Immigrants asked to share their stories in bilingual writing workshop this weekend
photo by: Contributed photo
When José Faus was 9 years old, he took what he thought would be a temporary trip from his native Colombia to Kansas City to visit his mother, who had been living in the U.S. for a few years. Decades later, he is still here, and he wants to help other immigrants record their immigration stories.
Faus said he arrived in winter, and that the move for him was a “severe shock to the system” in many regards.
“At 9, I knew who I was, and then for the next few years I tried to figure out who I was in a new place I didn’t recognize,” Faus said. “And I think that’s an interesting narrative that a lot of us go through.”
Faus, a Kansas City-based author and muralist, will lead a writing workshop, “From There to Here: Immigrant Stories of Kansas/De Allá Para Acá: Historias de Inmigrantes en Kansas,” from 10 a.m. to noon Saturday at the Lawrence Public Library, 707 Vermont St. The workshop is free and no prior writing experience is required.
Faus, who is founder of the Latino Writers Collective and on the Writers Place board, said there is already oral tradition surrounding immigration, where most people hear stories about their parents or grandparents around the dinner table. He said that’s the basis for storytelling, but that he thinks it’s important to write the story down. He said the written story can be shared with more people, and that for some the process can end up being an emotional and cathartic experience.
“Often, a lot of people carry their stories with them and they only live in somebody’s memory and retelling of it,” Faus said. “But if you put something down in your own words, it doesn’t have to go to a million people, but it can have a great impact just going to five or six within the family who share it.”
Humanities Kansas is sponsoring the workshop as part of its Latino Stories of Kansas/Historias Latinas de Kansas project, which includes presentations and workshops that aim to generate inspiring stories, informative conversations and strengthened civic engagement, according to a news release. The workshop will be available in Spanish and English.
The stories can be firsthand or those of family members, and workshop participants are asked to bring a meaningful object as a writing prompt. If participants don’t have such an object, Faus said they can simply have a memory in mind to help them get started writing. For him, he said that object is a fragment of a quilt his grandmother made that he used as a baby blanket. He said that throughout the workshop, participants will be asked if they want to share their story with the group.
The event comes at a time when immigration law and enforcement is being debated at the national level. Regarding that backdrop, Faus said he is always reminded that he is an immigrant, but that now there is more of a blatant sense of people questioning his right to be here. He said he thinks some of the questioning and judgment come from others not recognizing that their families likely have similar narratives of how they came to be in the United States. He said he thinks sharing those stories can help.
“The idea of, if we share our narratives, we can perhaps break down this idea that the other is always lesser than the one that’s here,” Faus said.
The workshop takes place on the first day of National Hispanic Heritage Month, which is Sept. 15 through Oct. 15. Participants can register for “From There to Here: Immigrant Stories of Kansas/De Allá Para Acá: Historias de Inmigrantes en Kansas” on the library’s website, lplks.org.