What is a Counterstory?

A counterstory tells of the experiences of oppression from the perspectives of those on the margins (e.g. people of color, LGBTQIA+ folkx, low-income communities, etc.). As uncomfortable as these stories might be, let us keep in mind those who directly experience this oppression. Mass media often deludes their reporting, framing stories to their advantage. By reporting on the discontinuity of stories from the perspectives of those on the margins, we are encouraged to question the stark reality of our current society. The ultimate intent of a counterstory is to educate, instill compassion, and embolden resistance.

Displaying those most marginalized stories is the first step to creating alternative values within our society today. From this, we can develop a language that holds values of seeking the truth and creating solutions for those most marginalized. Liberating those most marginalized will only liberate everyone else. As Angela Davis said, "the forward advance of women (people) of colour almost always indicates progressive change for all women (people)”. In other words, "we won't be free, until we are all free".  

We need to really educate ourselves with the issues that are affecting our community so that we can educate others around us. With the full narrative we will be able to do so, as it provides more than just a story, but actual knowledge. If we didn't have these stories we wouldn't have projects like the Innocence Project, which works to save those that have been wrongly accused and sentenced. Since its creation in 1992 to this day they have liberated thousands of people including those arrested, their family and community. We also have #SayHerName movement started by Kimberley Crenshaw that raises awareness for black female victims of police brutality, especially because they have been made invisible in the media.

These missing voices must be included in our media and we are here to do just that! We should not and will not limit ourselves to one sided story anymore. There is a need in today’s media to be able to see the full narrative, and not the one sided that make those marginalized either invisible or worse, hyper-visible in a negative way. These one sided stories are causing our communities to be divisive, just how those who uphold the status quo wants it. They want us to be divided so they can conquer as they are. We should, and will not let this happen anymore; counterstories will do exactly that! Let us not give into stereotypes that are produced by the mass media, especially when 90% of our media is owned by 6 companies. Let us stop being divided and unite as a community once again and love the next person as we love ourselves.   

Example: Who is mm?

My name does not matter in this sense, but my voice will. This is not a blog for me, but part of my story will explain the significance of this topic and why it is so important to me. Hopefully it’ll be important to you as well.

I was born and raised in Highland Park, Illinois. When I tell that to people, they look at me and think that I came from money. I will be the first one to tell you that it is NOT true whatsoever. I was raised by a single mother, well really by my grandparents, because my mom was working two full time jobs at the time to provide for me and my sister. My father left when I was 3 or 4-years-old, and my sister being 4 years older than me was 8 or 9. There is more story about my father, but that is not important right now.

I moved a total of 11 times from the day I was born to the age of 18. I remember this taking a big toll on me. I don’t remember most of my childhood and perhaps it is because I moved so much when I was a child. I was afraid to make friends when I came to a new school because I knew I was just going to move again and have to start all over again, so I didn’t. Perhaps this is another reason why I don’t remember things, because they didn’t happen. I do however remember when I was in 3rd or 4th grade the difference between me and the other kids that were at my school; their parents had money and well my mom did not. I remember thinking that it wasn’t fair that they had all of this cool stuff and I didn’t. I wondered why.   

Another thing that I remember was being homeless at the age of 9. By this time my mother had married another man years before and my brother was born, who was now 2 at this time. My sister being 4 years apart from me, was 13 at the time. We were, kicked out of our last house, because my mom couldn’t afford it anymore. It was in the middle of winter, and let me tell you, winters in Chicago are not so nice. But that didn’t matter to the landlord we were still kicked out.    

I don’t remember any small details as to like where our furniture went or anything like that. I just remember being able to afford only one or perhaps two nights at a nice warm and cozy hotel. Luckily, we owned a burgundy Dodge truck where we stayed in and slept in. I am sure at this point my mother did not sleep. I am not sure if she was even working during this time or not, probably not because she had to be with us. Who else was going to watch us? My grandparents were back in Mexico, and well, my dad, of course was out of the picture. He probably doesn’t even know this part of my story till this day. But that doesn’t bother me. We lived in our truck for a couple or so, running on gas that we couldn’t afford.

I wonder if my mom would shut off the truck for a bit to save the gas or not. I guess we were in summer school during that time? But it was in the middle of winter? Maybe it was during winter break? I am not sure, those times are a bit blurry in my memory. Maybe I didn’t go to school during that time when I really had to, I am not really sure. That’s besides the point.

We finally were taken in by my cousin, Rosa. She had a one bedroom apartment where she lived with her boyfriend at the time. I don’t remember much of this time in my life either. However, I do remember meeting my new friend who was Native American. At the time, I didn’t know he was Native American, culture awareness was something that was really not taught at my school. I didn’t see colour back then, and i still don’t.

