discussion Questions:

  1. Do you believe as Kevin’s friend does that you can survive anything “with sense of humor and sense of self”? When have you had to use either or both to survive?
  2. What do you think are the different regional values and “senses of self” across the U.S.? Or, if you are from another country, how do regional differences show up in your country?
  3. How do tragedies bring out the best and worst in people? What causes regular people to do “heroic” actions?
  4. Why do immigrants from earlier times have prejudices against newer immigrants?

Resources:

Themes:

  •  Crossing Cultures
  • Immigration
  • Taking A Stand and Peacemaking

Full Transcript:

My name is Kevin Kling.

My friend, Al Baker, is an Anishinaabe medicine man and he come from Lac Courte Oreilles Reservation. And he said, “You can survive anything with a sense of humor or sense of self.”

Sense of humor. Ah, I think it comes from a region or, more specifically, I think it comes from weather. There’s a story that I tell when I travel. And it really tests if people have the same sense of humor.

It happened back in 1965 when seven tornadoes hit the Twin Cities area of Minneapolis and St. Paul. And I remember, everybody was outside; nobody was inside where it was safe. They’re all out trying to spot a tornado. And these tornadoes hit, and I remember, it changed my life forever. And I, I was listening a while back, you can download, off the radio station, these old broadcasts, and I was downloading one of the broadcasts. And the announcer was saying, this is before Doppler so people were just calling in reporting tornadoes, and the announcer was saying, “Yeah, call in, call in, if you’ve got a story!” And a guy calls and he says, “Yeah, I was in my car. I was driving down the road, and all of a sudden, I seen a tornado coming my way. So, I hunkered down on the floor, and a tornado came through, and blew out all my windows!”

And the announcer says, “Man, are you OK? Are you all right?”

The guy says, “Yeah, that’s not why I’m calling. The school carnival has been canceled.”

Ah, sense of self. I think a sense of self comes from family, from community. There’s a strong Midwestern sense of self, I find, in Minnesota. When a tragedy happened somewhere, you really find out what you’re made of. You find out the essence of your community.

When 9/11 happened in New York. You could just see the “New York-ness” come out of people. “We’re not going to let this get us.”

And there was a bridge that collapsed in Minneapolis on 35-W. When I grew up in Minneapolis, it was a very white community, the one I grew up in. There was no person of color in my school. And when I saw that bridge collapse, when a tragedy happens, you’re either there or not. It’s not selective. So, whoever was on that bridge got it. And when they showed the people that were on the bridge, it was such a mix of colors, such a mix of ethnicity. It really surprised me. And when the heroes, um, came into focus, they were people of all colors, of all racial backgrounds. But they were Minnesotans. ‘Cause when they tried to come and interview, the reporters tried to find them for interviews, no they weren’t there. They’d saved people, then they went home for dinner. Um, so they were hard to be found.

Ah, there was a buddy of mine, Dave. He lives in Worthington, Minnesota. He’s… his family farm is always on a plaque at the Minnesota State Fair because it goes back over 100 years. And they’re, just they’re ensconced in, in the countryside. And a while ago, the rendering plant in town threatened to go under. And so, what happened, they got people from all over the world, people from Haiti, East Africa, Mexico, to come in and save the plant. And all of a sudden, that town is full of people from other countries.

And Dave said he was listening to the radio, the other day, and they had a special show on about first-generation Americans and the problems they faced. And he’s listenin’ to the radio, all these different stories, when all of a sudden, his grandma comes on. And he forgot that she was a first generation American. And he heard her telling stories and laughing in a way he’d never heard in his life. And this one girl got on and she was talking about going on a date. And she was from Mexico, her family was from Mexico, and she went on a date with this farm kid. And their car got stuck in a ditch, buried the axles, and they couldn’t get it out. And when this kid finally got her home late, she said her dad was furious, just screaming at this kid in Spanish. All of sudden, Dave’s grandma starts cracking up. And she says, yeah, the same thing happened to her but it was a horse and buggy and her dad was screaming in Swedish.

Sense of humor. Sense of self.

The Spirit Survives

By Dovie Thomason

Part One: Gertrude Bonnin

 

Part Two: Grandpa

 

Story Summary:

 The “Indian Experiment” in education, the government boarding schools, is unknown to many Americans, yet affects us all. Following forty years of study of these stories, Dovie knew she had to share what she’d learned that would be essential to her daughter, and all of us. She weaves history, biography, autobiography and personal reflection in this story that she never “wanted” to tell. But there are some stories that need to be told…  (more…)

Who is a Friend? German-Jewish Reconciliation After the Holocaust

By Gail Rosen

 

Story Summary:

 Who is my friend and who is my enemy? Gail Rosen, a Jewish storyteller, goes to Germany and makes a surprising connection to a German man who lived through WWII.  (more…)

MUSLIMS TELL STORIES TOO

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Are there any Muslim storytellers out there ?
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1
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The Stories of Storyteller Arif Choudhury

In a recent magazine article, storyteller Arif Choudhury wrote :
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“Are there any other Mulsim storytellers out there ? We should start a club with funny hats and monogrammed shirts.  All kidding aside, since 9/11, people have been curious about Muslims.

As an American-born Muslim of Bangladeshi descent living in Chicago’s predominantly Caucasian northern suburbs, I am asked lots of questions. What do Muslims believe ?  What are their traditions and customs?

Do Muslims tell stories ?”  (more…)

What’s a Mexican?

By Olga Loya


Story Summary:

For years, Olga emphasized the American part of her Mexican-American identity. Then, in college, she heard Cesar Chavez talk and was inspired to go to Mexico. There she discovered the many accomplishments of her ancestors and that Mexicans came in every shape and color. She then stressed the Mexican part of her Mexican-American identity. Later, she was introduced to her Indian heritage and began to identify herself as Chicano. Today Olga embraces all aspects of her identity. The richness of her cultures gives her strength and pride.  (more…)

FROM MOON COOKIES TO MARTIN AND ME

By Lyn Ford

 

Story Summary:

Empathy grows from sharing stories; this story was shared to encourage others to know, to understand, and to remember. This is a personal journey tale from Lyn’s childhood living next door to a Holocaust survivor and, then, her adolescent small but mature steps into the greater Civil Rights Movement.  (more…)

ALEGRIA: WE ARE ONE

By Leeny Del Seamonds

Story Summary:

Alegria is Spanish for “happiness” and “joy.” Listen as Leeny Del Seamons sings of what happens when we respect everyone in spite of our differences. In this original song, Leeny reminds us that we are all connected and equal. Together, we are one voice working towards peace to build a better world.

