This month StoryCorps visited Our Lady of Lourdes Medical Center in Camden, New Jersey and recorded touching and heartfelt conversations about Lourdes, the city of Camden, and the lives of the hospital community.
From patients, doctors, nurses, and cafeteria staff to the CEO, board members, and founders of the Medical Center, our participants were kind and caring people who are dedicated to their work and reflect the Center’s mission to serve all those who come through their doors with “reverence, compassion and integrity in a simple, joyful and hospitable manner.”
Two of our storytellers were celebrating 50 years of service to their communities, and shared their wisdom with us.
José C. Massó III was born in San Juan, Puerto Rico in 1950. As a child, he grew up in Puerto Rico as well as Japan (where his father was stationed with the U.S. Army).
José started college at the University of Puerto Rico, but he decided to come to the United States to pursue a degree in journalism. He ended up at Antioch College in Ohio. José was excited to come to the United States, and thought he had many advantages: “I came armed for success in a sense that I already knew how to speak English and I knew a lot about United States history and culture. I was a baseball fan. I knew about music.”
José remembered his first day at Antioch:
I was having lunch and an African American called me the “n-word.” And I said, “Why are you calling me that?” And he said to me that I didn’t look Puerto Rican.
And I said, “What’s a Puerto Rican supposed to look like?” He said, “Well, they don’t look like you.”
That was my first day on campus, and I thought, “What was that?” On a very progressive, liberal university campus, that was the last thing I expected.
Within a week, I went through a series of shocks having to do with race, language, and culture. I realized that I knew more about the United States than the United States knew about me. And it was the moment that I decided that maybe my role was to be an educator.
After Antioch, José moved to Boston and taught at Copley Square High School. He also pursued his passion for communications and music by starting a radio show on WBUR called ¡Con Salsa! with José Massó. More than 34 years later, José still hosts ¡Con Salsa! and has devoted his life to education, communications, music, and politics.
José′s interview was recorded in partnership with the Latino Professional Network.
When Elizabeth Vaynshteyn came to the United States, she didn’t speak any English, but she knew how important it was to learn. She began taking courses at the College of New Rochelle School of New Resources. And in 2006 she graduated with a greater understanding of English and the culture of the United States. However, she still had one more lesson to learn.
As Elizabeth remembers: “I had a course [called] urban community. My teacher greeted the class, “Good morning, fox.” (At least that’s what Elizabeth thought she was hearing.) Something about the teacher’s language confused Elizabeth so she went to the dictionary to look up the word ‘fox.’ This further confused Elizabeth. “I opened the dictionary” Elizabeth says, “and I saw that ‘fox’ was an animal. I didn’t believe that a teacher I respected would call us that.” Finally, Elizabeth asked another student why the professor greeted the students in this way, “Good morning, fox.” As Elizabeth remembers, “She took a piece of paper and wrote two words.” The word ‘fox’ was the first word and the word ‘folks’ was the second. “See?” the student said, “The word is ‘folks’ with an ‘L’.” Elizabeth’s teacher was saying, “Good morning, folks.” After the confusion was cleared, Elizabeth was able to enjoy her class once more.
Elizabeth’s story is one of several recorded at Bronx Council Towers located in Co-op City with the help of the Met Council. Also, a very big thank you to SAR high school students who did a great job of interviewing all the storytellers.
Todos sabemos y no es ningún misterio que en la mayoría de los paises Latinoamericanos se vive desde hace varios años una realidad bastante difícil debido a la crisis económica que a su vez trae con ella una gran inestabilidad social, cultural, política entre otras. Lo anterior me remite a escribir sobre Gerardo Rivera de 42 años y su hija Norah Raquel Rivera de 18 años, quienes visitaron Storycorps en Noviembre del 2009, para recordarnos un poco sobre este país: Perú.
La entrevista comenzó con una pregunta simple pero a la vez un poco difícil de contestar. Su hija Norah preguntó: “Papa hablame de tu pasado y del por que tu decidiste colocarme Raquel como mi segundo nombre.” Gerardo respondió: “Hijita, yo nací en Perú en una época bastante difícil, donde la revolución y la lucha por los valores y por los derechos de los Peruanos era una constante. Los peruanos nos quejábamos por que el sistema político nos estaba acabando económica, cultural y socialmente, no teníamos empleo, no había igualdad de ninguna manera. Recuerdo una marcha bastante fuerte donde todos salimos a las calles y yo desafortunadamente al igual que tu madre resultamos arrestados por la policía.”
