Growing Up – StoryCorps

Separated by Time and Distance, Best Friends Reunited After More Than Three Decades

Pak Yan and Joe Chan grew up in the same neighborhood in Hong Kong. They developed a close friendship, learning to ride bikes without training wheels and walking each other to school every day. Then, in 1962, Joe’s family moved to the U.S., seeking refuge amidst the Great Chinese Famine.

Pak Yan (left) and Joe Chang at a StoryCorps interview in San Francisco on September 18, 2014. By Geraldine Ah-Sue for StoryCorps.

An ocean between them, the two sent handwritten letters weekly via airmail. But after several years, as they moved and their addresses changed, the two lost contact. Pak often wondered what had become of his friend, and when he was 30 years old he also moved to the U.S. Years later—in 2000, when the internet was still relatively new—Pak decided to use Yahoo to search for his friend. He found 108 Joe Chan’s and called them one by one, leaving voice messages until he finally reached Joe on the 104th call.

“It’s like we just picked up where we left off,” Joe said. In 2014, the two men came to StoryCorps to remember their reunion.

Top Photo: Pak Yan (left) and Joe Chan (right) at Friendship Park in Richmond, CA soon after they reunited. The text on the rock reads ‘friendship’ in Chinese. 

This broadcast is supported in part by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, a private corporation funded by the American people, and the National Endowment for the Arts.

Originally aired November 25, 2022 on NPR’s Morning Edition. 

Your support makes it possible for StoryCorps, an independently funded nonprofit, to collect, archive, and share the stories of people from all backgrounds because everyone’s stories deserve to be heard.

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How An Unexpected Deportation Cut A Young Musician’s Career Short

Decio Rubano still remembers the day he learned to play the drums. He was 12- years-old and playing stickball outside his home in Bridgeport, Connecticut, when his uncle Jimmy pulled up in his car. It was the start of WWll and Jimmy, a working musician, had just lost his drummer to the Army. Rubano remembers his uncle saying, “Hey kid, I need a drummer tonight, so you’re going to play.” Jimmy took out two spoons and showed Rubano how different beats were played.

From that first performance, Rubano says he got “the bug” and couldn’t stop making music. After high school, his career as a drummer was taking off until one night, when he was visiting his grandparents, a pair of immigration officers knocked on the door—Rubano was quickly deported to Montreal, Canada.

Middle Photo: At 17 years-old, Decio Rubano began his professional drumming career when he was scouted to play on the Arthur Godfrey radio show in Miami. Courtesy of Gina Livingston.

Rubano had been born in Montreal because his opera singer mother had taken a job for the season at the Montreal Civic Opera while pregnant with Rubano. As a young man, Rubano was shocked to learn he was not a U.S. citizen.

Rubano signed up for the U.S. Air Force and served in the Korean War. While he continued playing the drums for many years, he never returned to the music business. At StoryCorps, Rubano tells his daughter, Gina Livingston, “I did one thing right in my life. I raised you. You’ve been a joy as a daughter. Everybody should be as lucky as I am.”

Bottom Photo: While stationed on Johnston Island with the US Air Force, Decio Rubano hosted a jazz radio station in his spare time.  Courtesy of Gina Livingston. 

Top Photo: Decio Rubano and Gina Livingston at their StoryCorps interview in Decatur, Georgia on October 31, 2022. By John St. Denis for StoryCorps.

This broadcast is supported in part by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, a private corporation funded by the American people, and the National Endowment for the Arts.

Originally aired November 11, 2022, on NPR’s Morning Edition. 

Your support makes it possible for StoryCorps, an independently funded nonprofit, to collect, archive, and share the stories of people from all backgrounds because everyone’s stories deserve to be heard.

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A Teen Asks Her Mom: ‘When Can I Wear The Hijab?’

Like any 14-year-old Dana Aljubouri is navigating the rites of passage on her journey to adulthood. Dana, a devout muslim living in Jacksonville, FL, is eager to begin covering her hair. To her, the hijab demonstrates her pride for her religion and her family’s culture. But her mother, Basma Alawee doesn’t think she’s ready.

Basma Alawee and Dana Aljubouri pose for a selfie in Jacksonville, Florida. 2022. 

The family came to the U.S. from Iraq in 2010, when Dana was not yet two years-old. Since then, Basma has been made to feel uncomfortable, even unsafe, while wearing her hijab in public spaces in Florida. She worries about her daughter, and wants her to wait.

Mother and daughter came to StoryCorps to discuss this important decision.

