How Storytelling Connects, Empowers, and Frees

By Alicia Soller, ECAASU National Board Managing Editor

I’ve always been drawn to storytelling. Give me a book to read, podcast to hear, or pen to write, and I’m immediately taken to a place of solidarity, comfort, and connection. As a writer I can use this tool to articulate diverse experiences and to share narratives otherwise unexplored. 

Recently I’ve tried to trace the foundations of my affinity for storytelling, and it led me to my childhood, where stories were a powerful force in understanding my roots as an intersectional Filipina American and fortifying my identity. 

A powerful quote by James Baldwin captures this solace:

“You think your pain and your heartbreak are unprecedented in the history of the world, but then you read. It was books that taught me that the things that tormented me most were the very things that connected me with all the people who were alive, or who had ever been alive."

My parents are my favorite storytellers and the bearers of family tradition. The stories of childhood and adolescence as 1.5 Filipino Americans shows me narratives I won't be able to find in any traditional textbook and narratives represented in mainstream media. 

I’ve learned that my dad was quite the adventurer in the Philippines. He once recalled how he stole calesas (two-wheeled carts in the Philippines) on his family’s land, gallivanting around with it as a seven-year-old boy.  His stories after he and his family immigrated to Queens, NY painted a complicated picture of what it was like to be an Asian American male in a historically white American part of his neighborhood, and the challenges of asserting his American identity in this community.

My mom to this day refers to the Philippines as home. Her voice takes a certain tone of fondness when speaking about her home close to the beach. Relaying these stories to my siblings and I are the ways she stays connected to her past. From age 8, my mom grew up in many parts of the American South, from West Virginia, to Mississippi, to Florida. Her stories similarly illustrated a complicated story of being Asian American in predominantly white communities--and in states notorious for their history of racial discrimination.

These stories have connected me to something so seemingly distant and have been pivotal to fortifying my identity. These are the lived experiences of my parents and their families, and they have exposed me to the depth of my roots more than any formal education or mainstream media portrayal ever will. 

I’ve questioned so many times what it means to be Filipino American in my own skin when the answers were laced through the stories of my family. These stories connect me to a culture that belongs to me, no matter how far removed I feel from it. I find solace in these stories, because no matter how distant my roots seem, I will always be undeniably connected to them by tradition. These stories will continue to transcend generations and build upon each other and the rich history of lived experiences it has already created. 

There is so much to learn and gain from each other,  and more than ever will we need to expand the narratives that are represented in mainstream media or traditional education to combat dangerous rhetoric and stereotypes that seem to define and oppress marginalized communities. Storytelling expands our minds and connects us to each other in ways arguably no other form of communication can match. Storytelling has incredible power--it connects us, educates us, empowers us, and frees us. Let's make sure our stories never go unheard.