"Inclusion and Engagement: Digital Stories as Passports to Citizenship" EUTunes Conference, December 14, 2012 Rome, Italy I open this talk with a feeling of being honored to return to the University Marconi, and to address this final event of the EUTunes project. I realize as I come again to Europe, to assist with a project about the inclusion of EU countries in the process of expansion through accession such as Bosnia –Erzegovina, Montenegro and Albania, and the EU’s newest member Croatia. These processes are part of the historic trend toward greater economic, social, cultural and political integration by countries that have historically been marginalized. The work of citizens of these countries, and the work of their European colleagues to take a broad and expansive attitude, inspire the world about how peaceful and deliberate collaboration between a community of nations can lead to mutual benefit. But we realize that this is occurring at a time of increased economic and political uncertainty, an uncertainty that unfortunately leads to a common problem, of the marginalization of minority populations within countries, and concern and marginalization of populations across borders between countries. The best response to nativist insecurity is understanding and awareness of our shared humanity, and I believe, Digital Storytelling is a powerful tool to provide that understanding. But more than that, it is a way for people, especially young people As you look across our 20 years of work in Digital Storytelling, going back to our very first workshops, in the Mission District of San Francisco, you will find a common theme in our work, the effort to make the individual stories of young people a mechanism for their greater agency as citizens of their country. The immigrant youth of San Francisco who filled our first public workshops, faced the same problems that all newcomers – all outsiders – to a dominant culture– why do their stories matter? The message they receive is that the dominant culture is at best ambivalent, and at worst, hostile to their joining the larger culture. The marginalization of the immigrant is produced in thousands of ways, but the final result is a sense of silencing, your voice does not count, and we, as the dominant culture, do not want to hear your stories. And that message has consequences. About the time we were initiating those first workshops back in the 1990s, Canadian academic Charles Taylor wrote in "The Politics of Recognition": The demands for recognition [by immigrants or cultural minorities] is given urgency by the supposed links between recognition and identity, where this latter term designates something like a persons understanding of who they are, of their fundamental defining characteristics as a human being. The thesis is that our identity is partly shaped by recognition or its absence, often by the misrecognition of others, and so a person or group of people can
suffer real damage, real distortion, if the people or society around them mirror back to them a confining or demeaning or contemptible picture of themselves. ….misrecognition shows not just a lack of due respect. It can inflict a grievous wound, saddling its victims with a crippling self-‐hatred. Due recognition is not just a courtesy we owe people. It is a vital human need. Of course, as a humanist, I believe there are ways people with shared culture, in our local communities, our neighborhoods, our schools, our families, can marginalize and be-‐little each other, and silence each other stories. But I believe our learning to listen, and understand, our shared humanity, starts with the degree of tolerance and understanding we demonstrate with those with quite different cultural perspectives. Why This Is Important to Me? Let me digress and share a story about my own experience, growing up in Texas. Perhaps, I believe you can understand the roots of the Digital Storytelling movement, from knowing a bit about my history. I grew up the son of two social activists in the South. My first digital story, 20 years ago this February, was about their marriage. They came together in San Antonio during a social uprising in the immigrant Mexican community over the exploitation of Pecan Shellers, people who shelled the pecan nut for the local candy industry. Their strike was one of the largest and most notable efforts of Mexican workers to oppose “Dickensian conditions” in the workplace in 20th Century US labor history. My parents were married at a rally of these strikers in 1938. They spent much of their life working with Latino and other immigrant workers to gain political enfranchisement, labor rights and civil rights. I remember them taking me in 1966 to a March in Austin for improving the minimum wage of farm workers. The stories of these Latino activists, and the youth in the Latino community always filled me with inspiration, and as I became a youth activist in San Francisco in the 1970s I found myself attached to Asian and Latino communities demanding rights and recognition. My decade work in theater, was also deeply connected with providing stages for immigrant communities from the Phillipines, from China, from El Salvador and Guatemala, to express their stories and lives. All of this informed our first steps into the Digital Revolution, we understood that one part of that revolution was to democratize access to people to create and publish their stories, but that if barriers existed for immigrant, poor and disenfranchised communities to access the tools of digital expression, we would be erecting yet another fence to full participation and citizenship. CDS was founded as a direct act of resistance to the “white flight” of the technological frontier, building a bridge for local communities to follow. So it might be no surprise that our Center started out of the Latino community in San Francisco, and that our interests, from the very inception of this movement, was to provide a venue for young multicultural youth to cross not only the divide of
recognition, but the digital divide as well. Our work in Digital Storytelling has always presupposed a determined perspective about agency, personal and social agency. How can youth feel that they can take control of the way they are described and understood, and the role of youth developing self-‐knowledge through reflection in narrative, in providing a person a greater sense of confidence in performing a public self. We recognized that the projection of these digital stories, on home televisions with their parents and grandparents, the screens and the walls of schools and churches, onto the world wide web as it came to be, were providing these youth with an active identity of citizenship, and helping them to gain a sense of belonging and recognition, but also of responsibility, For these communities, we have learned that Digital Storytelling could do many things. •Support community development, giving voice to the full range of youth and youth groups that weave social fabric and build community life. •Enable democratic activism, youth stories play a critical role in helping to engage a larger public in social agencies, think of the role of youth and their stories in the Arab Spring •Drive citizen journalism, allowing youth to bring policy questions to life and enabling them to see themselves as part of history. •Support a real national conversation, using stories in social networks to raise and address urgent issues. •Heal trauma, young people that are survivors of personal or social trauma, learn to reframe memories as bridges to empowerment and tools for promoting human rights. •Promote public health, where youth stories of environmental and behavioral problems serve to reframe private troubles as public issues that can be addressed. And I would like to share a more recent story from our work in Seattle with refugee work. The piece is called Confidence by a young Eritrean about her finding her voice. I am of course presenting this work in the context of the discussion here in Europe, and the particularly wonderful work of the EUTunes project. That the project occurred at the border of Europe, at the place where 20 years ago the great “border” war of former Yugoslavia took place, providing us with the most recent European example of how invisibility and marginalization can lead to genocidal hatred, seems like no accident. Digital Storytelling belongs most in places where the healing process of historical truth telling is critical to the project of sustainable society. CDS finds ourselves in Northern Uganda with Child Soldiers, in the Congo with victims of gender-‐based crimes, in Bangladesh and Nepal addressing human rights violations. And of course what makes many of the stories of the youth of these places so profound, is that they are not about the historic crimes, but about a sense of
normalization, of normal citizenship and belonging, not as victims or the children of victims, but as youth interested in sports, and movies, and community, and a sense of pride of belonging. As it should be. The best stories are not of what might have happened that was terrible, but of what promise there can be, of what hope there can be, and how a future can be constructed from these places, where invisibility meant conflict. But I speak today as an American. As you can imagine, immigrants in the US are both part of continuum of American identity as a land of migrants, and part of a global problem of anti-‐immigrant backlash. Our mass media will still paint pictures of immigrant youth as the source of crime and anti-‐social behavior, as an economic threat to naturalized youth in jobs, as a strain on the already weakened social safety net and healthcare resources. As you may be aware in the recent US election, the issue of anti-‐immigrant nationalism fueled much of Mitt Romney’s effort to position himself in the Republican primary as worthy of conservative support. Fortunately, the November election sent a message that Latino and other more recent immigrant populations (Asians and Pacific Islanders), are no longer to be simply marginalized. In our country, the voice of youth and their dreams of opportunity are being heard.