(more…)

I Deserve to Be Here

By Emily Hooper Lansana

Story Summary:

From voluntary busing to being called an “Oreo”, Emily navigated the color lines of her elementary and high schools until she finally landed with the “theatre kids” who moved more easily between different groups.   Attending Yale University, Emily studied African American Intellectuals with Cornell West and she came more fully into herself, finally accepting that she, like everyone, deserves the best.   (more…)

Next Town

By Storyteller DIANE FERLATTE

 

Story Summary:

 As a child, each summer Diane’s family drove from California to Louisiana to visit family. Diane remembers her father responding with increasing frustration whenever her brother asked if they could stop to get something to eat, each time promising “next town.”

Finally, the family stopped at a restaurant. Just as she is about to open the restaurant door, her father stops her. There is a “whites only” sign above the door. Diane’s family must go around back to eat in the kitchen. Diane learned about prejudice that day but also about how her family kept their spirits high no matter what they faced. (more…)

Penny for Your Thoughts

By Storyteller Diane Ferlatte

 

Story Summary:

While sitting alone in a restaurant having lunch, Ferlatte notices an older white man also eating alone and looking sad and worried. When she tries to be friendly, the man responds with a grunt. Ferlatte starts labeling him in her mind as a “mean old white man.” Later, she corrects her own thinking by reminding herself that she doesn’t know anything about the man. Later, as he leaves the restaurant, the man pours out his story, sharing that his wife of 61 years has recently died. The two end up having a brief conversation, and Ferlatte realizes the importance of reaching across barriers of race, culture, and generations in order focus on the person right in front of you. (more…)

Bartholomew

By MayGay Ducey

 

Story Summary:

 Bartholomew, an African American man who is the church custodian is a familiar figure to the congregation at Mary Gay’s church. However, when it’s rumored that African Americans are coming to their church and will be asked to be seated, suddenly the pleasant veneer of acceptance is exposed.  (more…)

Between Worlds

By Olga Loya

 

Story Summary:

At school Olga was taught to be American first and not to speak Spanish. If she did, she risked being punished. At the same time, Olga’s Japanese-American friends went to an after school program to learn the Japanese language and to study Japanese culture. Olga wondered why she didn’t have something like that and how she could straddle multiple worlds.  (more…)

Onara

By Storyteller Alton Chung

 

Story Summary:

This is a true story written by Mako Nakagawa and told by Alton with her permission. A young girl wonders about the difference between “hakujin” (white people) and “nihonjin” (Japanese people) while in an internment camp in WWII. She speculates as to why hakujin do not onara (a euphemism for “passing gas”). (more…)

Reflections on Minidoka

by Alton Chung

Story Summary:

The true story of Alton’s journey to the Minidoka Relocation Camp site at Hunt, Idaho and of his encounter there with an 89 year old former internee. She was 23 when she left this Japanese American incarceration camp and this was her first visit back to the site after 66 years. She tells Alton about a boy she knew, who went to fight in Europe over 60 years ago, and who never came back.  (more…)

Looking for Papito

By Storyteller Antonio Sacre

 

Story Summary:

 As a Cuban and Irish American child, Antonio deals with being “too ethnic” or “not ethnic enough”. By trial and error and with the support of his family, Antonio reclaims all of his ethnic heritage and his Spanish language. (more…)

Faster Than Sooner

by Storyteller Antonio Sacre

 

Story Summary:

 While studying to become an actor, Sacre happened into storytelling through a class at Northwestern University. Because he found that he was often excluded from acting jobs because he was seen as either “too ethnic” or “not ethnic enough,” he took on storytelling performances to pay the bills. He started to understand the power of his bilingual storytelling and remembers an encounter with a grade school bully where learning the other boy’s story made all the difference.  (more…)

THE AMERICAN VISA: A SAGA IN 3 ACTS

by Storyteller Antonio Rocha

 

Story Summary:

 Antonio recounts all the difficulties he faced to get a Visa to come to the United States from Brazil. Going the “legal” route is filled with red tape, bureaucratic inconsistencies and plenty of suspicion. That seemingly insurmountable document became his ticket to his current life as a professional storyteller in America.

For a print friendly version of the transcript, click here: The-American-Visa-A-Saga-in-3-Acts

Discussion Questions:

  1.  Many stories resolve themselves in threes (morning – afternoon- evening). Some resolve in four (The four seasons, for example), yet  others  in twos (day and night). What hardships in your own life have unfolded in a three step set up? Any in four? How about two?
  2. Our perception can move life incidents into negative or positive outcomes. How has a bad experience been a positive step in your life’s journey or vice-versa?
  3. Have you experienced any form of racism that has brought you closer to who you are in a positive way? What sorts of prejudice do you have? How could you free yourself from them?

Resources:

Themes:

  • Crossing Cultures
  • Education and Life Lessons
  • Identity
  • Immigration
  • Languages
  • Latino American/Latinos
  • Living and Traveling Abroad
  • Stereotypes and Discrimination

Full Transcript:

Hi, my name in Antonio Rocha, and here is the story about dreams coming true. Just imagine you want something so badly and you have it on your hand and somebody takes it away from you and you just like . . . You know, um, like the sea that longs to see the desert, or the desert that longs to have rain, or the turtle who wants to know how to fly? Something that you really don’t think you can achieve, and all of a sudden, hey, maybe I have a possibility here, you know?

I was on a bus going to an American consulate with a free ticket to the United States, a letter of invitation to come to this country in 1988, that’s twenty-two years ago, to learn mime—a dream I had. I had the grant, I had the ticket, I had the letter of invitation, I had the note from the director of the organization. Go to the American consulate, and they will give you a visa. Bring your valid passport. Four hours by bus overnight to the next town, not the next town, followed by bus several towns through. I get there, and the man looks at the letter of invitation, he looks at my proposal, my grant. I show him the government ticket. It was a ticket: I could fly coach, I could fly first class. I was sure to get the visa, and he said, “Well, we need a form. You are missing a form. We need an I-20.” And I said, “I-20? What is an ‘I-20’? “It’s a form when people go to study. You need an I-20 in order for us to give you a student visa.” I said, “but I’m going to a private studio. This man is a master mime; it’s not a college.” “Well, you need an I20.”

So, I leave. I take the four-hour bus back to where I live and I call the company, the organization in Washington, DC and ask for an I-20, and the man said, “I can’t give you an I-20. You are not going to college, it’s a private studio we can’t just give you an I-20 like that! I’m going to send him a telex and explain what this organization is all about; maybe he is not understanding what this organization is all about.” I’m like, okay, great. So the telex is there, just go and call them and make sure everything is okay. So I get that cue I call the American consulate: “Yes, we got the telex.” So I said, “Can I come down, take the bus, come down for the visa?” “We got the telex.” I get on the bus overnight: four hours to get there at 4’o clock in the morning, got to wait, drink coffee, get on a cab, wait in the waiting room, queue up. “Okay, Antonio?” ”Yeah, so you got the telex?” “Yes. We didn’t ask for a telex, we asked for an I-20.” I said, “But, I thought . . .” “We asked for an I20.”