“A tu madre la llevaron a la cárcel y a mi no se cómo, me defendió una señora que a su vez participaba de la marcha pero como un milagro logro salvarme de aquella situación. Su nombre era Raquel.” Gerardo sigue con la conversación “en aquel momento de revolución es cuando yo tomo la decisión de venirme a los Estados Unidos, y es como llegué acá a la edad de los 18 años a trabajar y a tratar de sobrevivir.”
“Después de un tiempo de casado con tu madre, nuestra relación no funcionó entonces yo tomé la decisión de cuidarte, de criarte, tuve momentos en los que me tocaba llevarte a trabajar conmigo y cambiarte los pañales y así lo hice durante mucho tiempo, con sacrificios pero de la mejor manera posible y previendo para tí un futuro lejos de las carencias que yo tuve.” De los ojitos de Norah solo salían lágrimas de agradecimiento y admiración por su padre.
Con esta entrevista quisiera resaltar que un buen ser humano tiene la decisión en sus manos de construir y de aprender de las dificultades, y a su vez de prever un futuro mejor, sin importar de donde venga, dado que, lo fructífero de las situaciones difíciles es que moldea nuestras vidas y nos permiten surgir ante cualquier obstáculo.
At 7:30a.m. on a crisp, fall Atlanta morning, the Atlanta StoryCorps team left the StoryBooth and traveled some 40 miles north on I-75 to Woodstock (no, not New York) Georgia. Although the trip was somewhat shorter than anticipated, 40 miles in any direction from Atlanta plops one squarely in the sticks! In this case, we were in the north Georgia mountains. The air was drier, much cooler (actually, cold) and the sunlight seemed brighter. As we left the main road and followed the smaller one that would take us to the dining hall of the Cherokee Outdoor Family YMCA, it was clear that this was not going to be a typical recording day.
Our participants today were in the Atlanta area attending the Speak OUT Camp sponsored by COLAGE. COLAGE is “the only national, youth-driven network of people with lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or queer parents.” Today’s recording booth was a converted sleeping cabin–rustic, worn, dimly lit and cold. My very first participants, Miranda, 22, and Cara, 19, had only met the night before at the airport. They talked about their gay dads. Both women have fathers whom had been married to women but later admitted to themselves that they were gay or bisexual; thus decided to end their traditional marriages.
It’s hard to forget the story of Nick Berg. Nick was an American businessman who went to Iraq after the US invasion. He was abducted in 2004 by individuals claiming to be Islamic militants. Shortly after his capture, a video was released on the Internet showing Nick’s beheading at the hands of his captors. Nick’s father, Michael Berg, visited the MobileBooth in Norfolk, Virginia to share memories of his son.
“He was happiest a couple of thousand feet off the ground” says Michael Berg.
“He started his business, which he called Prometheus Methods Tower Service Incorporated, because Prometheus was the god who brought fire.” says Michael. Nick was in the business of building and repairing radio towers. He traveled widely, and often offered his services to poor communities in developing countries like Uganda and Kenya, Michael remembered.
“He developed this little company from that to one that employed five people.” said Michael. “He was entrepreneurial, but he was not interested in money except as a means of furthering his charity. I’ve always said that the child was father of the man. I often looked to Nick because he just had it so all together and I just, I really wanted to be more like him.”
Upon his return from a Kwanzaa festival in December of 1994, Malchijah Charles suddenly fell ill. He began suffering from seizures, slipped into a coma, and never recovered.
After losing her son to meningitis in 1995, Sharon “Ife” Charles was devastated and felt lost. “I felt as though my world had come to an end because the one thing I was sure I had done right in my life was having my son. Because of the kind of spirit that he had. When Malchijah died, the human part of me left. I focused everything on what it was to be a mom and dismissed what it was to be a woman, an individual, and so I lost me.”
In the aftermath of Malchijah’s death, Sharon Charles turned to the Yoruba faith and adopted the Orisa name “Ife”, which means love. This became a source of strength for her. “Ife became a name that stuck with me because each time I said it I was forced to say love.”
Roger Caban has been a resident in Spanish Harlem for over 65 years and came to the StoryBooth in Foley Square to paint a very vivid picture of growing up in “El Barrio.” “When I was a kid, Spanish Harlem was West Side Story. From 3rd Avenue west to 5th Avenue was all Puerto Rican. From 3rd Avenue to the river east was Italian. It was a real Mason Dixon line. You couldn’t walk to the pool by yourself, you had to have a gang.” Later Roger sheepishly qualified, “I had a very short history with a gang. I was in a gang called the Latin Gents. We had jackets and everything. I lasted about a week. I got beaten up, they took my jacket, and that was the end of my criminal career.”
