Giving Voice to the Voiceless - Telling Stories for Change

September 16, 2011

By Ursula Oaks

Much has been said recently about the search for a common narrative in America. Some have noted that since 9/11, this country has struggled to find a shared expression of aspirations and vision, and that our public dialogue, our very use of language, has become ever more divisive – or, by turns, just plain uninspiring. Our politicians seem unable to find the words to rally us to common purpose. Our Google searches, thanks to algorithms that track every keyword we’ve ever used, give us results that confirm opinions we are already predisposed to hold. And despite the technologies that keep us plugged into a vast array of communication channels and make us reachable by an unprecedented number of strangers, we are in some ways more separated from one another than ever.

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It was with these thoughts in mind that I attended the Washington Office on Latin America’s Human Rights Gala here in Washington earlier this week. Much of what was said during the event, held in the magnificent Organization of American States headquarters near the White House, reminded me of the singular power we each, as individuals, still hold in our hands: the power to tell stories, and to craft a new narrative for change through those stories. For two of the honorees, the Ambulante Documentary Film Festival and the renowned Mexican film star Gael García Bernal, storytelling is nothing short of life-saving. Their work on documentaries about the plight of Mexican migrants making the agonizing and dangerous journey to the United States is critical to creating the basis for a new narrative – and for action – on human rights, immigration policy, and our basic responsibilities, as people sharing the same planet, toward each other.

I was particularly moved by something Mr. García Bernal said in his acceptance remarks: “Borders are not where we think they are. They are in our fears.” He predicted a time when physical barriers, like the fence between the United States and Mexico, would fall away, saying that these are obstacles we can overcome when we embrace our common humanity. Can we really, most of us, imagine such a time? What would it take for our public policies to be grounded in the reality that a migrant worker in Mexico and an investment banker in New York City are motivated by the same basic human desires and rights:  to live in dignity and peace? WOLA founder Joe Eldridge, who introduced Mr. García Bernal at the gala, put it this way: “Compassion and justice are companions, not choices.”

International educators, I have always believed, are the custodians of some of the world’s most compelling stories, of young people transformed, bridges built, friendships found, and a world ever so slightly altered toward peace each step of the way. It is those stories that help us make the case for policies that move us in the right direction as a country and as a global community.

Add Your View: What stories inspire you? Do you have an international education story to share? Add your views and stories in the comments, and read more stories from those touched by international education on Connecting Our World.


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