“Contando Nuestras Historias / Telling Our Stories” with Wind of the Spirit

Assistant Director of Dodge Poetry Director Ysabel Gonzalez welcoming everyone to the retreat. Photo by Jhoan Sebastian Tamayo.

Ysabel Gonzalez, Assistant Director of Dodge Poetry, says a few welcoming words while poets Ana Portnoy-Brimmer and Ruth Irupe Sanabria look on. Photo by Jhoan Sebastian Tamayo.

The Dodge Poetry Program kicked off an exciting new project in collaboration with Wind of the Spirit Immigrant Resource Center on October 5. “Contando Nuestras Historias/Telling Our Stories” is an initiative providing space for members of Wind of the Spirit’s local Latinx immigrant community to collaborate with Dodge Poets in sharing and documenting their stories.

The seeds for this project were planted earlier this year, when Dodge Poetry hosted a free, public event called “Poetry and Democracy” in our office neighborhood of Morristown, New Jersey. Wind of the Spirit was one of the local social justice organizations we partnered with for the event; organizer Brian Lozano hosted a panel discussion with poet Rigoberto González and several members of the Wind of the Spirit Community, who shared some of their experiences as immigrants in this country.

Wind of the Spirit discussing "Poetry and Democracy," March 2019. Photo by Alex Towle Photography.

Rigoberto Gonzalez, members of Wind of the Spirit and Brian Lozano telling stories at “Poetry and Democracy,” March 2019. Photo by Alex Towle Photography.

Through continued conversations with Wind of the Spirit about the power of documenting and sharing these stories, we began to wonder what it could look like if together we hosted regular meetings where members could explore their stories in a safe and supportive environment, with guidance from experienced poets and artists, and a goal of preserving and more widely sharing the materials produced for generations to come.

And that’s how Contando Nuestras Historias/Telling Our Stories was born.

On Saturday, October 5, Dodge Poetry staff, poets and members from the Wind of the Spirit Community gathered at the Quaker Meeting House in Chatham for a day-long retreat focused on getting to know each other and beginning to open up and do some generative work. Dodge Poets Grisel Acosta, Ana Portnoy-Brimmer and Ruth Irupé Sanabria, along with co-facilitators David Cruz, Dano Mendoza and Jhoan Sebastian Tamayo, led small groups in morning and afternoon sessions of sharing poems, conversing and responding to writing prompts through individual reflection and group sharing.

The whole group got together for ice breakers in the morning, a delicious Caribbean lunch catered by Morristown’s Hibiscus Restaurant in the afternoon, and a powerful closing session at the end of the day, where members reflected on what the day meant for them and their hopes for the coming months. They talked about the memories and experiences they were exploring in writing that day, how difficult and intense and yet necessary it is to talk about them, and how rare it is that they have the opportunity, time and space to explore their stories and art with others who listen and take them seriously.

For the next eight months, Dodge Poets and Wind of the Spirit artists and community members will be convening once a month. The goal of the meetings is to support Wind of the Spirit community members in telling their stories—primarily through the mediums of poetry, short stories, flash fiction, snippets, and oral storytelling.  Community members will share their stories in the language that feels most comfortable to them, primarily Spanish, sometimes English or Spanglish. We’ll also be recording some interviews for those who want an oral record of their stories.

We’re excited to work with Morristown & Morris Township Library to archive the materials that come out of this project, providing a home where stories of love and loss, bravery and resilience, sacrifice and growth, can live on to inform, inspire and enrich the lives of generations to come.  “Contando Nuestras Historias/Telling Our Stories” is about a community coming together to say: “We are here, we matter, and our stories matter.”

Because this is a new project which Dodge Poetry and Wind of the Spirit are venturing on together for the first time, we’re still learning about how to do all of it and are open to seeing what works, what we can do better, and where it all takes us.

We’re so thankful to Wind of the Spirit and all of the members and artists who joined us for the beautiful retreat last Saturday to commence Contando Nuestras Historias. Thank you to Diana Mejia for her ever-open arms that make everyone feel welcome, and to Brian Lozano for his key role in creating this and doing so much translating between English and Spanish throughout today. Thank you also to Meghan Van Dyk, Dodge Foundation Informed Communities Program Officer, for introducing us to Diana and helping to make this partnership happen.

To learn more about Wind of the Spirit and the great work that they do, visit their website.

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