He lived next door and was about the same age as me. He was like a brother to me at the time. I would go over to his house every day after, of course when his parents were not home, and he would show me everything in his house. It was then that I learned about totem poles, their significance and how important they were, not just to his people but in general. It was then when I questioned, if these are so important why don’t we see these outside? Were they there before? If so, where did they go? There were these questions that I would ask myself, but I never asked anyone. I could have maybe described how I was feeling about it, but who would I tell that to? My 2-year-old brother at the time? My sister that was only 4 years older than me? My mother that only passed the 6th grade in Mexico because she couldn’t finish school due to having to work for my grandparents at the age of 9? I didn’t really talk to my cousin or her boyfriend, they were just there and I was really appreciative for letting us stay there for the time being. I just let thought go by and always just wondered.  

I think we were friends for about a month or so until one day he disappeared. I would go near his door to try to knock like I could with my other friend, but this time I couldn’t. He told me one day when we first started hanging out that his parents couldn’t find out that I was in their house or that I even talked to him. This part was always so confusing to me. I never questioned what he said but I respected what he said. I remember wondering but why though? I didn’t think I was a bad person, I was a pretty nice kid. Why couldn’t we be friends? When we even looked the same, we had the same darker skin complexity and the same dark thick black hair. He was Native American, and I was Mexican. I could only wonder, even though I did not understand why. I respected it and went along with it.

His parents somehow found out (so I am assuming) that I went into their home and ever since that day I never saw him ever again. At the time I remember blaming myself. What did I do wrong? Did I say something that was offensive? I didn’t think so, like I said I was a pretty nice kid. Nonetheless, all these thoughts were going through my head and I was really confused. Who was I going to talk about this with? I couldn’t tell anyone from my family about it. I was going to get in trouble, especially if I were to tell them that every time we hung out it was in secrecy when his parents were not home. I don’t even think that my family about him or this story at all, but now they will. I could do what I wanted, especially when my mom wasn’t there because she was at work all morning and all day working her 2 full time jobs. And my sister didn’t know because she was too busy taking care of my 2-year-old brother. In a sense I was lucky that I was not the oldest.

Here I was pacing back and forth by his door contemplating whether to knock on the door or not. I was really trying to build my courage to just knock like I did with my other friends. I knew I just couldn’t. I would put my ear next to the door, my heart would be racing worried that his parents were going to open the door at any second and see me. I was just wondering what he was doing and if he was ok. Did he get in trouble? What happened when he got in trouble? Was it my fault that he got in trouble? Honestly, I really just wanted to hangout with him and talk to him. I felt stuck. “Oh well,” I thought, there was literally nothing I could do to change these circumstances. I did not have the power to change what his parents thought of me; even though they have never seen me in their life. So, I think.

Today, I can only speculate as to what the real reason of why we couldn’t be friends anymore, and perhaps it was because his parents somehow found out that I came into their house or found out that I was talking to him. I have no idea how they would, I thought I was pretty slick at the time. Maybe I wasn’t so much? Now I’m wondering, was it because I left something there of mine by accident? I do always leave things behind forgetfully, my friends and family can attest to that for sure. There are things in life that we will never know, this is one of them. One thing I do know for sure is that by the age of 9, I knew that marginalized voices were missing, but I couldn’t describe it at all. Today, especially with the help of my education or lack of education (with the lack of inclusivity of the canon that I will explain later (Refer to page XX)), it has been made more apparent that this is true. It was as true back then as much as it is today. Perhaps if these stories were not missing from the conversation, so we could trust each other more. If these stories were present, i could have still been friends like a normal kid, without having to hide our friendship. If so, we might still have been friends today.

Fast forward to March 2017, when I was 28. Zoooom… I was an advocate at the Commission Status of Women at the United Nations for an international organization. During this time our president put the Travel Ban (Executive Order 13780) in order. This meant women from Chad, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Syria, Venezuela, and Yemen were not allowed to travel and were there not represented. Who was going to speak for these women if they were not there? Other women from different countries that did not know their experience? I, being a man for sure could not. The international part of our organization decided not to participate. Our job was to advocate for these women and make sure to spread the awareness that there were women missing from the conversation. Especially, when it comes to countries assessing the status of equality for women and to talk about what their next viable steps are to move toward that direction. We would set up chairs with papers taped to them that said, “these chairs were for women that are not here being represented from X country,” (depending on what the topic/country the event was talking about) and made sure no one used those chairs.  

There is obviously more to my life than what happened between the ages of 9 and 28, however, like I said my story is not the focus of this issues, just the inspiration for it. Marginalized voices are missing from the conversation and we need to do something about it! The only reason I felt the need to put part of my story in here was to illustrate why this blog and future magazine is so important to me, and I hope it is to you too. I hope that we can inspire each other from our stories to better love one another and find viable solutions together for all of the problems that face our communities.

 

My mission is to change the dialogue that we currently receive in the media, especially when 90% of the media is owned by 6 companies, by providing an avenue to include marginalized narratives. To do so I will be using counterstories as a method to counter the majoritarian stories that are displayed in our media. Counterstories are recounts of experiences and perspective that are from those that are at the margin, both racially and socially. I will show how majoritarian stories are used to create certain values/idea about those at the margin that are not true. Majoritarian stories are stories of those at the margin that often downplays race and racism as if it did not matter. It is my hope that others will be inspired to tell their own story so we can create one voice together so we can better find solutions to the problems that face our society.

 -mm