Written by Cookie Zvovushe
Growing up in a household of six kids, it was a constant competition to see who could outshine the other to get noticed by either one of my parents. I figured out pretty quickly that I could stand out from my other siblings by making my mom or dad laugh, and the easiest way to get laughs was by telling an animated story.
As an adult, not much has changed; storytelling has given me a way to assert my voice. I still use laughter and anecdotes from my life to connect to my communities.
In the battle to be seen in a town where it’s easy to feel invisible as a person of color, Che Che Luna, Elina Lim, Carlos Kareem Windham, and Raj Patra have developed their ability to connect with themselves and others through the magic of creativity. I had the honor of speaking with each of them and learning about how storytelling has impacted their lives. The people in this story have made it their mission to infuse culture into storytelling in order to foster a true sense of connection between individuals.
Che Che Luna
Che Che Luna was born with an energy that was never meant to be contained. After escaping their crib and endlessly climbing on furniture at the age of three, their parents decided that Luna should be enrolled in gymnastics. This decision led to many years of competitive gymnastics, but after a fateful accident where their back was broken, Luna could no longer do gymnasts, which led them to discover the healing power of dance. Luna describes their early experiences with dance as “medicine,” and “ really really healing in times when I felt isolated or alienated because of my home life.”
Using their body to express emotion, Luna realized that this ability and artform is its own language. They are now a trauma-informed sex-positive educator. Luna began to explore the sensuality of dance and how that could be used to tap into one’s higher self.
Luna identifies as a nonbinary Mexican American and all of their language, curriculum, and presentation prioritizes inclusivity. “I’m learning that I give myself permission to tell my really raw, uninhibited story, to show my vulnerability, to be my most unapologetic, sensual, sexy self. This is the single most impactful way that I’m giving others the agency to do the same,” says Luna whose dancing, sex-positive lessons, and motivational content can be found on Instagram. Luna’s storytelling is unique in the sense that it’s unapologetically inclusive, using identity representation and language to connect with their audience.
“It feels integral that I’m using language that’s encompassing and welcoming in all different genders… all different identities… all different races and abilities and sexualities.”
Elina Lim is a theater kid-turned-storyteller. After listening to American stories from The Moth Lim realized that an on stage storytelling platform was missing in Singapore, where she lived at the time. “I’ve listened to thousands of stories [on The Moth] and I wish there was something like this in my home country,” she says. “So I started it… and people started doing it.” Lim was determined to recreate the gravity and emotions experienced by creating a space for regular people to share an extraordinary tale.
“When I came here I felt like every event I went to I was the only storyteller of color or one of the few,” Lim explains, “and I didn’t want to hear only white narratives because of the daily life I was navigating in Portland. I wanted to hear different stories.”
To solve that problem, Lim founded Invisible Spectrum Stories, a POC-centric storytelling production in Portland. Her event provides a space for people of color to feel safe and seen, curating a show for storytellers to come forth and have their truth witnessed.
Over time Lim has fine-tuned her storytelling skills and cultivated an authentic and creative voice. “I think that I now try to use words, phrases, and pauses to hit powerful emotional accents,” she says. “ I think if stories are on the heavier side, the words that I’m using are pieces of a puzzle I’m trying to build for my own personal emotional release. I speak the way it sounds in my brain and it’s very conversational.”
Storytelling has been a healing modality not only for Lim but for the people she works with. “I feel like my connection to the community is stronger,” she says “Storytelling can be really healing. When people tell stories they have been processing for a long time and really want a safe enough space [for the storyteller] to be witnessed in their totality for whatever it is that they are processing, it ends up being really healing for the storyteller.”
Carlos Kareem Windham
Activism and community are ingrained in Carlos Kareem Windham. He has worked with the Multnomah Youth Commission as a Youth Development Specialist and Portland Housing Bureau in community outreach. Windham formally studied theatre and ethnic studies at the University of Colorado. During his time as a performer, he has developed his ability to move others authentically and with vulnerability. His formal education and lived experience are ever present when he’s on stage. “I’m helping people find the commonality of the human condition,” Windham explains. He does this in a way that’s rooted in representation for Black people. Growing up Afro-Latinx, Windham says he works against respectability politics to get his message across, and “by never censoring myself and working hard not to code-switch. I carry visibly what we consider masculine. I speak in tones any middle-class Black kid will recognize; I am one of them.”
Windham has now begun producing live comedy shows that are infused with anecdotes and experiences from his own life.
Raj Patra owns Yoga for Life, one of the very few yoga studios in Portland owned by a person of color. Patra immigrated to the United States from Kulcutta, India in the ’90s. He describes himself as a fish to water when it comes to combining storytelling and yoga, blending yoga and Dharma as a means to connect with his students and tell the stories of how to enhance life with yoga philosophy.
Although Patra has hours of yoga training and certificates, his storytelling skills were birthed in a more organic way.
“I have extensive training in yoga,” he says. “I don’t have formal training in storytelling. My mom is a good storyteller. I remember on occasions when extended family or her sisters would visit in the wee hours and they would just chat. My mom would tell simple things in amazing ways and I would always be caught in that, and how the flow and interest is drawn and kept.”
Patra understands the importance of words and is careful about how he uses them. “I think that in this day and age when there is so much information that is readily available yet impersonalized, the thing that people have any attention, memory or mindset for is human connection and personalized storytelling,” he explains. “Humanness transcends as a result of stories that are meaningful, stories that are life-changing, and people will not only relate to those but they will want to carry forward.”
We all tell stories for different reasons but the universal thread to share one’s personal narrative is the desire to connect. Che Che Luna, Elina Lim, Carlos Kareem Windham and Raj Patra are four pillars in the community who help us get in touch with our humanity. Our stories not only help us find our own humanity, but also teach us to approach each other with love and compassion.
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