I think life can be thought of as a story—and if you don’t like yours, or the story of our country at large, then you need to introduce new characters and new events into it in order to change it. That’s how plot moves. How characters become someone different--someone better. Ways to do this: Go to events. Attend a lecture. Volunteer.
Today I went to an event that had a similar message, and it blew me away.
Cristina Henriquez wrote The Book of Unknown Americans. Apparently the book has a tremendously sad ending, and Henriquez commented on that saying, “Some people read to escape. They don’t want a sad ending. I don't read to escape. I read because I want to see life, I want to see it from new perspectives.”
She told us that there are two functions of literature: One is to see yourself. The second is to see beyond yourself.
Her book is a collection of stories about ordinary people, stories which are now more important than ever. The stories also feature immigrants who have come to America, all for different reasons.
One story: Her father, a Panamanian-American, married an American woman in college many decades ago, and has lived here ever since. She says since Trump was elected, he now carries his passport with him everywhere he goes.
Henriquez says that the message in the media today is that immigrants are bad. The word itself has been poisoned.
She says to use terms like “undocumented” erases a person’s humanity, and reduces them to paperwork. They are not--they are people. They watch football games, and drop their kids off at school, and grocery shop. And she believes that a way to change the narrative is to introduce the ordinary.
Ordinary stories are counterbalance to the media narrative. Immigrants, she says, are just human beings with stories, like you and me.
I think her words that hit me the most were
SHE GAVE US AN EXERCISE TO DO: Next time you see someone, maybe at the grocery store, don’t make up an assumption about them—make up a story. Where did they come from, what do they do? She says that if you imagine often enough, stories will change the way you think. You can learn compassion. You can learn empathy.
In one story her narrator says, powerfully, “Maybe if they were to know us they'd find we were a lot like them. And who would they hate then?”
I feel like, despite the charged, often hateful rhetoric we see in the media, we ordinary people all generally believe in many of the same things. That people—we the people, all people—should be treated with kindness. That we should strive to do no harm. That, of course, we should do unto others.... The rest are just details. Unfortunately, the details are what politicians use to tear us all apart.
So much depends on the stories we choose to tell.