Op-Ed: After One Year, Stories Continue to Liberate • Long Beach Post

Second edition of Cocoon Storytelling exploring bliss at Birdcage Coffeehouse in Long Beach. Pictured from left to right: Ernesto Rocha, Fernando Navarrete, Gabriela Medina. Yunique Pettigrew, Abril Harris, Alessandro Negrete, Sambo Sak, and Airazulema Alfaro.  Photo: Ernesto Rocha.

People Post is a space for opinion pieces, letters to the editor and guest submissions from members of the Long Beach community. The following is an op-ed submitted by Ernesto Rocha, a community organizer, and does not necessarily reflect the views of the Long Beach Post.

Cocoon Storytelling launched last February in Long Beach as a venue to uplift the stories and narratives of people of color. Initially what began as a project to share stories transformed into a place for healing and building community. In the last year over 30 storytellers shared the cocoon stage at various coffee shops throughout Long Beach and Los Angeles. Audiences heard stories covering themes of redemption, bliss, home, social media and jealousy. For many storytellers this was the first time they had shared their stories in their own voice. Here are some insights gathered since the beginning of the  series.

Storytelling is natural, but not automatic

Coming up with facts about our lives is simple, but coming up with stories is challenging. While I worked with the storytellers in developing their stories I found that most focus on reciting facts as opposed to illustrating how the facts interact with one another to create memorable imprints. For example, recounting that I immigrated to this country is much easier than coloring my journey with sounds, smells and feelings. There is a qualitative difference from sharing that, “I immigrated to the United States in 1996 at age 8” to, “I walked to the United States in 1996 a few months after my 8th birthday; I walked across hot desert lands, and frigid river waters while imagining what it would be like to see Goofy for the first time”. Storytelling is about telling and showing the audience how you experienced moments in time, how your body and spirit lived through that journey. In order to show us the story, the storyteller must first spend time reliving certain moments and bring forth the feelings of their experience.

Storytelling heals

Airazulema shared a story of grief as a way to release her father after losing him to cancer. This was the first time she spoke about the passing of her father in public, and decided to do it from the stage. Her story was about bliss and how her father brought joy to her life in the last months of his life. She shared with us the moment of amazing bliss she experienced when her father held and sang to her son as they both fell soundly asleep. Airazulema shared this story as a way to let herself feel the void of her father and build on the new memories of motherhood. She recounted that sharing her story on stage was, “one of the most important decisions I made in 2017. I needed to tell my dad I loved him. He taught me how to be a strong mother because I was his daughter.” Sharing her story at Cocoon served as one of countless moments in her personal healing. Since sharing her story, Airazulema started a new career in real estate, transformed her body through exercise and dieting and is the newest co-host of Cocoon Storytelling.

Storytelling is transformational

Erick shared four stories in the last year and has witnessed a renewed energy to write. An avid fiction writer, Erick stopped writing his chapter books because as he said, “I couldn’t get past writing scenes that were similar to my life. I base my characters on the people I know and things that happened to me growing up. I stop writing when the emotions get too deep, especially when they deal with my dad or my sexual identity”. Erick drafted every single one of the stories he shared like they were pages of his chapter books. At times he read his stories from the stage like authors do at private readings. His stories were powerful. They dealt with the fragility of masculinity and the generational love and trauma inherited from father to son, friend to lover. Without realizing, Erick was writing his book by sharing his own story. He traversed the deep feelings of his experience and received support from his audience. Men, especially cis men of color, approached Erick after the program to thank him for his stories. This was the affirmation he needed to keep writing. The characters in his novels were waiting for his personal transformation to take shape before they could speak. Erick has since returned to writing his novels.

Stories liberate

Nicole traced her ancestry to the first African slave captured and brought to America. In her story of redemption, Nicole reimagined how life would have been for her ancestor Angel, then a 12-year-old slave girl. To share her story and that of her ancestors was an act of love and resistance. By bringing the experience of Angel to the foreground, Nicole set her ancestor free from bondage. She talked to her, thanked and honored her existence from the stage. She uplifted her experience in reverence that left the audience entranced while the generational bond was fixed in front of their eyes. Sharing this story was important to Nicole because she wanted to shift the perspectives of her ancestors from pain to resilience. She validated the pain but gave more power to her ability, and that of her ancestors to remain alive, find joy and thrive beyond centuries of oppression. This was a moment of liberation for Nicole and the entire lineage of ancestors that moved her to her current position.

This past February marked the first anniversary of Cocoon Storytelling nights. Over 200 community members witnessed the magic of live storytelling and hope to share even more stories this year. The next edition of Cocoon Storytelling is this Wednesday, March 14 hosted at Birdcage Coffeehouse, 7:00PM – 9:00PM. Storytellers will share stories on the “seven deadly sins”.

For more information, you can find Cocoon Storytelling on Facebook and Instagram @CocoonLB.

Ernesto is a storyteller, community organizer, transformation coach and TEDx speaker. He is one of the co-founders of Cocoon Storytelling and a long time resident of West Long Beach.

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