Living in Direct Provision: 9 Stories

Undocumented in Ireland: Our Stories

Personal Projects

My interest in participatory, documentary practices is rooted to a passion for crafting intimate objects–photographs, poems, short stories and audio-visual narratives. Through creative and exploratory inquiry we make meaning of our lives and connect with others. We encounter disruptions, tensions and continuities. We express and evoke emotions and inspire ideas. We share of ourselves. These practices create  possibilities for individual and collective awareness, and understanding, across differences.

During the ’80s and ’90s I actively participated in the international Salvadoran solidarity movement. Like so many throughout the world, the Salvadoran and Nicaraguan movements for self-determination inspired me. I was the national student coordinator with the transnational Committee in Solidarity with the People of El Salvador (CISPES) and during this time I also organized with local and national organizations like the Native American Student Union, the Peace Resource Center, ACT UP, and Queer Nation. In all of these contexts, we intensively engaged with storytelling, which included getting diverse voices on radio, television and in print, meeting with local and national stake holders, and teaching in and out of high schools, universities and community centers. Even the decision to participate in civil disobedience involved an engagement with storytelling, in that it connected our social movements for inclusion, solidarity and human rights to historic struggles for social justice both within the United States, and internationally.

During those years, and particularly within the context of the solidarity movement, I began to think critically about the ways in which peoples’ embodied experiences, their stories, were being utilized. I became concerned with how ‘testimonial telling’ or ‘strategic essentialism’ impacted the storyteller. Within a Latin American context there is a tradition of testimonio, of witnessing, and a Judeo-Christian concept of the healing power of speaking out. However, as an interpreter, I began to have reservations about interpreting traumatic stories recounted by Indigenous and Latin American activists for primarily Euro-American audiences. This is all to say that the experiences of advocacy and activism raised complex questions and serious considerations regarding the power of narrative, and the politics, as well as the ethics, of storytelling.

These lived experiences inform and implicate (Stoller, 1997) my practice as scholar, educator and documentary storyteller. They drive my desire to engage with practices that break ground for subtle, multi-variant ways into narrative, in which the storytellers/collaborators/participants are actively involved in the construction of their own stories.