Move. This word has conceptualized itself for me in many forms over the past few months.
In our first class discussion this semester, we discussed social mobility: people would not mind inequality if there was real hope for their efforts to bear fruit in upward mobility. Personally, with every new article or story that increases my awareness of the realities and hopes of underpaid workers in the United States, I have felt deeply moved – to anger, to tears, to joy, to action. Over the summer, I spent eight weeks in Medellín, Colombia, through DukeEngage, helping storytellers cross borders with their stories. What does it look like to facilitate transcultural, translingual mobility? Similar to our mobile exhibition of the narratives of low-wage workers, our program addressed physical borders by helping local student artists exhibit their art throughout the United States. Through writing workshops, multilingual translation, and video portraits, we strived to strip away any cultural and linguistic barriers that could limit the impact of each artist’s story
I enrolled in this class to extend the lessons of my DukeEngage experience back to our local community in Durham. Seeing life through their eyes, I fell in love with the humanity of every person I met in Medellín. In the process of shaping narratives through video-editing decisions, I developed an awe for the medium of written and visual portraiture as a catalyst for change. Stories have the power to connect people, and as I become more familiar and deeply engaged with the experiences of underpaid workers all around me in the United States, I want to use documentary media as a platform for their stories.
Returning to the U.S. from Colombia, I wondered what kind of borders to stories exist here, what kind of borders reinforce a single narrative that is part of but does not represent the whole story. It is a very tangled tapestry, but already our class discussions have begun to sift through the historical legacies, privilege, legislation, media, and myths that disproportionately empower some and leave others helpless and hopeless. I am very thankful that we are taking the time to become informed on the state of labor in our country because part of me feels unqualified to engage in activism around an issue that I do not know much about. I am afraid that I will not do fair justice to someone’s story, that I will accidentally propagate a misconception or reinforce a lie through the things I choose to or not to highlight in a video. At the start of the semester, I felt a little embarrassed when I realized I knew more about Medellín’s recent history than I do about the lives of low-wage workers here in the country where I was born and will most likely be working in the near future.
However, this beautiful video portrait reminded me that their stories will speak for themselves. Just as they have moved me, they will continue to speak poignantly to people through the commonalities of human experience.
Written by Chrislyn Choo, Duke ’16