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‘You Are Both’: A Chicano Arts Historian Celebrates His Mexican American Heritage

Tomás Ybarra-Frausto grew up in the 1940s, just outside of San Antonio, Texas, on a ranch that belonged to his grandfather. He was raised in a bilingual family, but when Tomás started elementary school, he was told that he and his classmates could only speak English — not Spanish.

At StoryCorps, Tomás told his longtime friend Antonia how the land he grew up on, coupled with his family’s emphasis on language and culture, helped him appreciate his Mexican American heritage.

After spending more than two decades in New York, working as a Chicano arts historian, Tomás returned to his roots and settled back in San Antonio, Texas.

Top photo: Antonia Castañeda and Tomás Ybarra-Frausto at their StoryCorps interview in San Antonio, TX on March 23, 2012. By Anaid Reyes for StoryCorps.
Bottom photo: Tomás Ybarra-Frausto at his StoryCorps interview in San Antonio, TX on March 23, 2012. By Anaid Reyes for StoryCorps.

Originally aired July 31, 2020 on NPR’s Morning Edition.

“There Was No Hanky Panky”: A Couple Reflects On The Friendship That Led To 70 Years Of Marriage

Julia and Joel Helfman met when they were just kids — at 12 and 13 years old. Their friendship blossomed into a decades-long love story. And together they had five kids of their own, as well as 11 grandchildren and eight great-grandkids.

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A few months before their 70th wedding anniversary, Joel and Julia sat down at StoryCorps to remember how it all began.

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Top photo: Julia and Joel Helfman on their wedding day in November 1949. Courtesy of the Helfman family. 
Middle photo: Joel and Julia Helfman (center) with their five kids, c. 1972. Courtesy of the Helfman family. 
Bottom photo: Julia and Joel Helfman at their StoryCorps interview in Philadelphia, PA in 2019. By Eleanor Vassili for StoryCorps.

Originally aired July 26, 2019, on NPR’s Morning Edition. 

Walking in a Mother’s Legacy

Sada Jackson lost her mother, Ileana Watson, to breast cancer in 2016. Just after saying goodbye to her own mother, Sada became a mother herself.

Years later, Sada was still longing for all the moments they’d never get to share — and thinking about all the questions she never got to ask. So she sat down at StoryCorps in Kansas City, Missouri with her mom’s best friend, Angela Morehead-Mugita, to get to know her mom a little better.

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Top photo: Sada Jackson (right) at StoryCorps in Kansas City, MO in 2018 with her late-mother’s best friend, Angela Morehead-Mugita. By Savannah Winchester for StoryCorps.
Middle photo: Sada Jackson with her mother, Ilena Watson, in October 2014. Courtesy of Sada Jackson.
Bottom photo: Sada Jackson with her son, Kendrix, in November 2018. By Bria Siglar. 

Originally aired May 10, 2019, on NPR’s Morning Edition.

A Mother on the Challenges of Becoming a Teenage Parent

April Gibson and her teenage son, Gregory Bess, love talking to each other. Gregory says they can talk for hours, and that he feels he learns more from his mom than from school. But there was one subject that they hadn’t really explored.

So when the StoryCorps MobileBooth traveled to St. Paul, Minnesota recently, April invited her son to sit down with her for a recorded conversation.

Gregory asked about his mom’s childhood and their family’s past. He learned that his mom was a quiet kid who liked to write, and that his grandfather was a party DJ before becoming a pastor.

But April knew her 16-year-old had something more he wanted to talk about.

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Bottom photo: April Gibson and Gregory Bess in 2001. Courtesy of April Gibson.

Originally aired January 19, 2018, on NPR’s Morning Edition.

Chris López and Gabe López

Chris López always knew there was something different about her youngest child, Gabe. Assigned female at birth, Gabe felt like he was a boy.

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Gabe was always more comfortable in clothing traditionally worn by little boys — cargo pants and superhero shirts — but switched back and forth between these outfits and those often worn by little girls. Just after his seventh birthday, he convinced his parents to let him cut off his long hair and get a mohawk — a haircut he had been wanting for years. Around this time period, Gabe started dressing only as a boy and answering exclusively to “he”.