And there I saw my dreams take off, away from me, not towards me. I had a free ticket, I had a letter of invitation, and they wouldn’t give me the visa. They are asking me for something I could not produce. I was shaking. I left, I didn’t make a scene, I go to a pay phone, I call collect from the streets in Brazil to Washington, DC. “They still insist on an I-20. I don’t know what to do and I am already late for the trip. I was supposed to be already in Maine and I am very sorry but I . . . .” I was crying; I was completely out of it. He kept asking, “What? Do you know English?” because I was speaking in English, I knew how to speak in English. He was like,

“Where did you learn English? You have never been to United States before? You never left Brazil before?” “No, I have never.” He kept going around these questions. I took the four-hour bus back. I go home, and one of my sisters looks at me and says, “You know why he is doing that to you, don’t you? Color.” I don’t know. I don’t want to say he was prejudiced, but he wouldn’t give me the visa.

So a doctor is coming down, through the same organization, he is coming down, and they call me up and they say “We are sending an I-20.” I’m like, how are they doing this? But any way, but the doctor gets there. There was a torrential rain, water gets into his briefcase, he gives me the I-20, it’s smudged with water. One of my sisters decides to go to the consulate with me because she was afraid I would just collapse if they denied me the visa. An American professor was there at the same time and said “I will go with you.” And he takes the 4-hour overnight bus with me, a theater professor from the University of Maine, Minor is his name and he takes the bus with me. I am walking and I am shaking. I have lost weight by now because this thing is not happening overnight. Okay? I am looking at the form and I don’t see a signature on it. I’m like,

“They didn’t sign this, this is not going to work,” and Minor said, “Don’t worry about that, let’s walk in there.”

I walk in there, wait, everything all over again. I am praying and I am doing everything I can to funnel the energy to the right direction. They take my stuff in, they come back and what the man says exactly is, “This is not valid, there is no signature.” I am like, “They didn’t sign the I-20. Minor, they didn’t sign the I-20!” Minor was taking a nap- 4 hour overnight on a bus, so he is like snoozing. “Minor, there is no signature.” Minor stands up and takes a pen out of his pocket and signs the thing in front of the consulate secretary. The consulate secretary goes, “You have the power to do this?” and he rushes in and Minor says, “Yes, I do, I am here representing the organization.” They rush inside, “Well, the Consulate would like to have a word with you, Sir” they tell Minor. I stay outside with my sister. Minor is gone for a minute, two minutes, three minutes. I am shaking and I can even feel it now telling you the story. I am like, what is going to happen? He has signed a thing he has no power signing.

Ten minutes…the door opens, Minor comes out! I look at him like, “Huh? Did you get it!?!” He grabs my elbow, he is like, “Let’s leave right now.” My sister gets up, we start walking across the lawn towards the gate, and he hands me the passport and says, “Welcome to the United States.” I open it, and there is my visa, there is my visa!

“How did you do this?” He said, “Well, I told him what the organization was all about, I told him that such and such a politician would be very thankful for his help in assuring that people can go across borders in this organization without any issues and I told him that I would make sure that you would come back in three months.” Ha, ha, ha! It’s been 22 years! The I-20 he insisted on having, it was from a university that I actually enrolled myself in with a four-year scholarship. That was just the beginning. I have been in here in United States for 22 years telling stories. Thank you.

A Twice Saved Life

by Alton Chung

 

Story Summary:

Solly Ganor, a Lithuanian Jew, was a boy when Germany invaded his country in1940. He was eventually sent to Dachau and was rescued by members of the 100th Battalion/442nd Regimental Combat Team, the all-Japanese American unit. Fifty years later he once again meets the man who saved him.  (more…)

REMEMBERING LISA DERMAN

By Storyteller Jim May

Story Summary

Lisa Derman, the late president of the Illinois Holocaust Memorial Foundation and Holocaust Survivor, died at the Illinois Storytelling Festival (July 2002) while telling her story of survival of the Nazi atrocities in Poland when she was a young girl (http://bit.ly/LisaDerman). She had told this story thousands of times to schoolchildren and other groups all over the country and abroad.

Her words to the audience that day,  “I might not be here much longer but the story must continue on to the next generation; the time will come that you will have to answer the call, and stand up to do the right thing were uttered moments before her sudden fatal heart attack. Lisa died in mid-story, telling the story that had defined her contributions to the fight against anti-Semitism, as well as against genocide the world over.

For a print friendly version of the transcript, click here: Remembering-Lisa-Derman

Resources:

Themes:

  • Education and Life Lessons
  • Family and Childhood Lessons
  • Jewish Americans/Jews
  • Stereotypes and Discrimination
  • Taking a Stand and Peacemaking
  • War

Full Transcript:

For 20 years, I was artistic director of the Illinois Storytelling Festival, which is now in its 25th year. We started in 1984 and very soon in our history, we became committed to the idea that we needed to have elders telling their life stories. Not professional story tellers, just people who had lived interesting lives and had something to say. Civilian story tellers, I always called them.

So that started with some of my uncles and aunts who lived in Spring Grove and then we expanded over the years, and we included anyone we could find with an interesting story and, so, some of our most notable years were when we featured some of the original Tuskegee Airmen who came and told us the stories of their experiences in World War II.

And in 2002 we had invited Holocaust survivors and camp liberators to come and tell in what we called our elders concert or our traditions tent with the idea that almost every family has some kind of storytelling tradition, almost anyone who has walked on this earth has some body of stories that they tell about their life’s experience.

So, it was Sunday afternoon, and Lisa Derman was our storyteller, a Holocaust survivor. She had escaped Poland in her teens, was a resistance fighter during World War II, and she and her husband Aaron had come that warm July day. Lisa had been very active; in fact, she is one of the key people who had lobbied the state legislature in Springfield. I believe Illinois was the first state to require Holocaust Studies, at all middle school and high school levels.

So, a real celebrity, a real power house. She had told the story thousands of times and she told it to us that day. Things started out on a great note; we had a piece of music that Jim Pfitzer a pianist played on a portable piano off stage that was music composed in the ghettos, lyrics and music composed in the ghettos during World War II. It had been translated by Bresnick Perry, another storyteller who was there that same day. There was a real sense of love, all things coming together that day.

And Lisa told her story. In a village in Poland where she and her family lived that was occupied first by German soldiers and then they noticed that a new group of soldiers came with different uniforms and that was the SS, or the equivalent of the SS; I’m not completely sure.

And then the extermination began. And she and her sisters escaped the first wave of it. She talked of running through the woods and hearing the shots and not being sure what they were, and then coming upon a scene in a clearing where 10,000 villagers were machine gunned in seven hours, she said. Her mother, and I believe one of her brothers, were among the group who died that day.

