Dreams and Nightmares: Notes from the Editor
Note from the editor about working with Liliana to help her wrote her book.
Liliana and I met over forty times over a fourteen months. We just chatted the first few sessions, no writing, no recording. Why do you want to tell your story? Who is the story for, who is your audience? This is risky business–are you ready to talk about the painful parts of your story, your feelings, your dreams—the places where people will really know who you are? How do you feel about sharing your story with complete strangers? How shall we begin? How would you like me to help you tell your story? I assured Liliana that she would have complete control of her story: what to include and not to include; what photos to use; the cover design; how her book would be shared in the larger world. This is a huge project we’re taking on here, hours and hours of work—are you up for it? I asked for descriptions, feelings, reflections. That’s a great scene you just described—we should definitely include that in your story. I realized that this young woman, this teenager, had a remarkable memory for detail and understood why that was important, that she was brave enough to talk about her feelings concerning painful memories, and welcomed questions probing for more detail that would make her story alive. We began to relax with each other, to laugh. Our time together moved from the stiffness of an interview to having a conversation. Then I knew we were ready to begin.
This is how we worked: we met at Lili’s house every week or two and recorded parts of her story in Spanish. She decided she wanted to begin talking about fleeing Guatemala and her trip through Mexico. Then she would talk about living in foster care in Philadelphia while awaiting a court decision about her deportation. Finally, she would return to the most difficult part of her story—life back home in Guatemala. I recorded our conversations and transcribed and edited our session. I then gave her a print-out of her edited story—usually three or four pages—which she read and wrote comments on. Subsequent sessions had two components: first, we reviewed her comments on the draft I had given her, which then became edits for a final draft; and we continued recording her story. Record and review, record and review—the rhythm of our time together. As we moved toward the conclusion of her story, I felt that something was missing: what did this process—this sharing of her life–mean to her, how did it change her view of herself and her world? We added one final chapter—Reflections—in which she talks about how her story is a message to herself about her ability to dream and survive; it is a message to North Americans who know little about the lives of immigrants who must flee their countries; it is a message to fellow immigrants, her compañeros on their mutual journey; it is a letter of love, remorse and forgiveness to her family in Guatemala; and a letter of thanks to the people north of the border who have helped her along the way. Liliana looked at me and nodded: her story was finished. Then one more review of the final manuscript, a few changes added. I was amazed at the care and seriousness with which she reviewed and commented on the drafts I had given her, and had to remind myself that she had but one year of formal education in Guatemala. Finally, after we both agreed on the final draft in Spanish, I translated her story into English. Then Liliana and I worked with the production team at New City Community Press, choosing photos, reviewing the layout and cover design. Liliana signed off on each step of the process.
Except for an occasional transitional phrase, Liliana’s story is entirely in her own words. As interviewer and guide, my role was to help her explore her story more deeply, share feelings and reflections, and enrich her story with more detail, descriptions, scenes and dialogue. As editor, I worked to provide an arc to her story, eliminated redundancies, and ordered her story into chapters and sections which reflected the external reality of her experiences and the internal reality of what she felt and learned, how she grew.
Liliana and I became friends. When you read her story, you will understand why–sharing stories will do that.
Mark Lyons is co-director of the Philadelphia Storytelling Project, which uses digital storytelling in their work with teens and adult learners in summer workshops, computer courses and ESL classes. Participants write stories or interview others about their immigrant experience, record, edit and mix their stories, and create short audio stories. He also does workshops with teachers on doing community oral histories. He is the co-editor of Espejos y Ventanas / Mirrors and Windows, Oral Histories of Mexican Farmworkers and Their Families, which is published in Spanish and English. He developed a theater piece from the stories in the book, which was performed by local people at the Border Book Festival in New Mexico.
He has worked in the Latino community for the last twenty five years, as a health worker and community organizer. For eight years he was the director of the Farmworkers Health and Safety Institute, a consortium of grass-roots organizations in the U.S. and the Caribbean. The Institute trained farmworkers to use theater and other popular education methods to train other farmworkers concerning health and safety issues such as pesticides, field sanitation, housing, drinking water, HIV/AIDS and workers’ rights. He also worked for several years in a community health center, as a provider and health planner.
Mark’s collection of short stories, Brief Eulogies at Roadside Shrines, was published by Wild River Books in 2014. It was chosen as a Kirkus Reviews Book of the Year. He has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize, is a recipient of Pennsylvania Council of the Arts fellowships for 2003 and 2009, and the J.P. McGrath Memorial Award from Whetstone Magazine. In addition, one of Mark’s stories was performed at the Writing Aloud Literary Series at the Interact Theater in Philadelphia.
ARTICLES BY MARK LYONS
Dreams and Nightmares: Notes from the Editor, working with Liliana Velasquez
Dreams and Nightmares/Sueños y Pesadillas
The Ecuadorians of Upper Darby
Espejos y Ventanas / Mirrors and Windows: Nuestras Historias en Español
Espejos y Ventanas / Mirrors and Windows: Our Stories in English
My Power Ranger Had One Leg: The Open Borders Youth Radio Project
The Youth Radio Project: Transcripts of Audio Stories
Welcome to Open Borders
Wild River Books
Brief Eulogies at Roadside Shrines – Arnold’s Roadside Café: Route 80, North Platte
Brief Eulogies at Roadside Shrines – Holy Roller
Brief Eulogies at Roadside Shrines: Security Risk
A Celebration of Shrines
Introduction to Brief Eulogies at Roadside Shrines: The Borders That Divide Us Are the Places We Find Each Other
Brief Eulogies at Roadside Shrines: Tlaxcala Red