Always the entrepreneur, Roger would buy shopping bags for two cents a piece and sell them on weekends for a nickel. “I would come home with my pockets bulging with coins. Five or six dollars was like a fortune to me as a kid.” His family owned the first television in their apartment building. “I grew up on television. All the kids would come up and I would charge them a penny to watch The Howdy Doody Show.”
On Wednesday 19 of August 2009, we had a great experience visiting the Willie Mae Rock Camp for Girls, a non-profit organization that brings together girls and women from diverse communities encouraging them to explore self-expression through music. It is hosted at the Urban Assembly School for Music and Art in downtown Brooklyn, New York.
It is very common to see people walking the streets with their i-Pod while waiting for the bus or train, listening to their favorites music. Sometimes people are making some movements with their hands, head, or foot when a sound is really powerful or when they really feel the music. For me, it was like that at Willie Mae Rock Camp, andÂ I did not have to use an i-Pod, just my camera and recording equipment. I was ready for the show. The recordings started at 9:00 am and by that time, I had already listened a lot of sounds: girls with their guitars or drums, playing and singing and composing music. Everyone was preparing for the big event: a performance at a professional rock venue!
Two weeks ago, the MobileBooth East headed south for the winter. Outrunning a weeklong Nor’easter on the Virginia coast, Mobile East pulled into Jacksonville, Florida to be greeted by snow cones, outdoor chess games, and 80-degree weather.
Geographically speaking, Jacksonville is the largest city in the U.S., boasting miles of open beaches and waterways. We kicked off opening day in the heart of downtown. Jacksonville’s Hemming Plaza-originally a village green-was the first park in the city, and is now the oldest.
Frances Kinne inaugurated the booth with the first conversation of the day, but Frances has been the first of many things. She was the first woman to become president of a Florida University when she took the position at Jacksonville University. She later became chancellor, and then chancellor emeritus. Frances shared stories of living in China, Japan, and occupied Germany while married to her husband Colonel Kinne, during World War II.
Alton Yates joined his daughter Toni Yates in the StoryBooth soon after. At the age of nineteen, Mr. Yates left his hometown of Jacksonville to serve in the Air Force. While stationed in New Mexico, he joined a research division studying the effects of g-forces on the human body. He did this by becoming the division’s “human guinea pig,” literally placing himself inside rocket sleds for testing. Mr. Yates remembered coming home from the relative egalitarianism of the military to return to a Jim-Crow era Jacksonville. He still has a scar on his head from an injury he incurred at a Civil Rights demonstration. The demonstration took place in front of a Woolworth’s department store that still stands downtown, not far from where MobileBooth East sits today.
Lisa Ray lost her father Lenoir when she was 6 years old. She doesn’t have many clear memories of her father, but one memory of when she lost her first baby tooth stands out.
After helping Lisa remove her first tooth, Lenoir sat Lisa down and explained that the Tooth Fairy would be on her way to collect the tooth as Lisa slept, and that she would leave a quarter in its place. Lisa showed the tooth to her older sister Vicki before dutifully placing the tooth under her pillow, climbing into bed, and drifting off to sleep. The next morning Lisa woke up, reached under the her pillow and found that her tooth was still there. Lisa ran to her parents and held out her hand with the tooth in it.
On Monday, November 23, five Brownies from Troop 565 of Newnan, Georgia visited StoryCorps Atlanta to prepare for the National Day of Listening. Ava, Chloe, Angelina, Carly and Annalie started their visit with a tour of the WABE and PBA studios where they met a number of Atlanta celebrities: Alicia Steele, Steve Goss, Rose Scott, John Weatherford, Lois Reitzes, and John Lemley. The scouts got to listen in as Lois mentioned their troop’s visit on air. The scouts had a chance to visit the Atlanta StoryBooth where they talked into the mics and learned how the facilitators adjust the sound. “I loved learning how to use the microphones!” says Annalie Harris.
After seeing the studios, the girls learned about StoryCorps and the National Day of Listening. They listened to StoryCorps clips and talked about the importance of listening as an act of love. The girls decided who in their in their family they’d like to interview for the National Day of Listening, the day after Thanksgiving. By interviewing a family member, the girls will earn the Her Story patch. “We really learned to listen to each other,” says Angelina Capponi.
