The inaugural “Storytelling for Change” fellowship presented personal stories last Saturday at the Henry Madden Library about overcoming racism and finding one’s voice.
The readings and performances were presented by the Yonsei Memory Project. Co-founded by Nikiko Masumoto and Brynn Saito, the project was designed to highlight the archives of local Japanese American community history.
Through the project, Saito and Masumoto developed a fellowship program that is inclusive not only to Japanese Americans, but also to people with a variety of cultural and ethnic backgrounds.
“The Storytelling for Change Fellowship program was a way for us to make connections between our community’s stories and the histories and voices of other cultures and communities in the Valley,” Saito said.
One of the 11 presenting fellows, Saburo Masada spoke about his experiences of the events following the bombing of Pearl Harbor. In his youth, he was incarcerated and relocated to a Japanese internment camp during World War II. He told a heartfelt story about his sister, Aiko Masada, and her encounters with racism and marginalization.
“I shared her story in a way of honoring her and we need to remember her prayer as a seventeen year old teenager.” Masada said. “We will be praying for that glorious day when everyone all over the world regardless of race, color, religion, background or station in life would all join hands together and live as god intended for all of us to live, as brothers.”
Fresno State student Nohemi Gamis also told her story. She was diagnosed with a spontaneous pneumomediastinum, which causes severe chest pain. Her condition costed her ability to play the clarinet. Gamis said, “With every single note that I played, an immense pain came back into my chest and I felt that it would explode.”
Despite her struggle, Gamis found a new voice through writing journals, poems, and short stories. “This is my story.” she said. “These are my words and I’m learning to play a new instrument, my voice.”
The fellowship met each other three times for extensive workshops which included writing and performing. The fellows are intergenerational and therefore have a mix of both new and experienced writers.