Top Photo: Basma Alawee and Dana Aljubouri at their StoryCorps interview in Jacksonville, Florida on October 7, 2022. Andrew Avitabile/StoryCorps.

This broadcast is supported in part by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, a private corporation funded by the American people, and the National Endowment for the Arts.

Originally aired October 21, 2022, on NPR’s Morning Edition.



The Chief of a Louisiana Tribe Reflects on Being Displaced by Climate Change

Members of the Jean Charles Choctaw Nation are slowly leaving the land they’ve lived and farmed on for generations… as stronger and more frequent storms hit the Louisiana coastline. 

Chief Albert Naquin remembers growing up on Isle de Jean Charles, LA in the 1950s. He came to StoryCorps with his nephew, Démé Naquin Jr., who also grew up on the island. 

Middle Photo: Démé Naquin Jr., looking out on the Jean Charles tribe’s ancestral burial ground on Isle de Jean Charles, Louisiana. By Von Diaz for StoryCorps.

Hurricanes are common across the region, but climate change has increased the frequency and destructiveness of these storms, leading to flooding and coastal erosion, and destroying homes and local infrastructure. 

Chief Naquin believes relocation is crucial for his community to keep them safe and preserve their history and culture. Since 2002 he’s made multiple attempts to acquire the funds and support needed to move the remaining families off the island and reunite the tribe in a new community on higher ground. But his efforts have been stunted by numerous factors, including the inability to reach consensus within their tribal council, and a planned move that was halted when community members in neighboring Bourg, Louisiana protested the tribe’s relocation there. 

 At StoryCorps, he spoke with his nephew about their memories of the island, and their shared hope for their entire community to be together again.

Top Photo: Chief Albert Naquin and Démé Naquin Jr. at their StoryCorps interview in Montegut, Louisiana on September 17, 2022. By Zanna McKay for StoryCorps.
Bottom Photo: An abandoned home on Isle de Jean Charles, with a sign reading, “Isle de Charles is not dead. Climate change sucks.” By Von Diaz for StoryCorps.

This broadcast is supported in part by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, a private corporation funded by the American people, and the National Endowment for the Arts.

Originally aired September 23, 2022, on NPR’s Morning Edition.

A Sister Shares A Cherished Memory That Carried Her Through Childhood

Sisters Amy McNally and Emily Fortner grew up in the 1980s in rural Ohio.

They were raised by a single mom in an old farmhouse, where they didn’t cross paths with many neighbors. Whenever someone did come knocking on their door, it would be a hunter asking if they could track their deer onto their property. 

In July of 2022, Amy came to StoryCorps to share one special childhood memory, and why it stood out to her.

Amy McNally and Emily Fortner (center and right) with their mother, Nan Barnebey (left), in the early 1990s in Ft Lauderdale, FL.
Top Photo: Emily Fortner and Amy McNally. Photos courtesy of the participants.

This broadcast is supported in part by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, a private corporation funded by the American people, and the National Endowment for the Arts.

Originally aired Sept. 2, on NPR’s Morning Edition. 

After Four Decades In The Classroom, A Texas Teacher Is Keeping History Alive

Nelva Williamson grew up in a small town near Cape Cod, MA. Her mother was a teacher for 52 years and her father was a career military man.

Nelva Williamson (center) poses with her mother, Vird Ella Williams (left), and her father, Harold Williams (right), at Nelva’s college graduation. 

Nelva grew up with a love and respect for learning that she carried with her throughout her life. As a young woman she found herself drawn to the classroom, and 42 years later that’s still where you will find her. When faced with the option of retiring, Nelva instead decided to help found a public high school in Houston, Texas. The school is an all-girls institution serving predominantly Black and Hispanic students.

Nelva came to StoryCorps with her son Timothy J. Harris to reflect on her 42-year career and the importance of teaching ‘the whole history.’

Top Photo: Nelva Williamson and Timothy J. Harris at their StoryCorps interview in Houston, Texas on May 26, 2022. By Jey Born for StoryCorps.

This broadcast is supported in part by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, a private corporation funded by the American people, and the National Endowment for the Arts.

Originally aired August 26, 2022, on NPR’s Morning Edition.

A Special Project To Keep Dad’s Memory Alive

Since he was in high school, Al Plumley could be found under the hood of a car, fixing it himself.

In high school, Al Plumley treasured his blue Mustang. Courtesy of Ashley Cosme.

When he raised his three daughters in Northern Indiana, he spent a lot of time teaching them about his passion for fixing up old cars.

