The Under Ground Writing Project

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Guarding the Stories

Posted by Jenny Maloney on November 5, 2012 at 9:20 AM


from left: The Honorable Theresa Cisneros, Debra Gallegos,

Andrea O'Reilly Herrera, and Juliana Aragon Fatula

A couple weeks ago, I attended a beautiful event put on by the Pikes Peak Library District called Latina Voices. There were poetry and prose readings by my friend Juliana Aragon Fatula and Andrea O'Reilly Herrera, theatrical and singing performances by Debra Gallegos, and a keynote speech delivered by the first Latina Judge in Colorado: the Honorable Theresa Cisneros.


There was one piece that particularly stuck out for me and it influenced the rest of the presentations considerably. At one point Andrea O'Reilly Herrera was discussing how she'd interviewed her family for her book - and why she'd done it in the first place.


She wrote her book because she believed every generation has to have at least one person who will guard the stories. If there is no one to interview, no one to record, no one to do the hard work of presenting the stories, then all those experiences just kind of fade away. If you don't protect and present your own stories, what happens to them? They die.


This presentation struck a chord with me because my grandmother passed away earlier this year. She was my last grandparent. Her husband had died before I could meet him, and my father's parents were distant long before they left.


Years ago, I gave my grandmother a book called The Story of a Lifetime. It's a neat book with a lot of questions about how a person grew up, what they loved, what they hated. Basically, it asks all the questions you would want a grandmother to answer - just so you can have a little piece of her.


After she died, I got the book back. The only section she answered was the part about her early life.


Here's my favorite bit:

Q: What were the attitudes among teenagers about sex, smoking, drugs, and alcohol?

A: We tried everything there was to try. Thank God there were no drugs in our day. I guess we would have tried them too. We had very little money so there were only special occasions when we had alcohol. Cigarettes were cheap and sex cost nothing.


While this early-life section is amazing and Grandma was incredibly frank (as you can see) I couldn't help but feel sad at the sections that are gone. Sure, there are her old friends who are still around who can tell you how she met her husband and how she felt about her children. Yes, her children are around to tell about how she parented. Her grandchildren are around to tell you about useful Christmas gifts: socks, flashlights, and purse hangers.


But I don't know about how she met her husband. I don't know how she felt when her mother died. I don't get to know what she would've thought about my stories. There is this huge, yawning gap.


Still. I will always have "Sex is free."


I think the best way to guard stories is to tell them.


As I was listening to the Latina Voices presenters, I kept thinking that here are the stories. All four of these women were presenting their lives through different mediums. Juliana through poetry - which tells a story in and of itself. Andrea through her family histories. Debra through monologue and song. And Theresa Cisneros, a judge who claims no kinship with creativity, told the true-life story of her alcoholic, abusive father - who raised five kids on his own and no one got left behind.


Through their stories I got to know them and so many other people: Juliana's son, Andrea's great-aunt and uncles and a lot of Cuba, Debra introduced me to friends and coworkers, and Theresa gave me her father and siblings.


So, if you're a storyteller - get to telling, friend.

Categories: Local Events, Pikes Peak Library District, Writers

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Reply Debbie Meldrum
4:09 PM on November 6, 2012 
Interesting timing on this post. I've been thinking about writing down the stories my parents told me about their early lives so the nephews and nieces have them.
Reply Jenny Maloney
5:07 PM on November 6, 2012 
Debbie Meldrum says...
Interesting timing on this post. I've been thinking about writing down the stories my parents told me about their early lives so the nephews and nieces have them.

Do it!

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