I have been in awe of the power of stories and silences my entire life. I grew up in the Tijuana-San Diego border region. Among my first teachers were elders who, forced to flee violence in their countries, had recently arrived in the United States from Vietnam, the Philippines, El Salvador, Guatemala, Nicaragua, and Mexico. In this little place on the planet where people work hard for the American Dream, we knew that everything would not automatically be okay. My childhood city has walls and armed officers surveilling a border. It also has miles of Pacific Ocean where sea life knows no borders. This can teach us to look up for another horizon, something organically life giving, to ask what is possible?
Our elders’ kitchen tables, the most joyful wise places I have experienced, taught me the responsibility of holding spaces to deeply listen. This listening is not just a matter of love — it is about survival. Here, I first learned that we make policies, practices and decisions based on stories we hear and share.
For thirty years, and in the last decade in Boston, I’ve been dedicated to what stories can do to disrupt structural violence. I worked as a human rights journalist in the Americas, Africa and Asia; an historian of legacies of slavery; faculty in history, Writing Studies and art; and in ongoing collaboration at the Universidad Nacional de Colombia and with desplazadas and community leaders in Colombia.
In our world’s most powerful knowledge constructing spaces, people most impacted by violence rarely share stories in their own words for listeners they identify as important. I contributed to this silence by publishing stories that “spoke for” instead of by and with. This inspired my dedication to story circles in visual and performance art, music, written word and other forms, led by people with deep knowledge about humanity, resilience, healing and community. We hold space for radical listening — building authentic relationships to co-create paths for social justice and liberation.