After a long, long, long drive through the peaceful prairie of the Midwest, Mobile West headed south to the great state of Texas. Finally, we pulled into downtown Houston to begin our first Historias stop of the Mobile Tour! We will be parked at Discovery Green Park until December 19th recording the stories of Houston’s Latino/a community. With Thanksgiving right around the corner, some of our first storytellers came to share their favorite holiday foods:
Lizbeth Colocho, 9 (left), and Kierra Palmer, 9 (right), both love helping their mothers cook for the holidays. Lizbeth’s family tradition is making tamales for la Navidad. They remind her of her grandmother who lives in El Salvador. Kierra helps her mother make crawfish dressing every Thanksgiving. Kierra has helped her mother make crawfish dressing forever — that is, since she was seven years old. It takes a really, really, really long time to make–Kierra was emphatic. More than a hour!
Seitu, Amir and Tunisia Solomon come from three generations of steel pan musicians. As early as three years old their father taught them how to play and their uncle Phil made the drums in his factory in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
Amir explains if you want to know what a steel pan looks like, “just look at a garbage can in the streets.” The creation of a steel pan is work intensive. It starts out as a 50 gallon oil barrel then each steel pan is hammered, sculpted and tuned by hand.
The entire Solomon family travels together playing Soca, Calypso, Rumba and classical music at weddings and shows to the delight of audiences. While all three mentioned being in the spotlight and getting attention as highlights of performing, they emphasized that the real benefit is being part of a musical family. “There’s always something we can agree with at the end of the day because everyone plays music. It’s special to have a family that can come together, go downstairs and just perform and practice,” says eldest sibling Amir.
Seitu agreed. “I really like it. Any song that I hear I can refer to anyone in my family to help me learn. It’s good to have them there. My family can adjust to any mistake that I make. If I mess up or miss my cue for a melody they all just shift accordingly to help me out,” says Seitu.
Earlier this month, the San Francisco StoryBooth marked its one year anniversary with a small gathering at the Contemporary Jewish Museum. It was a chance for staff, former participants, and newcomers to come together to celebrate a great first year and look forward to the new one.
We listened to a variety of conversations that have taken place inside the StoryBooth: George DiVincenzi’s account of his first day as a guard at Alcatraz and Ken Hopper’s description of what it’s like to workÂ at the top of the Golden Gate Bridge – just to name two. Spanning a wide spectrum of emotion, from fall-on-floor-hilarity to contemplative sadness, the conversations showcased the most basic pillar of StoryCorps’ mission: everybody matters.
Listen to the amazing excerpts from San Francisco interviews that were played at the event here.
It was a great opportunity to hear how the participants themselves felt about their own stories, and for them to tell the stories that didn’t make it to the final tape. Most of all, it was a chance for people to come together and share a few memories and a few laughs with one another.
(Eloise Melzer and George DiVincenzi)
As you may know, our San Francisco StoryBooth will be open until November of next year. Make your reservations now.
Here’s to an amazing 2010!
“I was raised up on a farm, sharecropping” Lee Everet Dial told Nancy Gatlin, of Virginia Beach’s Judeo-Christian Outreach Center, a homeless shelter and recovery center. At 78, Lee is a former resident of JCOC, and still comes by for the occasional meal.
“When I was 11 years old,” Lee continued, “I used to take two big mules and turn ground all day long, out in the country. It weren’t easy.”
The oldest of eleven children, Lee worked 72 acres of cotton, corn, and tobacco on his family’s land in North Carolina. The job was year-round and left him with little time for school. “I got to school about two days a week, and I was the biggest kid in school. I got disgusted with school. My dad said, ‘you’re worth more to me at home than you are in school. You got to work on this farm. We got to live.’ And so it was hard,” Lee remembered. “And I still have a problem with not being able to read and write. But God sees me through.”
Lee brought his guitar to the booth. While growing up, he used to play clubs in Virginia and North Carolina. Today, Lee fills the booth with his bluesy renditions of “
As the Atlanta StoryCorps team settles in our new home at WABE, we want to make sure to thank WABE for their hospitality. We have been welcomed by all WABE staff – from the General Manager John Weatherford, who gave us a personal tour of the station, to the Director of New Media Wayne Sharpe, who participated in a StoryCorps interview, to the lovely front desk staff person, Jeanine Osborne, who happily buzzed us in the front door every day. Whether the topic is football (WABE has its own league), the best way to prepare stew (“never let it boil!”), or participating in our Friends and Family week (“yeah, sure, I’ll sign up for an interview slot”), our new hosts have been engaged, hospitable, and eager to make sure our needs are met.
