Free event at Sac State to amplify the voices of immigrants

Born to traditional Mexican parents, Diana Medina saw the world through a different lens than many of her American peers.

“Our cultural experiences color how we see things,” said Medina, whose parents immigrated to the United States from Mexico before she was born. Growing up in Southern California, “I was Mexican in our house and American out of it,” she said.

Ximena Ospina shares a story about her life as an immigrant during the Immigrant Stories 2021 event.

On Friday, October 28, Ximena Ospina, pictured at a previous event, and five others will take the stage to talk about their travels during the Immigrant Stories event in Sac State. (Sacramento State Records)

On Friday, October 28, Medina and five others will take the stage in Sacramento State to share personal stories about immigrant life.

The public is invited to the free event, which will take place from 6 to 8 p.m. in the University Union’s Hinde Auditorium.

Immigrant Stories is a presentation by the nonprofit group Capital Storytelling, founded in 2018 by Lisa Cantrell, an associate professor of child and youth development at Sac State, and the Dreamer Resource Center, which serves undocumented students and their families.

According to Cantrell, research has shown that hearing personal storytelling can lead people to develop more positive perceptions of refugees, transgender people, the homeless and others. Friday’s event will help storytellers process their immigration experiences and offer audiences opportunities to better understand their backgrounds and interactions, she said.

“For the storyteller, it gives meaning to our experiences and helps us make sense of our lives,” Cantrell said. “The stories create empathy in the audience. They see the person as an individual, not as a stereotype. You care about her.”

PhD student Ximena Ospina from Sac State is among the October 28 storytellers.

Ospina was 7 years old when her family immigrated to California from Colombia as part of the political asylum process. Although some of her relatives followed her to the US, she missed her homeland and feared breaking away from her Colombian identity.

Stories shared with her family members kept her grounded.

“Hearing stories about the motherland energized me and connected me to my homeland,” she said, despite not returning to Colombia for many years.

“We’re all just trying to find a home.”

Cantrell said she wants to use storytelling events to promote compassion and understanding in Sacramento and beyond.

“The United States is so polarized right now,” she said. “I think storytelling can fix a lot of that.”

Meghna Bhat tells a story about her life as an immigrant during the Immigrant Stories 2021 event.
Meghna Bhat and five others will share personal stories of immigrant life on Friday 28 October. (Sacramento State file)

The event will also feature stories from Kimberly Gomez, a first-generation Mexican who coordinates the Dreamer Resource Center; Nancy Awad, a Sac State student from Egypt; Meghna Bhat, an educator raised in India; and Vahideh Allahyari, a Sac State student from Iran.

Medina’s story focuses on the first time her father, who had little formal education, was able to help her with her homework. She was in seventh grade and had to create an art project. Medina’s father, a woodworker, helped her build a Ferris wheel using popsicles.

“I’ll always remember that because he was able to help me with that for school,” she said. “It was a tiny moment, but very meaningful to me.”

Cantrell launched Capital Storytelling in 2018 with funding from Sac State. Since then, she has led events, workshops and classes across the city, attended by nearly 4,000 people.

Immigrant Stories was originally scheduled for 2020, but the pandemic put the plans on hold.

“We didn’t revisit it until this year,” Cantrell said. “We really want it to be a space to empower and amplify immigrant identities.”

Medina said she hopes audiences will realize that people, regardless of background, can find common ground in their experiences.

“I hope they find little bits of themselves in the stories they hear,” she said.

About Cynthia Hubert

Cynthia Hubert arrived at Sacramento State in November 2018 after an award-winning writing career for the Sacramento Bee. Cynthia believes everyone has a good story. She lives in East Sacramento with her two cats, who enjoy birdwatching from their perch by the living room window.

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