But she and her sister escaped because, while many turned them away, there was a particular Christian woman when her and her sister came to the door of the Christian part of village, she opened the door and said, “You don’t need to tell me why you are here; I know why you are here. God has sent you to the right place.” And she hid them in the spring works under the hide-a-bed.

And that’s how Lisa and her sister survived that first encounter, and at that point she looked at us and she said out to the audience: “There will be a time when all of you will have to stand up and do what is right. The call will come. And you must care and stand up and do what’s right. I may not be here much longer,” she said, “but my story must go on.”

Well moments after that, when she was literally describing her escape and she was, Aaron her husband who was sitting next to her that day in Spring Grove at our storytelling festival, he was just a teenager, that day that they escaped from Poland, that day Aaron was on top of the train car, and Lisa was waiting to catch the next train. Aaron had gotten up on the train, and other people who were helping them escape, there was a Gentile who had organized this.

Lisa said, “I was waiting there, the trains were coming, and I knew, I looked, and I could see the last train, the last car, was coming. I was the last one to grab on to the car. Aaron and others were up on the top, and I had to make a decision that I had to grab one of these, but there was no ladder. But I jumped on that side of the car anyway.”

So she was holding on, apparently to the door latch, and she said, “I didn’t know what was happening. I thought I might die.” But she kind of smiled when she remembered. She smiled, “When I heard footsteps, they were coming back for me” or words to that effect, and then she just sort of stopped and put her hand on her chest, looked and Aaron and said, “I hope I’m not having a heart attack,” and then she just nodded her head, and it was over.

It was that sudden and that peaceful. And then we had a fire man, a paramedic, chief of the fire department of Spring Grove in front row and they started CPR and they had a defibrillator there, but the doctor said that she had a massive heart attack right at that moment.

Then after the ambulance left, there were prayers in Hebrew and in English and American sign language, and that spot is a sacred spot to anybody who was there that day. And so the continuation of that story is that the Illinois Storytelling Association, we’re working to raise money to put a bronze with Lisa’s story in that spot.

We have already secured a donation from a nursery for a Burr Oak. We planted it a year later. Not only is planting a tree a Jewish custom, but the Burr Oak tree is what survived the Illinois fires. So the Burr Oak is the survivor of the great fires that used to cross the great plains in the Midwest for centuries and destroy most everything but helped the Burr Oak survive and establish all kinds of beautiful native flowers.

So it is this beauty created after the survival, and we thought that would be appropriate tribute for Lisa. So that’s the story. We are hoping we’ll continue that, that when people come to see that bronze, hear Lisa’s story, they will think about her last words which truly were: the time will come for all of you to care, to answer the call, and to stand up. And when we hear a story like that—and there are thousands—to me there is no more powerful way to move people to action, to move people toward justice and peace.

Changing Neighborhoods

by Storyteller Susan O’Halloran

 

Story Summary:

 Sue grew up hearing about “them” – the people who would come and take her and her neighbors’ homes in their all-white neighborhood. When her family watched the Friday night fights, it was made clear who was “the other” and who was “us.”  (more…)

Rosa

By Storyteller Linda Gorham

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Story Summary:

 Rosa Parks is best known for her refusal to give up her seat to a white man on a Montgomery, Alabama bus in 1955. Her action galvanized the growing Civil Rights Movement and led to the successful Montgomery bus boycott. But even before her defiant act and the resulting boycott, Ms. Parks was dedicated to racial justice and equality. Linda Gorham tells the story of those times through the eyes of three people: Claudette Colvin (a 15-year-old who refused to give up her seat nine months before Rosa Parks), James Blake (the bus driver), and Rosa Parks herself. (more…)

Bittersweet: Mom’s Story

by Nancy Wang

Story Summary:

 Many of us have ambivalent relationships with our mothers. In this story, Nancy dives into that ambivalence trying to understand what has been so difficult about it and why.  Her journey is colored by the differences between Chinese and Western values and behaviors making it even more difficult to understand. But in the end, there is a final discovery that brings peace, love and reconciliation with her Chinese mom.  (more…)

Immigrant Story

By Storyteller Nancy Wang

 

Story Summary:

 This story follows the journey of Nancy Wang’s ancestors who arrived in California on a junk boat in 1850 and started the fishing industry of the Monterey Peninsula. However, both legal and illegal violence ensued against them for generations. This story reveals how a group of immigrants rallied with resilience and ingenuity so that the 7th generation of Chinese Americans thrives today.  (more…)

Grandpa’s Story

By Storyteller Robert Kikuchi-Yngojo

 

Story Summary:

 An American family gathers for a reunion with laughter, memories, and good ol’ corn beef and cabbage. Suddenly, the father kneels before his family and sobs apologetically, “Your country has betrayed you.” With the launch of Executive Order 9066, the unconstitutional mass incarceration of over 110,00 citizens of Japanese ancestry begins. Now this American family, deemed the “enemy race”, must ask, “What will happen next?”  (more…)

Looking at My Yearbooks

by Shanta Nurullah

Story Summary:

Looking at high school yearbooks, Shanta reflects on the “change” in her neighborhood from mostly white to all black. As a child, Shanta could not understand when the adults told her “the white people are running away from us”. Even as an adult with a larger understanding of the times – blockbusting and other societal and economic pressures – the sting of being “the other” remains.  (more…)

THE DAY THE NAZIS CAME

by Storyteller Syd Lieberman

 

Story Summary:

 An excerpt from Syd’s book Streets and Alleys, this is a true story of the day the Nazis spoke near Syd’s home at Lovelace Park in Evanston, IL and Syd’s surprising reaction.

For a print friendly version of the transcript, click here:  The-Day-the-Nazis-Came

Discussion Questions:

  1.  Is it possible to be emotionally neutral when your family has been hurt by someone else? How do we channel rage in productive ways?
  2. What did Syd discover in himself that surprised him?
  3. What did Syd mean that there were “no victors” during this demonstration? Do you think Syd wishes he had made other choices that day? If Syd could do the day over, what would you advise Syd to do or not do?

Resource:

Themes:

  • Education and Life Lessons
  • Jewish Americans/Jews
  • Stereotypes and Discrimination
  • Taking A Stand and Peacemaking

Full Transcript:

When the Nazis said they were going to speak at Evanston at Lovelace Park, at first I didn’t think much about it.  They said they were going to march in Skokie a few years earlier and it turned out to be a publicity stunt.  But as the time went on and it seemed like it was actually going to happen, I got more and more upset.  I mean, being a Jew had never been a problem for me.  I grew up in a Jewish neighborhood.  There were synagogues, delicatessens…on High Holiday, school was empty.  Everybody was out.  And when I went to college, I went to Harvard, a liberal community.  Now there was some anti-Semitism there.  There were some final clubs that I couldn’t join but they had a lot of Jews.  And when my wife and I decided to settle down, we picked Evanston – a large Jewish population, a large black population.