The Atlanta StoryCorps audience has also been welcoming. Our first month of interview slots were filled within 48 hours. To make sure the city is even more attuned to our work here, WABE will air selected Atlanta StoryBooth interviews on their program City Café.
Thank you, WABE, for your gracious hospitality! Thanks also for the “conversations of a lunchtime” that you helped provide during our training weeks!
Visitors to San Francisco who come to Chinatown see a colorful, picture-postcard view of this densely populated area. San Francisco’s Chinatown has one of the largest population of Chinese people outside of Asia. Chinatown is familiar as a center of restaurants, shops and other businesses owned and operated by Chinese Americans, but in addition to being a major tourist attraction, it is the epicenter for ChineseÂ Americans in the San Francisco Bay Area and the West Coast.
On October 20th, StoryCorps paid a visit to On Lok Powell Street Center to record the stories of this amazing community. Since 1971, On Lok has been providing services for San Francisco seniors in centers throughout the city. The Powell Street Center offers a comprehensive package of services: clinics, doctors, nurses, physical and occupational therapies as well as recreational activities. On Lok’s focus is on supportive and preventative measures to keep it’s members within their communities and families for as long as possible. Beyond that, On Lok provides a place for seniors to meet and participate in group outings, companionship, and ethnic and cultural activities. For 38 years On Lok has helped people maintain their independence and dignity. StoryCorps came to honor and celebrate a few of these elders by recording their words in conversation with sons, daughters and social workers in the language that is native to them, Cantonese.Since I do not speak Cantonese, I was unable to understand exactly what was said during the recordings, but afterwards I asked the interviewers about the content of their conversations. Storytellers were asked about their years growing up and the memories of their parents and grandparents. Some told the saga of their immigration to the United States. At one point, Ting Foon Lee, while recalling a memory, began what sounded to me like the recitation of a poem. When I asked her daughter, Yvonne Lee, about this she said her mother loves poetry and had committed many poems to memory as a student and recited one for her daughter during their recording. As well as receiving the respectful care provided at the Powell Street Center, six Chinese-American elders were honored by their conversation partners and San Francisco StoryCorps facilitators.
In honor of StoryCorps Historias, Senior Coordinator Gabriel Higuera and his mother, Purita Higuera, came in to the Lower Manhattan StoryBooth to share stories.
Con el pasar del tiempo aprendemos nuevas cosas, y vivimos momentos de todo tipo, nos topamos con diferentes imaginarios y seres humanos, unos mas especiales que otros segun nuestro parecer pero todos transitando y conviviendo en un mismo mundo.
Hoy les quiero contar una historia con sabor Cubano-Americano una historia de nostalgia y musica. Todo parecia transcurrir como un sabado normal en el booth de Storycorps depronto veo a Gabriel Higuera el coordinador de Historias de nuestra organizacion, Gabriel venia acompanado de su madre Purita, que al verla sonrei inmediatamente la expression de su cara era una mezcla de dulzura y tranquilidad.
“Welcome to the Land of Oz!”
That was how our radio partner KMUW welcomed us as we pulled into Wichita, Kansas for our stop in the Wheat State. And the stories have been plentiful. Wichita, we learned, is the originator of many things: Pizza Hut, the electric guitar, Cessna airplanes, and yes, folks, the original White Castle. Pizza, and airplanes, and little, tiny, burgers, oh my!
Our first week of recording, Randy Cabral came in with his friend and colleague Heidi Johnson to talk about the first fully-tactile Braille American flag. Randy created the flag to honor his father, a World War II veteran who became blind later in life. The American flag was a big deal in the Cabral family. Every day his father insisted that it be raised and lowered in front of their house. As his father’s sight grew dim, Randy decided to dedicate himself to learning Braille and subsequently started the Kansas Braille Transcription Institute.
One evening Randy’s mother told him that his father, who was now completely blind, had confused their American flag with her scarf. That same evening Randy drafted the first-ever tactile American flag. Randy has toured the country with his flag, commemorating it at places such as Arlington National Cemetery, as well as giving a copy to President Obama. Some of his most prized memories, however, have been when he has witnessed blind Americans ‘see’ their flag for the very first time.