At first, Chris was concerned that Gabe, being so young, might change his mind. She was scared of how people would treat him as he transitioned. But after seeing how Gabe responded to the changes in his hair and clothing, she felt confident that he had made the right decision.

Gabe, who’s nine years old now, has been attending the same school since kindergarten. In the fall of 2016, when he started third grade, he began having others refer to him by his preferred gender pronouns —”he” and “him” — for the first time.

In 2015, the López family attended a camp for transgender, gender creative, and gender non-conforming youth in Tucson, Arizona.

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Gabe and his mother came to the StoryCorps MobileBooth to talk about how that camp transformed his life.

A version of this broadcast aired May 1, 2016, on NPR’s Weekend Edition Sunday, and was rebroadcast on March 3, 2017, on NPR’s Morning Edition. 

Middle photo: Gabe López. Courtesy of Chris López.
Bottom photo: The López family.

Marilyn Hillerman and Andrea Crook

After graduating high school, Andrea Crook (right) moved from her parent’s home in Northern California to Los Angeles. She was on her own for the first time in her life and had never before knowingly experienced the symptoms of mental illness.

A few years later, when she was 24, Andrea began having paranoid thoughts, delusions, and her behavior became erratic. One day she picked up the phone and called her mother, Marilyn Hillerman (left), who knew by the tone of her voice that Andrea needed her help.

Almost 20 years later, the two of them sat down for StoryCorps in Sacramento, California, to discuss that call and its aftermath.

Andrea is now married with two children, and serves as a client advocate liaison for Mental Health America of Northern California.

Originally aired October 9, 2015, on NPR’s Morning Edition.

Andy Downs and Angelia Sheer

Young Andy Downs with his father, pilot Brent Downs, and his mother.On Oct 4, 1971, George Giffe, a 35-year-old Tennessee man suffering from mental illness, hijacked a charter plane at gunpoint from the Nashville airport. He also claimed to be in possession of a bomb.

Running low on fuel, the plane’s pilot landed in Jacksonville, FL, where the FBI was waiting. After a brief standoff, Giffe killed the two hostages who remained onboard before turning the gun on himself.

One of the two was Brent Downs—the pilot of the plane.

downs4At StoryCorps, Brent’s son Andy (pictured above with his mother Janie and his father) spoke with Angelia Sheer, the daughter of the man who killed his father.

This tragedy helped shape the way in which law enforcement subsequently handled hijackings after a federal appeals court ruled in 1975 that the FBI acted negligently when agents ignored the safety of the people onboard (the plane is pictured above sitting on the tarmac in Jacksonville, FL).

Originally aired October 2, 2015, on NPR’s Morning Edition.

Photos courtesy of Andy Downs.

Patrick Kreifels and Michelle Kreifels

Michelle Kreifels was born with an intellectual disability. She grew up on a farm in rural Nebraska, the fifth of seven children, and her family treated her the same as everyone else.

Her youngest brother, Patrick, brought Michelle to StoryCorps to talk about their relationship and how their differences have brought them together.

Originally aired June 7, 2015, on NPR’s Weekend Edition Sunday.

Mussarut Jabeen and Yusor Abu-Salha

In May 2014, Yusor Abu-Salha (right)–one of the victims of the February 10, 2015 shooting in Chapel Hill, North Carolina–recorded a StoryCorps interview with Mussarut Jabeen (left), who was her third-grade teacher.

In fact, all three of the victims–Yusor, her husband, Deah Barakat, and her sister, Razan Abu-Salha–attended Jabeen’s school.

Mussarut Jabeen returned recently to talk about Yusor’s death.

Originally aired February 13, 2015, on NPR’s Morning Edition.

Jenny Carter and Sean Carter

Sean Carter was a college student putting himself through school in Wichita Falls, Texas, when he was in a serious car accident.

He was riding with a friend who had been drinking, and sustained a traumatic brain injury in the crash.

Today, Sean is unable to walk and speaks only with the aid of a computer. At StoryCorps he interviewed his mother, Jenny Carter, who is his full-time caretaker.

Originally aired February 6, 2015, on NPR’s Morning Edition.