Today’s post was written by library student assistant Ally Scarpa. Ally is a junior Marketing major.
On February 13, 2019, the William H. Hannon Library held the third annual LMU Speaks storytelling program. Four individuals from the LMU community shared a true personal story that revolved around the theme “It’s Complicated.”
The speakers included:
- Makeen Yasar (Undergraduate)
- Elsie Mares (Undergraduate)
- Linh Hua (Bellarmine College of Liberal Arts)
- Joel Gutierrez (Chicano/Latino Student Services)
Each speaker told a 10-minute story, responding to the prompt, “Tell us about a moment from your life when things got messy and muddled, when the pathway forward seemed enigmatic and entangled, or when you found yourself bewildered and befuddled. And then tell us what happened next.”
Before the storytelling began the room was buzzing with anticipation. An array of university students, faculty, and staff were in attendance, all of them eager to hear the night’s stories.
The program kicked off with an introduction by Lynn Mitchell-Parrish, ITS Manager of Business Operations and Assets. Mitchell-Parrish was a storyteller from the inaugural LMU Speaks program “The Fork in the Road,” and has returned each year to participate. This evening she set the stage for the storytellers.
Makeen Yasar was the first storyteller to take up the mic, and he owned the stage with an infectious energy. He initially gushed about what he had achieved the previous year, how he had been “killing it.” His list of accomplishments only grew during the summer. Upon starting a new academic year, Yasar was determined to double his success from the previous one. That’s when things grew complicated. With each month his balancing act grew more precarious, but he refused to back down. By mid-semester Yasar was being crushed under its weight. Not only had his grades fallen, but also his physical and mental health deteriorated. In order to pull through the semester, he dropped everything, but a phantom weight remained on his shoulders. He couldn’t shake the feeling of failure, but he refused to let it break him. Yasar shared his story tonight to encourage students who may be in a similar situation, but also to acknowledge how it’s still affecting him.
Professor Linh Hua was the next storyteller, and she began her story with a photograph. It was herself as a little girl in Malaysian refugee camp. Her family had fled Vietnam shortly after the Vietnam War ended; they were part of the one million refugees that left, and part of the 50% who had survived. Once she was settled in Malaysia, Hua began learning English as her second language. By the time she was in third grade, she was conversant in English, but lacked contextual knowledge. It made her relationship with English complicated. Hua was unable to explain what she meant when she said something. So when her teacher had asked her to explain the phrase she had written, “mine as well,” Hua was simply unable to. By the time she was in college, Hua had gained the contextual knowledge for English, and was even working towards a degree in literature. It was during her studies that she wrote the phrase, “might as well,” and she was transported back to that moment in third grade; realizing that her younger self had been unable to distinguish between the two phrases. Hua was struck by how she had mischaracterized the nature of language. Language is more than an instrument of communication; it’s the “receptacle for our history.” Hua closed her story with how the definition was doubly true for a storyteller.
Elsie Mares began with an admission: that she loves her hometown and its people more than anything, yet “the only thing that hurts more than being away from home is being home.” This hadn’t always been the case for Mares and she wryly confirmed the situation is complicated. Although she suspected it could be traced back earlier, Mares identified the beginning of her senior year of high school as when things began to unravel. While decorating the gym for a dance, a classmate had put up a “Make America Great Again” poster. As president, it was Mares’s responsibility to have it taken down. Citing its irrelevance to the dance and how it was insensitive to the student population, she asked the classmate to remove it. Causing the classmate holding a grudge against Mares. He began making explicit comments about her which went unchallenged by her friends and classmates. Mares felt defenseless and unable to reach out for help. When Mares arrived at LMU, she tried to forget the events of the past year by throwing herself into college life. It worked until she visited home. Mares could feel herself sinking back into a volatile mental state while at home, yet staying away made her homesick. When summer approached, Mares worked on campus to avoid returning home. Knowing she couldn’t avoid her home forever, Mares eventually reached out to Student Psychological Services and began confronting what she’d been through. Mares is still working on separating her hometown from the pain that occurred there, but now she isn’t facing alone, and by sharing her story tonight she is no longer running away.
Joel Gutierrez was the last storyteller to take the mic. He framed his story with a date: 3/23/96. Luis, his brother, had been playing a game of basketball when he suddenly collapsed and died. Gutierrez’s family was devastated, and their relationships fractured from the grief. His mother found comfort in religion, but it only incited Gutierrez’s rage; he couldn’t accept a god whose “plan” allowed his brother to die so arbitrarily. Lacking an outlet, Gutierrez carried his anger and grief with him into adulthood. It grew increasingly complicated before boiling over during his freshman year of college. Gutierrez had spent his first quarter drowning in coursework, and was on the verge of being dismissed for poor grades; “I was mad at myself [for not being good enough], I was mad at the teachers cause they couldn’t teach me right, I was mad at the school system … and I was really mad that I didn’t have Luis to talk to.” During winter break Gutierrez celebrated his nineteenth birthday, making him a year older than Luis had been when he died. It was the first time he realized how just how incredibly short Luis’s life had been cut, the injustice tore at his heart, and it changed Gutierrez. He was no longer living for himself, he was living to honor his brother. When he returned to college, he put every ounce of energy into succeeding. Whenever he came to an obstacle, he thought of his brother. Luis had hoped to live a life that would inspire his family and he has succeeded in Gutierrez.
After the last story drew to a close, the audience broke into a roaring applause for all of the night’s storytellers. The stories had filled the room with a tangible energy, and a new understanding of the phrase “it’s complicated” had been gained. LMU Speaks brings together individuals from different sectors of LMU together to share their stories. We hope you’ll join the narrative next February.
Thank you, Ally, for sharing your perspective with us! If you are a student interested in being an event correspondent at a library event, contact John Jackson, Head of Outreach and Communications for the William H. Hannon Library.