Abril Harris (left) and Ernesto Rocha (right) launched a new monthly speaker series named Cocoon. Photo: Jason Ruiz
Ernesto Rocha and Abril Harris have been friends since middle school. They both ended up going into the field of social work and both have compelling stories that helped shape who they are. However, it was the inability for Rocha to share his story at a much more prominent storytelling platform that led to the duo forming a new monthly series in Long Beach.
Anyone who has listened to National Public Radio on the weekends has probably listened to The Moth radio hour. Since it launched in 1997, it has grown into a goliath of a platform for those who have a great story to tell and the ability to do it artfully.
That art has been shared through ongoing programs in 25 different cities nationwide as well as through NPR, a podcast with over 30 million annual downloads and a New York Times bestselling book. That book and those podcasts, though, do not contain Rocha’s story nor of the countless tales of the people of color that call Long Beach home.
Last night, Harris and Rocha unveiled their brainchild “Cocoon” at The Birdcage coffee house in Downtown Long Beach.
A standing-room-only crowd packed the small cafe where they heard stories of redemption—the theme of the night—ranging from immigration stories, to those involving people overcoming abuse and one man’s story of coming out as gay after fathering a child then trying to salvage that relationship years down the road.
Rocha’s story about how it was to be an 8-year-old boy immigrating to the United States and how that has affected him now as a 29-year-old man was the last to be told, but the fact that it was able to be shared was the motivation behind the start of this series.
“We’d been twice and he wasn’t able to tell his story because he wasn’t chosen,” Harris said of Rocha’s attempt to speak at The Moth. “So we left the second event very frustrated. We thought let’s create something for people to have their own space, to tell their own story.”
The two explained that the name Cocoon did not derive as much from The Moth, but more from its symbolism as a place to heal. Rocha said the significance of the Monarch Butterfly and its ties to the immigrants rights movement also played a role, with the butterfly representing transformation from hurt to healed.
Last night, the Birdcage was that Cocoon, and the act of sharing these deeply emotional tales was the form of therapy.
“We felt the need to have a space where folks of color could tell their stories without having to really get a lot of pushback from folks,” Rocha said. “Particularly in this era, this new administration where a lot of our intersectionality of race, gender, identity are really under attack. We feel the need to really create our own space where we can really express ourselves through stories.”
That era Rocha is describing has also come with an increasing pushback from some conservatives against liberals who wish to create these kinds of “safe spaces” and the “snowflakes” that need them.
Harris said that the safe space curated by Cocoon was intentional, but not because those sharing their stories are unable to deal with reality outside of safe spaces. She said the issues discussed last night, especially immigration, sometimes demands an audience of people who can truly understand the impacts, and for the speakers, to see those stories resonate.
“I would challenge those people who would have some kind of feeling about safe spaces, we are able to endure and live life out of safe space, we have to do that, we do that every day,” Harris said. “But sometimes you need that time, that community to be able to come somewhere, share your stories, share your experiences and have somebody be able to look at you and understand. A lot of the time we’re not able to receive that outside of those safe spaces.”
Cocoon will be a monthly event and has scheduled dates in March and April. Next month’s theme will be Bliss, with a focus on what brings happiness to the speakers. The March 15 event is set to take place at the Birdcage at 7:00PM.