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Sunday, April 5, 2020

Campus

“Dear World” comes to UH, lets students share stories


Guides helped students to decide their messages and write them on their arms Many took the time to listen to the stories of the students to help them figure out what to write. | Arnulfo Diaz/The Cougar

Students shared meaningful messages by writing them on their skin and posing for portraits at “Dear World,” an interactive storytelling event, Thursday in the Student Center South.

Students were greeted by guides who helped them write words on their arms for a photographer to capture.

“I think it helps the students to kind of gain more awareness for their community here at the university, to simply get to know each other’s backgrounds and what messages we have to say,” said mechanical engineering sophomore Brooke Tankersley.

“Dear World” was founded by Robert Fogarty in New Orleans and began as a non-profit fundraiser where New Orleans residents wrote “love notes to the city” to raise money for Fogarty’s other non-profit organization, Evacuteer, which trains and mobilizes volunteers to help with New Orleans’ public hurricane evacuation plan. “Dear World” gained attention on social media and has since become a business and art project that tours college campuses and does events for organizations and companies.

The event attracted more than 200 participants, with students telling “Dear World” guides their stories and explaining the meaning behind the statements they wanted photographed.

Students participating in the event collaborated with guides to determine their choice of words.  Tankersley decided to write “but you look white.”

“I’m biracial, and growing up I’ve always struggled with my mom’s side of the family, my mom is Hispanic and my dad is white so people would always assume that I’m just white, and I’m not just that,” Tankersley said. “I’m more aware of what my message was, to stop and really think about it and to think about what I’m actually putting down on my arms for others to see and think about ‘ok, how do I want others to view this.’”

“I think it’s powerful that people are given a voice and the opportunity to say something,” said education graduate Uchenna Emenaha. “Everybody was opening up and being vulnerable, when you’re vulnerable it brings people closer together because you can’t hide behind status or race or gender, you’re just very open.”

The statement Emenaha chose to write was “it’s pronounced Uchenna.”

“For a long time, people would mispronounce my name and I never corrected them because I didn’t really feel pride in my name and my culture because it’s different, so as I’ve gotten older I’ve embraced it more so now when people ask me my name I pronounce it correctly,” Emenaha said.

 

The event gave students the chance to come forward with their experiences, and many students who participated also took the time to listen to other students tell their stories.

Human development and family studies junior Gabby Cabangon was a guide at the event.  She said that this event was a good way for students to share their stories.

“Some people just want to share, some people want to listen, and for some people this may be their first time being vulnerable about their story,” Cabangon said.

Cabangon decided to write “and then I got butterflies” on her arms.

“I was at a national conference for tour guides back in January and, it wasn’t anything big, but I was just sitting at a presentation and I got butterflies, because I was looking at the person presenting and I said to myself ‘that’s what I want to be, that’s what I want to do for the rest of my life’ and I couldn’t imagine doing anything else,” Cabagnon said. “I literally got butterflies, and it wasn’t me presenting or me getting an award or anything like that. It was me just sitting there seeing my future.”

After the photo shoot, participants attended the Storytelling and Photo Reveal at the Student Center South, where a select number of students’ portraits were presented along with the participants’ retelling of their story. All portraits from the event were then presented in a video.

English literature sophomore Lily Macias, whose last name has been changed for her protection, was one of the few participants chosen to share their story before the “Dear World” audience.  Her message focused on her experiences as an undocumented immigrant and the challenges she has faced as an undocumented person.

“People related, no matter how different they were. It’s a healing process for anyone to hear that they’re not alone,” Macias said. “(My message) was ‘the land is seamless, the ocean knows no borders,’ It’s a quote by Gloria Anzaldua…this was my first time publicly announcing that I was undocumented.”

Dear World gave students at the University of Houston a chance to come forward with their experiences and share their stories with the community.

“Having Dear World come, I feel like it just brings us closer,” Cabangon said. “Knowing that there are people out there that are doing this just makes me really happy.”

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