And so being a Jew who had never been a problem.

And now the Nazis were going to invade my territory.  Our Rabbi said, “Don’t go there.  We’re gonna have a counter demonstration at the lake.  Don’t give them the honor of a crowd.”  But I had to go.  I didn’t want the Nazis to say, a mile from my house, you can kill Jews!  Now, I didn’t know what I was gonna do.  I’m not a violent man.  I thought, “Well, I could yell; maybe we’d just drown them out so we can’t hear them.”

Now when I got there, you got a 60’s feel first.  I mean, some people were singing, some people were doing horas.  There were groups all over.  Jewish groups; Never Again.  Black groups; the Nazis hated blacks too.  Women’s groups; equality is genderless.  Ecology groups; save the whales.  Everybody marching around with signs.  And a guy walking through the crowd, probably more, there were probably a lot of guys walking through the crowd saying, “Ok.  No violence.  No violence.  You know what we’re going to do.  We’re gonna yell.  When they speak, we’ll drown them out but remember no violence.”  And he walked by me and there was a big guy standing there and he looked at me and he said, “No violence?  Did they say that at Warsaw?  Did they say that in Jerusalem?  You know what I’m gonna do?  As soon as a Nazi begins talking, I’m gonna rush down there and I’m gonna choke him to death.”  And then he walked away.  And then I thought, “There are crazies in every crowd.”

Now as the day went on, it got more and more serious.  More and more police came.  Their cars lined the park.  There was a police helicopter in the air.  And I saw what was going to happen.  There was a maintenance building at the edge of the park.  And I could see that the Nazis could park by it and take up a space in front of it and the maintenance building will cover their back.  And there was like this concrete opening in front of it.  And I figured the police would stand there to protect the Nazis.  So we got the police, the Nazis and the building.  Now when the riot police came, that’s when it got really serious for me.  They came off a bus and they looked like gladiators.  They were wearing helmets and they had shields and clubs.  Then, sure enough, they took up that space in front of the maintenance building.  They had five rows of ten.  I was standing right next to a yellow rope they had used to cordon off the area.  And next to me was this little man and he was talking to himself and he was muttering and finally he looked at me.  And he said, “Look, look, I was in the camps in Germany.  They could do whatever they wanted.  They were in power.  But here… here we’re gonna protect them?”  His wife said, “This America.  Everybody gets to say what they want.”  He says, “I can’t believe.  I can’t believe it.”

Now all of sudden, somebody yelled, “They’re coming!”  And a chat began, “Nazis no, Nazis no, Nazis no!”  And I looked up and you know what I saw? I saw a junker.  A junker.  Its fender was dented, its bumper was tied up with a rope, it was burning oil.  And I thought, “This what we’re so excited about?  Five guys in a junker?”  And then they stepped out.  It was like electricity went through the crowd.  They were wearing Nazi uniforms.  Two were in SS uniforms.  And the chat changed, “Kill the Nazis!  Kill the Nazis!  Kill the Nazis!”  And they did something that… I don’t know… it was like I had seen it before.  They just stood there in a circle ignoring us.  Smoking cigarettes and talking.  And then finally they formed a line and one stepped out with a blowhorn and he began to speak.  Now the crowd got louder and louder but you could still hear that blowhorn over all of our yelling.  Rocks began to fly through the air.  That man with the blowhorn stepped back and everyone cheered.  And then he stepped up again.  He began to speak again, and again we were screaming so loud and yet you could still hear him.  It was as if he was gaining strength from all the hatred around him. And then a brick flew through the air and hit a policeman, knocked him down.  And the chant changed to, “Kill the pigs, kill the pigs, kill the pigs!”

And then, on my left, I saw a guy get under the rope and start to run to the Nazis.  It was that guy!  He got through the first two lines.  I think they were surprised that he would actually do it.  And they clubbed him to the ground when he reached the third line.  And then a second man went under the rope and he was clubbed down.  And then a third and then a fourth and both those were clubbed down.  And then the little man on my right yelled, “Never again!” and he was under the yellow rope.  And his wife, she dove at him, she grabbed his leg.  He was dragging her along the ground.  She was wearing a wig, you know, that was now coming off.  She was yelling, “Stop ’em! Stop ’em!  They’re gonna kill ’em!  They’re gonna kill ’em!”  And I was under the rope… And it wasn’t to save that old man… I wanted to kill the Nazis.  I wanted to take that blowhorn and shove it down the Nazi’s throat… Well, thank God, by the time I reached the police, they knew they had a potential riot on their hands.  And so they had already bundled the Nazis into their car.  And when I hit that first line, the policeman gave me a bear hug.  And he yelled, “Ok.  It’s over. It’s over. Calm down. It’s over.  They’re leaving.”  And I looked up and sure enough, they were driving away. And then in minutes, the crowd left.

They would write this up as a victory.  We had stopped the Nazis from speaking.  But there was no victor on that field.  I knew that, as I stood there shaking from adrenaline in me and feeling the rage, that only victor on this field was hate.  I looked over and the men who’d been clubbed to the ground were leaning against the maintenance building field.  An ambulance had arrived bathing the park with those blue and red lights.  The old man, he was still sitting on the ground.  His wife was smoothing his head.  She kept saying, “It’s ok, it’s ok. It’s over. It’s over.  It’s ok.”  But he didn’t answer her.  He just sat there staring off into space.

Aunt Helen

by Storyteller Syd Lieberman

Story Summary:

In this story a Jewish girl and her friend sneak away from the forced walk of the Nazis toward… they don’t really know. They hide in a haystack and a farmer helps them until the drums toll.  In the face of this innocence, what motivates the Nazi soldier? What compels the farmer to help? What does this story say about the capacity of human beings for good and evil?  (more…)

Remembering and Celebrating Cuba

By Storyteller Antonio Sacre

For a print friendly version of the transcript, click here:  Remembering and Celebrating Cuba

Discussion Questions:

Resources:

Themes:

  •  Latino/Hispanic American

Full Transcript:

When I was younger I would ask my Cuban father what it was like in Cuba. What was it like there? Why did he leave? What does he miss about it? And every question I had about Cuba was met by silence.

And my Father’s family- huge celebrations in Miami around the table with food piled high. I would listen to them tell stories about each other and tell stories about Miami and how they built it from the swamp and what it was like when I was a baby. And every now and then I would pull one of my uncles or aunts to the side and try to ask them about Cuba and any question- any query about Cuba was met with silence. I soon learned to know that any question would bring the conversation, the laughter to a halt. So I stopped asking about Cuba- at all.

