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"I'm fuerte and I can do this": Learning from Our Storytellers

My English Composition students have had to complete oral histories for the past few years now, and recently I have recommended that they ask their narrator (interviewee) to bring a photo or an item for their interview. With this small move, I’ve noticed their oral histories have become richer and more in-depth, and many student writers have included these photos in their completed oral history.

The photo here reflects one such oral history. At left, Jennifer, the interviewer, embraces her mother Cristina, the narrator. At the end of the oral history, Cristina shares how she went to school in order to learn English and soon graduated with her GED, which provided a path for her children:

... that's why I decided to go to school to learn how to speak English because being in the U.S. was difficult, but since I tried to learn, it was a little better trying to communicate in English. It was hard because I was a young mom. I was 17. I had no experience in anything. After my daughter was born, I went to school with a stroller, and my husband was working. I did the G.E.D. First, I started classes for English. There was a daycare, and it made many opportunities because since while I was in the classroom my baby was in a good place, while I was studying.

They had this small ceremony where you wear the cap and gown. It was fun and it was exciting because... my kids can see that, since I graduated from high school, my kids can graduate from college and the key is to study….

I think that life is not easy, but since like every single people has a different life, we are born without noticing anything, so we have a way to learn step-by-step. Sometimes, many things need to happen to us in order to learn. Sometimes it’s bad, sometimes it’s good, but we need to take the good things in order to be happy. In order to be strong and have the strength to think, Oh, I’m fuerte and I can do this.

That last line highlights the power of stories like Cristina, which also created a foundation for Jennifer’s story, a story—like Cristina’s—that is still unfolding. I hope that during these challenging times, we acknowledge the ways that storytellers are fuerte and how they have led and are still leading the way.

For educators and parents (often the first educators!), I recommend checking out our resources for younger children and older children (including the young at heart). This is a great time to listen to the elders in our families and communities and record their stories for ourselves and future generations.

NOTE: The photo and the excerpt are shared with both people’s permission. The oral history has been edited for length.

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