BY ANJANA MURALI •
Whenever my mother tells a story, everyone leans in and watches her closely as she waves her arms and moves her lips, spouting words that could fill up the entire Pacific Ocean. Storytelling is an art that has been passed down from generation to generation. And even if you don’t have the talent of mimicry that my mother possesses, storytelling is still an important ritual. At the end of the day, that’s all we really are. We are stories that are waiting to be told.
I didn’t realize the impact storytelling would have on my life until my family moved to the United States. On September 4, 2001, I headed off to my first day of kindergarten; little did I know that I was the first colored child to attend a Helena Public School. To make matters worse, the 9/11 attacks occurred a week later and the small Indian community in Montana became the scapegoat for the traumatizing event: our car windshields were smashed and people verbally threatened us. At school, I didn’t have any friends because students were scared of my skin color.
My parents could’ve easily uprooted our new home and gone back to India like some families had already done; however, my mother was determined to change the way people viewed us. So she started telling stories. My mother told my kindergarten class stories about why my skin was brown (it’s a superpower that protects me from the everlasting summer in India). She also told the community members stories about our Indian culture and traditions (the most popular one was about arranged marriages). My mother’s efforts to increase awareness of Indian culture in Montana allowed us to be accepted in the community and people were really appreciative of what she had done.
Stories have proven to be the most important resource in dissipating ignorance and facilitating cultural diffusion. My brown skin gave me the opportunity to educate my peers and that initial teaching moment helped me realize that even the most difficult adversity can be overcome through sharing stories. In high school, I specialized in writing human-interest stories for the school newspaper and I’ve continued writing these stories at my university. I want to have the chance to continue telling people’s stories, especially in places where people’s voices are not often heard.