When I got older I became a storyteller. I began to tell stories in English and in Spanish. And I mostly worked with a lot of people from Mexico, so I began to learn everything I could about Mexico. And this took me down to Mexico where I traveled all through Mexico. And I ended up one time at the Yucatan right at a travel agency where there were flights to Cuba- $79. And I realized that I’d spent all this time learning about the land and culture and food in Mexico, but I’d done none of that in Cuba where my father’s family was from.

Here it was, a bilingual storyteller with a wealth of information about Mexico but nothing about Cuba. So I got one of those phone cards and I called my dad from a payphone on the street in front of that travel agency. “Yo Puerto era Kuba I viie” I told my dad I wanted to go to Cuba, I wanted to go to the places where he lived and worked. The beaches at Cojimar, where he studied and went to school. Where he played baseball. And he said “Mijo, you’re a man and your profession is storytelling. If you want to go to Cuba you can do it. It’s my dream is to take you to Cuba someday by myself.” never heard that my dad had that dream for me and I almost cried there in the corner. He said “Well when we can go mijo, we can’t go until Castro is gone. You know I never want to go back there with him and all he did, you know” but I remember my grandmother telling me that Castro would outlive everybody and now his brother’s in power and who knows when that is going to end. For my dad Raul and Fidel are the same and so I don’t know when I’ll ever go with my dad. Maybe someday. Maybe.

A few months ago, I got called by National Public Radio to write a story about celebrations tied to the land and Latino cultures and they specifically wanted a Cuban perspective. And on the phone as I was talking with them I said, “Well actually you know I’ve got a really great lot of stories about Mexico-”

“No no no, we already have Mexico covered. We’d love to get Cuba.”

And I sort of stammered and hemmed and hawed and said “Well you know…”

They said, “Well could you try?”

I said, “I could ask my dad.”

They said, “That’s great- perfect. We’ll talk to you soon.”

I didn’t tell them that every attempt to ask about Cuba from my dad in all the years prior amounted to silence so I called my dad and told him that it was for my work and we made an appointment to talk about it. My dad’s a very busy man and so at 9am on Tuesday morning a week later, I called my dad. He said “Demon, tell me what do you want to know?”

I said “Pa- tell me about the celebrations tied to the land in Cuba.” And he thought for a second and he said, “Oh yeah Mijo, there’s the cutting down of the sugar cane. You know that all the men would come and have a great big festival.” I couldn’t believe it. A celebration tied to the land in Cuba. I said “Pa! Did you ever go to one?”

“No Mijo, that was for the campesinos. I was a city boy and I lived in Havana, you know?”

“Was there anything else?”

“No Mijo, a lot of those things are tied to the Indians in Cuba, you know? But the Spaniards killed all of them, you know? So they couldn’t survive, you know? Not like in Mexico and South America where they could hide in the mountains, you know? In Cuba all the Indians were gone, you know”

And we had this uncomfortable silence. I know my dad wanted to help me and I wanted to hear something, but we didn’t have anything and so we’re about ready to hang up. It seemed until he said. “Mijo, wait a minute you know we had the big religious festivals, you know? We had the Assumption of the Virgin Mary. You know? We had the San Juan de los Lagos. We had a La Noche Buena.”

“Papa slow down! What are you saying?”

“Mijo- sometimes we would have the Assumption of the Virgin Mary. You know there’s a great procession that leaves the church- you know- and it would be the whole church- you know? The men would be carrying the statue of the Virgin; four strong men carrying this huge statue. You know? Walking through the streets- you know? And I was too small, so I would be on the porch and with a Virgin Mary walking along with these four men carrying it and my mother- tu Abuela, would put her hand on my head and say the prayers- you know? As the Virgin walked by.”

And I could hear that laughter in his voice and I knew the crinkle in his eye when he smiled, I touched my eyes- it was the same crinkle that my dad had.

He said, “Mijo! Then, we had the summer celebrations of San Juan- eh, how you call him? Eh, John the Baptist, you know? And the fisherman who had fished for the pargo como si pero- a snapper. That’s not for the snapper fish we will go down to the beaches- the fishermen were there with their nets- you know? We’d have a great big party or a big bonfire, you know. We’d be praying for the fish to come and the fish came we went ‘Oooh!’ and if the fish didn’t come we’d still have a big party, you know? It’s just an excuse for a party, you know? But we loved it, you know?

Oh yeah! And the best festival was the La Noche Buena- Christmas Eve.”

I said, “Pa, what was the Christmas Eve festival like?”

“Ah Mijo! Your Uncle TT- no my uncle TT- your great-uncle TT.  He’s in Cuba. Anyway anyway. Uncle TT would raise the pig all year long, you know? And then, the women, your grandmother, your aunties and my primas. They would all make the adobo de marinade. You know- and we pour the marinade on the pig, you know and then it came to kill the pig. This was a big macho thing, you know the men’s would do it- you know? The kill the pig- the blood everywhere I know it sounds a little disgusting, but Mimi would say, your grandmother, would say that ‘You Americans don’t see the animals before you kill them. That’s why you have less respect for the land and the animals’. Anyway we’d have the pig, we cooked a pig, you know, there’d be a huge celebration- the pig on the table. You know, sometimes your uncle would take it – say  ‘Oh yeah how are you doing?’ you know? And we would have this huge toast and Aublea would take it and she’d say ‘I’d like to give a toast to all those who have died and all those who are alive. And we missed the ones that have died and we love the ones that are here and we are so happy that Jesus will be born this Christmas Eve and we’re so sad that he will die in Easter, and we are very happy that he will raise up afterwards and we are thankful for the laughter and thankful for the food.’ And we would pick mangoes from the trees and eat them right there on the table. And then the meal would be finished and it would be the best party of the year. We’d go to La Mesa del Gallo, the rooster midnight mass and the mass would go on for hours and afterwards, more dancing and celebrating and eating the leftovers and we’d sleep all through Christmas.”

And my dad stopped, and I said, “Pa, did you ever do those celebrations here in the United States?”

“Mijo no. That ended in Cuba, you know, you know, before Cuba, before Batista- it was a great party in Cuba. Then Batista’s government came and wrecked Cuba and then Castro came and promised different but then he wrecked Cuba even worse and we came here with nothing- so we didn’t have any money or language or ways to buy pigs, we barely had food and clothes, you know? We didn’t have the language, you know, so that I don’t end up in Cuba and I hate to be reminded of this, but I love you- I hope you do very well on the radio thing- whatever it is. You know? And if you need anything else, call me. Okay? Bye bye.”