Al Plumley (center) with his wife and daughters in 2021. Courtesy of Ashley Cosme.

Al died in October of 2021. His middle daughter, Ashley Cosme, came to StoryCorps with her husband, Nicholas, to talk about how they are keeping his memory alive.

Top Photo: Ashley and Nicholas Cosme at their StoryCorps interview in Chicago, Illinois on July 27, 2022. Taken for StoryCorps.

This broadcast is supported in part by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, a private corporation funded by the American people, and the National Endowment for the Arts.

Originally aired Friday, August 5, on NPR’s Morning Edition.

Her Father’s Piano And A Page From WWII History

Loretta Berning’s father, Air Force Pilot Major Harold Martin, spent most of World War II training other pilots stateside. But just after the war he was stationed in Germany, flying relief supplies to Allies trapped behind Soviet lines in Berlin.

Harold was also an accomplished musician, playing saxophone in Big Band Jazz groups. Loretta and her younger sister grew up in a house full of music and were expected to learn the piano from a young age.

Harold Martin (5th from the Left in the back row) posing for a photo with Purvis Henson and his orchestra at Macdill Air Force Base in 1947. Photo courtesy of Loretta Berning.

While in Germany, Harold had found a rare and precious object that he had flown back to the States after his tour. It was a Victory Vertical Piano, made by the Steinway and Sons piano makers. In 1942 Steinway was tapped to make war-proof pianos for troops in the field.  In total they made about 2,500 pianos  built to be strong enough to be dropped out of supply planes, resistant to the humidity of the Pacific, and small enough to fit on submarines. Each piano was delivered by parachute from a supply plane.

Loretta Berning, age 15, pictured with the family’s Victory Vertical piano. 

When Harold brought the piano home after the war, it was one of the few to make the roundtrip journey back to the States. For Loretta, it was a lifelong reminder of her father and his love of music.

Top Photo: Loretta Berning at her StoryCorps interview in Mandeville, LA on May 11th, 2022. By Katie Fernelius for StoryCorps.

Originally aired July 30th, 2022, on NPR’s Weekend Edition Saturday.

This broadcast is supported in part by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, a private corporation funded by the American people, and the National Endowment for the Arts.

An Adoptee Reflects On The Mother-Daughter Bond That Carried Her Through the Loss Of Her Birth Family

In 2000, Jami Miyamoto traveled to China during the era of the “One Child” Policy to adopt a 10-month old baby girl. Originally, Jami had the name “Maya” in mind, but after spending time with her daughter, Jami stuck with her given name, Delian, and they use the shortened name of “Daily” today. 

Jami holding 10-month-old Daily in China, June of 2000. Courtesy of Jami Miyamoto.

Daily doesn’t remember when she first learned that she was adopted. Her mother has always talked openly about it. They both hope to know more about Daily’s birth family, and it’s a curiosity that reinforces their bond.

Recently, Daily and Jami came to StoryCorps to reflect on their closeness, and what it means to Daily to look into her past.

Top Photo: Daily and Jami Miyamoto in Santa Monica, CA on July 26, 2022. Courtesy of Daily Miyamoto.

Originally aired Friday, July 29, 2022, on NPR’s Morning Edition.

This broadcast is supported in part by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, a private corporation funded by the American people, and the National Endowment for the Arts.

After 82 Years, A Grandfather Inspires His Grandson To Live Full Of Honesty And Love

When Jeffrey Perri was growing up in Rochester, New York, his grandfather, Tony Perri, came out to him as gay. Jeffrey was only 9 years old. Years later, Jeffrey also came out, and what was already a close relationship became something even more meaningful for both of them.

They originally came to StoryCorps to reflect on their stories and relationship in 2009

Tony had remained friends with Jeffrey’s grandmother, Shirley Perri, after they divorced, and Tony went on to have two more long term relationships. These men were “uncles” to Jeffrey, and Tony modeled loving relationships throughout Jeffrey’s childhood.

Now, in 2022, Jeffrey and Tony returned to StoryCorps to reflect on their shared connection — and Tony’s feelings about aging and family.

 

Top Photo:
Jeffrey Perri and Tony Perri on May 7th, 2022 at a family wedding. Courtesy of Jeffery Perri. (L) 
Jeffrey Perri and Tony Perri at their StoryCorps interview in Rochester, NY on July 11, 2009. By Jeremy Helton for StoryCorps. (R)

Originally aired July 22, 2022, on NPR’s Morning Edition. 

This broadcast is supported in part by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, a private corporation funded by the American people, and the National Endowment for the Arts.