My California Listens Story
By Tatiana Beller
In 2016, I left California. It was the same year as the project of California Listens began. Before the fateful drive from Berkeley to Asheville, NC, I had co-facilitated eight of the twelve workshops. In the next two years, I had the privilege of being part of another eighteen more. Each time I arrived back in California for the summer, it was a culture shock. I was immersed again into a state that had both welcomed me and spit me out. As part of California Listens, I was able to bear witness to hundreds of stories. Each story was as unique and beautiful as the person sharing it.
Returning to California always brought with it the collision of worlds for me as a white Latina. In Asheville and everywhere, I pass. I don’t look like a foreigner, much less like a Mexican. I am aware of that privilege and the fear that comes with it. When people ask me where I come from, I usually reply, “It is complicated.” I’ve had enough comments like “Isn’t it nice to live in a place that so white, and people speak English” to know that declaring yourself a foreigner in a very white town like Asheville is not safe.
In California, the problem is different. When teaching a workshop, most of the time I am not sure how declaring myself a Latina will be seen. Am I seen as a poser because I am white? Will I then create a space that feels unsafe? I usually keep silent. When I listen to the stories that are part of my people, my country, or my culture, I feel my silence deeply. It is not my place to share.
My place is to listen and to hold those stories so that they become as dear to me as my own stories.
History by Nancy Melendez
I have shared Nancy’s story countless times in the three years since she attended the Riverside workshop for California Listens. It is a story of stereotypes. She tells the story of what it is like to be a Latina whose family has been part of the United States since before the United States was a country and the assumption that she is an immigrant. I loved the story because it breaks the stereotype. She is effectively not a Latin American woman. She does not belong to any Latin American country. She is an American. That is the only place she belongs, but the color of her skin defines her as an other, therefore she has spent her life contradicting people’s assumptions of who she is and where she is from. I love the story because it brings a stereotype crashing down.
A Very Wild Trip to the Beach by Vital Osegueda-Munguia
There a times when I listen to someone share their story in StoryCircle and then even when I am seeing their film, and I can feel the story down to my bones. This is one of those stories. It took me home. Even though the country was Costa Rica and not Mexico, I knew the dirt muddy roads in the jungle. I knew what it was like to have a car stuck there. I could picture the conversations of the men as they tried to get the car unstuck. I could feel the humidity and the smells. I could picture the oxen and even the beach. As he shared the moment of his life where he felt deeply connected to his father, I as the facilitator and the audience went to my own experiences driving into the house in Acapulco. I heard my mother’s stories. I heard my grandmother’s stories. His story transcended in me beyond his own experience.
A Childhood in Politics by Jessica Ceballos
In the richness that is California Listens, every so often a story is told that is so relevant to our present moment, it brings injustice to the forefront in a very powerful way. Jessica Ceballos told that story. For every Latino, the separation of children from their immigrant parents is part of the great risk of immigration. There is an instinctual fear of government. As media fills the airwaves with stories of separations, rarely do we hear of the impact of separation from the voices of the children. Jessica Ceballos tells the story of what is was like to be in foster care because her father couldn’t claim her because of his illegal status without losing everything including her.
As I listened to these stories, I felt them. I could relate. I could feel them. I could feel the injustice and the rage.
As the facilitator, I listened. As a result, not one of these participants ever knew that I was a Latina as well who understood those experiences. Because when they asked where I came from, I also answered, “It’s complicated.”