And that moment came, and someday maybe my dad and I will go to Cuba, maybe with my young son. And maybe we’ll watch the fisherman pull the snappers in and have a big party. Maybe we’ll watch the huge Christmas Eve celebration. Maybe we’ll watch the Virgin Mary process through the streets of Havana near where my father used to live, and my father will put his hand on my young son’s head and bless him as the Virgin Mary goes by.

Maybe.

Maybe.

 

If Only You Were Mexican

By Antonio Sacre

 

Story Summary:

 A director tells Antonio that he would produce his play if only he was Mexican. This makes Antonio reflect on the importance of listening to stories outside our own ethnic groups. Antonio travels to Mexico and learns Mexican folktales to share with the community.  (more…)

MEXICANS IN CHURCH

By Storyteller Antonio Sacre

 

Story Summary:

Occasionally, Antonio brings his friends and family to Catholic mass, not always with the results he hoped for. However, in Los Angeles, he goes to church with Mexican-American families where he finds people who are deeply into the ritual and their passion for their religion makes him proud.  (more…)

The Oberlin Rescue of 1858

By Storyteller Susan O’Halloran

 

Story Summary:

 John Price escapes from the Kentucky plantation where he had been enslaved. He plans to go to Canada but when he arrives in Oberlin, Ohio and sees Black shopkeepers and Black students going to college, he decides to stay. However, he doesn’t know that a slave catcher under the protection of the Fugitive Slave Act is coming for him.  (more…)

THE OTHER 9/11 STORY

By Storyteller Susan O’Halloran

 

Story Summary:

 After the September 11, 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, demonstrations against Muslims arose in different parts of Chicago. One group of Chicagoans on the southwest side of the city decided to support their Muslim neighbors. This support grew into a massive rally and teach-in at Chicago’s Navy Pier. Sue witnessed people willing to learn from and about each other and how much taking a stand could mean.

For print friendly version of the transcript, click here: The-Other-911

Discussion Questions:

  1. Why don’t we hear the stories of what is working?
  2. The teachers taught the students about other times in history when people were stereotyped and scapegoated. Give an example of what they might have taught.
  3. Were the adults correct in keeping the students away from the (peaceful) demonstration of support? Was their alternative way to involve the students effective?
  4. Why is it important to show support to groups of people who are under attack?

Resource:

  • September 11, 2001: A Record of Tragedy, Herosim and Hope by Editors of New York Magazine

Themes:

  •  Crossing Cultures
  • Interfaith
  • Muslim Americans/Muslims
  • Stereotypes and Discrimination
  • Taking A Stand and Peacemaking

Full Transcript:

Two days after the tragedy of September 11th, 2001, Sister Margaret Zalot, principal of Maria High School, found herself in trouble.  She was driving down east on 95th Street when she unwittingly drove right into an anti-Muslim demonstration.  Crowds were milling about, cars would zip across the intersection at 95th and Harlem.  Then across again and again and shouting, “White power!”  They held signs that said, “Choose what side you’re on.”   “This is the beginning and the end.”  They were just ignoring the police.  They were trying to keep all that traffic going but pretty soon everybody just kind of ran their cars into the middle, just took the intersection over.  There were guys in the back of pickup trucks, huge American flags with long poles, looked like jousters ready to ram somebody.  And she found herself caught in the middle of all this.

Took over an hour and a half to get through that gridlock.  Now just the night before, this angry mob had marched on the mosque at 92nd Street.  Only because the police got there moments ahead and threw up barricades did it keep the windows getting broken or maybe worse.  I’m sure it was fresh in the police people’s minds because just a few years earlier the Federal Building in Oklahoma City had been bombed.  And two days later the mosque in Springfield, Illinois was burned to the ground.  So they saved that mosque but the demonstrations went on and on.  And Sister Margaret Zalot finally got home safely but she remembered that saying, “The only thing necessary for evil to triumph is for good people to do nothing.”  She’s like, “I’ve gotta do something.  What can we do? Oh, what we can do?”

So she went out and she found some other people with the same concern, the same sense of urgency.  She went to swop… S.W.O.P, Southwestern Organizing Project.  This represented 27 community groups on the southwest side of Chicago. And they were also asking what can we do?  It didn’t make sense to meet violence with violence?  What can we do?  They came up with a brilliant plan.  They said, “Lucky the police got to that mosque with the barricade just in time to save it.  We’ll make a human barricade.”  What they decided to do was next day… was Friday, like a Sabbath for Muslims, Friday afternoon prayer, Jumuʿah prayer.  They said, We’ll make a human barricade around the mosques and we’ll protect the people inside.”  And that’s what they did.

Now some people didn’t even know there were mosques in their neighborhood on 63rd Street.  You know, you can just not pay attention to something that doesn’t concern you?  And these are little storefront kind of places of worship.  But the next day, even though it was a workday, Friday workday, 150 people showed up.  And they stood arm in arm, shoulder to shoulder and they had signs from their religion like, “Pax Christi,” Peace and Christ, or “Shalom,” the Jewish tradition word for peace.  And people were so glad that they were there.  In fact, a newspaper accounting talked about the president of one of the mosques saying how much he appreciated the people being there.  How Islam does not teach that kind of violence.  That they were all grieving over the tragedy of 9/11. And certainly, the president of that mosque, Khatam Pharez, was grieving because his cousin was on the 82nd floor of the World Trade Center when that first plane hit that first tower.

And the paper also talked about this young man on his way to Friday prayer when he saw all these people demonstrating in front of the mosque. Well, he knew about the threats to his mosque, there were death threats , and should he go?  Was that the smart thing to do?  Should he go just back home?  And all of sudden one of the men turned around.  It was an older man with snowy hair, and on the sign he was carrying, it said, “As-Salāmu Alaykum,” the Arbic blessing; peace be unto you.  The young man knew those people in front of his mosque weren’t there to hurt him but to protect him.

Well, unfortunately, the violence continued that next week after 9/11.  So, the people decided that they were going to have a circle of peace again.  And Sister Margaret Zalot, principal of Maria High School, had gone back to her school that whole week.  And they suspended many classes and worked with the kids.  They told them stories about, through history when people have been turned against each other, when people have been used to hate one another to somebody else’s benefit.  So, maybe if kids heard these stories, they’d think. So they couldn’t be used against anybody or any other group.  And then they told them stories when people had stood together and the kids really learned.  Because when they heard Sister Margaret, they got it! Some of the teachers were going back the second time to make circles of peace.  You can imagine what they said.  “We want to go, too!  Come on, you’re teaching us about justice and standing together and universal diversity.  We’re gonna go too!”

But these really were dangerous times after September 11th.  The teachers couldn’t take the students somewhere there might be violence.  So, they came up with an alternative because they didn’t want to discourage the girls.  They said, “Why don’t you write letters to your Muslim neighbors?  Tell them how you feel.”  So, that next Friday, double, triple the crowd showed up at those mosques to make their human barricade, their circle of peace.  And when those folks came out from prayer that Friday, they were handed letters from the Maria High School girls.  And the letters said things like, “You are our neighbors, we love you.  We stand by you and for you.”  And people read those letters out loud and, I tell you, there wasn’t a dry eye off the street.  People were huggin’ and crying.

