The Stories You Need to Hear/See/Read and Understand
I was reading Runner’s World Magazine the other day when I noticed a theme in the stories they were telling in that issue. Most of the runner’s being showcased were LGBTQ+, a racial/ethnic minority, or a combination thereof. Their stories were very similar in that they grew up in the United States, isolated and lonely because of who they were. They faced different challenges because of their respective identities, many times having to explain their existence — or, worse yet, justify it — to the people around them. On the one hand, it made me sad to see such a level of misery in their existence solely because of who they were and the lives they wanted to live. On the other hand, it made me realize that there are far too many stories that need to be told to fully understand the richness and variety of human existence.
When we talk history, we often talk about the victors, the old (mostly) white men who conquered the world and controlled the narrative of how they conquered, who they conquered and why they conquered. Indeed, for many years in my childhood, we were forced (as in, it was not optional not to) to revere and celebrate Christopher Columbus’ arrival in the New World, Hernán Cortés’ triumph over the Aztecs, and the conversion to Christianity of the American continent. It took a long time for me to learn of the atrocities — the genocide — committed upon the Native peoples living in the Americas. Basically, it took me having access to alternative points of view, alternative voices, and books.
Then I came to the United States, and I was made to pledge allegiance to the Flag, to defend the names of old (mostly) white men who were referred to as “Our Forefathers,” and to fight anyone who would dare say that the United States was not the greatest nation in the world. Even though I saw so many things wrong around me, I couldn’t say anything about them, lest I am labeled a traitor or — most often than not — be told to go back to my country. Because that’s how it works, I guess… You give up and quit on something or someone if they are not up to the standards of Truth and Justice. Maybe?
Among the many things that this country does have going for it is the free and open access to most of the information in the known universe. Once in school, I could go to a library and find books and magazines on a variety of topics. With the advent of the internet, I could log onto the World Wide Web and meet and debate with a great variety of people. I listened to stories that were different from my own after an entire life of listening to experiences that were just like mine. And then came satellite radio and internet radio, and podcasts. I was taking in stories about all sorts of people from all over the world. I learned of their struggles, and I was inspired by their successes.
One of the big reasons why I ended up on the East Coast after college — and the only one in my extended family who lives east of the Mississippi — is because I met people online and in person who were from over here. They told me all about their lives in cities like Washington, DC; Baltimore or Philadelphia. I wanted that. I wanted to live like they did, in a place full of other people and culture, and with plenty of things to do. (The only fun in El Paso was to go across the border to Juárez and party, or to play soccer in the many parks.) When they told me that I could drive from one big city to another in a matter of minutes or hours, I was hooked. I wanted that for myself, so I moved out here. I am not disappointed.
Of course, these stories sometimes come with sadness, too. Some storytellers do an excellent job of tugging at my heartstrings and getting me to do something about the injustices they identify. Others fill me with hope when things are looking dire. Most of them entertain me and allow me to forget about the real world for a while. Because that’s what we need.
When I talk to my friends, I am always interested in listening to their stories, be they good or bad. I love listening to how they see the world because I don’t think that how I see the world is necessarily the best way to see it. Sure, I may shake my head in disbelief at the things that they’ve done, but I still find them interesting. And it’s kind of the same with strangers. I’m always willing to stick around for a good story.
As the world becomes smaller and smaller because of mass communications, I’m curious to see how stories will change. Will they retain their essential elements of introduction, presenting the conflict, the climax of the story, the resolution and the end (or a cliffhanger)? Or will we see more stories that are less personal and less entertaining as people without any kind of talent dominate social media?
Who knows? Whatever happens, though, I hope the stories are diverse and tell the stories of not just the conquerors, but the survivors… Not just the (mostly) old white men, but the young voices from far and wide of all colors and flavors.