New Women New Yorkers’ annual storytelling event was changed to a virtual format this year due to COVID-19. But the stories of resilience from ten immigrant women were poignant enough to create a feeling of community and belonging despite this year’s setbacks
Written by Stephanie Panico
“Tonight is an evening of stories,” said Arielle Kandel, founder and Chief Executive Officer of New Women New Yorkers (NWNY), as she kicked off the public event Stories That Move Us on Saturday, November 14. The theme of the night was resilience and perseverance, which resonated through all of the stories and the shared experience of attending the showcase virtually due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Arielle began with her own story of how the beginning of 2020 brought great changes at NWNY because of the pandemic, changes that she had to adjust to while returning from maternity leave. “We took on the immense task to pivot to a virtual format and to determine how we can support our community in these difficult times.” Through it all, the NWNY community was there for each other, supporting one another and celebrating each other’s successes. Stories That Move Us was another example of this, as the virtual crowd laughed, cried and cheered along with ten storytellers.
Arielle introduced Maz Kamaruddin, Assistant Vice President of Diversity Markets and Inclusion at Guardian Life. Maz, an immigrant woman from Malaysia, spoke about the challenges of raising children in a foreign country and entering the corporate world. Her message was one of hope, concluding that “here in the corporate world is where I learned to overcome those challenges and I finally have a seat at the table.”
From there, the night was turned over to MC Anastassiya Maximenko, LEAD and Storytelling graduate and NWNY volunteer. Anastassiya masterfully guided the audience through the stories of ten immigrant women from Belarus, China, Colombia, Dominican Republic, Nigeria, Peru, Poland, Russia and Ukraine. Each of the storytellers who took the virtual stage was a participant in NWNY storytelling training series facilitated by our partner organization The Moth, a leading storytelling nonprofit..
The audience was treated to a night of interesting and relatable stories. Attendees laughed along with Alena, who told us a story about a workplace argument that devolved into a thrown ashtray at a seemingly quiet government office in Belarus. We were inspired by Sandra, from Colombia, who has been affected personally and professionally by COVID-19 and used her setbacks as an opportunity to build new dreams and achieve new goals. We were on the edge of our seats when Lorelei, from Peru, described being afraid of the dark as a child and the one night that she faced her fears. And we were amazed by Sarah, from China, who transported us to the New York subway with all the vivid details she added to the scene of her story.
The audience was taken on a journey with each of the storytellers. Some of the stories made us anxiously await resolution while others encouraged us with their perseverance in the face of adversity. One of the storytellers, Patrycja, from Poland, put it best when she said, “my life got complicated. But my life also got so much more beautiful.” The stories were all underpinned by a feeling of hope.
The results of the storytellers’ hard work in mastering their craft were evident throughout the performance. The Zoom chat was filled with messages of empathy for the stories and recognition of the storytellers’ hard work and skill in sharing their experiences. Anastassiya did a terrific job introducing each storyteller, engaging with the stories and encouraging the audience to share their own stories of inspiration. Though it has been easy to feel isolated during COVID-19, a feeling of community and belonging was prevalent throughout the Stories That Move Us event.
Stories That Move Us was supported for the second year by Guardian Life Insurance Company of America and by World Education Services. The Immigrant Women Storytelling Group, which the storytellers participated in, is made possible in part with public funds from Creative Learning, supported by the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs in partnership with the City Council and the New York State Council on the Arts with the support of Governor Andrew Cuomo and administered by Lower Manhattan Cultural Council.
Originally published by New Women New Yorkers: Source