Well, through the months of that winter 2001 and 2002, Southwest Organizing Project joined with community groups from all over Chicago and decided to have a Muslim/non-Muslin dialogue.  But, you know how winter can be any who live in the north.  Oh my goodness!  You get a nice day and everybody just wants to be outside.  It was one of those kind of days, a Sunday afternoon.  They wondered would anybody show up to talk perfect strangers on a beautiful day in Chicago?  They had rented Navy Pier Ballroom.  What if there was nobody coming at all and it was empty?  Four thousand people showed up to share, to dialogue and even the high school girls modeled how to talk and dialogue with each other.  They asked each other questions and, I remember, the Maria High School student asking a girl from the Islamic school, “You know, I have to admit, I saw those hijabs, those headscarves you wear, and I thought it was kind of weird but then we girls got talking.  You know, you can have a bad hair day, that hijab would come in handy.”  And the Islamic girl said back to her, right in front of everybody, “You know, you have bad hair days, we have bad hijab days.  Sometimes you just can’t get those scarves to sit on right.”

So they would model or they would have some other people come up from Southwest Organizing Project would model talking to each other.  And then we in our small groups, they’d give us a discussion question.  Well, you can imagine the noise in that room with four thousand people!  You had huddle in close to hear each other.  I had a Muslim man, I had a teenage boy from the northwest side, I had two cab drivers who just heard about it and came driving on in and we huddled real close.  As we shared our lives and our hopes and our dreams, it’s like the energy just emanated out of Navy Pier up and down the lakefront, all across Chicago.  Because after that all, the white power and other demonstrations just stopped.

What does it take for ugly history not to repeat itself?  It takes people who are willing to go and stand in front of places they’ve never been, to protect a religion they’ve never practiced, to listen in their classrooms or in their community groups to different people’s stories so that we can cut through all that ignorance and fear, so that we can speak and we can celebrate the truth.  We are one.

Dr. King Came to Town

by Storyteller Susan O’Halloran

Story Summary:

Dr. Martin Luther King marches through Sue’s southwest side neighborhood in Chicago in 1966. Her family’s and neighbor’s reaction plus her own conflicted feelings rise just as the KKK makes its appearance.  (more…)

Vindication

By Storyteller Michael McCarty

 

Story Summary:

While in high school, Michael and some classmates make demands of his school to include more Black History in the curricula. The students hold a walkout and Michael is expelled. Decades later as an adult, Michael is brought back to the school to receive his high school diploma and the school’s gratitude. (more…)

Why Am I a Jew?

By Gerald Fierst

 

Story Summary:

 Gerry Fierst is someone who would describe himself as “spiritual”, but he also says: “I also love the ritual of religion which connects us to all who have gone before and all who will come long after we are gone.” Especially as Gerry got older, he realized der pintele yid lived inside of him as he could hear the words of his ancestors and pass the tradition of the blowing of the shofar on to his children.  (more…)

Albuquerque

By Storyteller Jerry Fierst

 

Story Summary:

Growing up in New York City, Gerry never understood that Jews were such a small percentage of the world’s population. In his neighborhood, one could go for blocks and blocks and never meet anyone who wasn’t Jewish. But when Gerry went to visit cousins who had retired to Albuquerque, he discovered that “we all look alike when we are the other.”  (more…)

THE NUNS

By Storyteller Gerald Fierst

 

Story Summary:

 Growing up in his New York City Jewish neighborhood was a world of homogeneity for Gerry. But an occasional intrusion of “alien nuns” could be truly scary to a young child unfamiliar with other religions.

For a print friendly version of the transcript, click here: The-Nuns

Discussion Questions:

  1.  Have you ever reacted with the same kind of fear that Gerry and his friends had when they saw nuns? What could the adults have done to help the children understand who the nuns were?
  2. What allows someone to react with curiosity rather than fear to someone or something that is different?
  3. Does every group have prejudices and biases? Does being discriminated or misunderstood yourself lead to your being more open-minded about others?

Resource:

  •  Catholic and Jews in Twentieth-Century America by Egal Feldman

Themes:

  •  Crossing Cultures
  • Interfaith
  • Jewish Americans/Jews
  • Stereotypes and Discrimination

Full Transcript:

History leaves us all with prejudices. For 2000 years, the Jews have been chased from country to country. They’ve always been the “other.”

“Well, my family, they fled Russia about a hundred years ago. The Czar of Russia had encouraged his subjects and his soldiers to kill Jews. One day, the Cossacks, the Czar’s horsemen, were riding into my little village the Zubkova.

My cousin heard the horse’s hooves in the street, and she ran out to get the children inside. But she wasn’t quick enough. There was the Cossack, sword drawn, coming down the street. She threw herself on the baby, and the sharp blade came down, right across her back.

And that night, my grandmother said, “Enough! We’re going to America!”

And so, we came to America, where we could be safe, where we could live with other Jews. But memories like that, they don’t go away. They’re in our culture. They’re inside our genes.

One day, when I was about five years old, I was sitting on the steps. My sister and my cousin were with me. We were playing, when suddenly I saw them. I’d never seen anything like that before, but I, I knew that they were dangerous. I knew it, in my DNA.

They were big, and they were black. And they seemed to be flying down the street, with big white wings that came out of their head. My sister, my cousin, they saw the look on my face. And then they looked, and then we three were all frozen in fear, as the monsters came, closer and closer.

“Where they going to kidnap us? Or maybe even worse?”

They reached us. They started to reach out their hands towards us.

“Good morning, children.”

Aah, aah, aah, aah, aah! And we ran inside. Escaping from the nuns.

Where Are You From?

By Storyteller Arif Choudhury

 

Story Summary:

 Bangladeshi-American Muslim storyteller, Arif Choudhury, shares stories about growing up as the only “brown-skinned boy” in the neighborhood and how 9-11 changed how others might perceive him and his family.  (more…)

Evacuation

By Storyteller Anne Shimojima

 

Story Summary:

What if the U.S. went to war with your country of origin? Anne Shimojima tells of the difficult days following the attack on Pearl Harbor, when her Japanese-American family were forced to evacuate their home. Could it happen to you? (more…)

More Alike Than Not

Featuring Arif Choudhury, Gerald Fierst and Susan O’Halloran

Story Summary:

Through exploring misconceptions and common threads such as immigration and disagreements within their own religions, these three tellers bring alive their distinct histories and our common humanity to illuminate the experience of being an American in a time of religious tension, change and possibility.  (more…)