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Honors Program Hosts ‘Suitcase Stories’ Showcasing the Immigrant Experience

Darren Deng ’19 tells his Suitcase Story
October 22, 2019

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Alumni Outcomes | Student Success

The Curry College Honors Program partnered with the International Institute of New England (IINE) on October 15 to host Suitcase Stories, a live performance series featuring foreign and U.S.-born Curry students and community members sharing refugee and immigrant experiences.

One by one, brave storytellers from the First-Year Honors seminar and beyond stood to tell their stories. At times comical, horrifying, vulnerable, and inspiring, the personal narratives brought to life what it means to be an immigrant in the U.S. today.

To fend off schoolyard taunts, Polish-born sisters Bella and Lilly Turner (Class of 2023) were compelled to Google, “how to not talk funny.” Today Bella and Lilly have reconnected with their bi-lingual heritage and have a deep curiosity about languages of all kinds.

When Darren Deng ’19 moved to the U.S. from China, he mistakenly tried out for the high school football team, confusing the uniquely American sport with soccer. He eventually became a defensive back for the Colonels.

These details are among the many that, when taken together, create an authentic personal view of refugee and immigrant experiences. Much of the first-year Honors seminar, “Influence of Culture,” includes reading and discussing autobiographical material, using the storytelling modality to learn about culture. But there is nothing like hearing the details of a peer’s experience to make a lasting impression.

“We want to engage students with authentic experiences, real people, telling their real stories. It animates the issues we’re talking about. It brings them alive,” says Honors Program Director Jayson Baker.

When Carlos DaSilva landed at Logan Airport in the early 1970s, “There was white powder on the ground! I had no winter jacket. I wanted to go home to Brazil on the next plane!” Now a member of the Hingham School Committee, DaSilva is a Suitcase Story storyteller and a candidate for Plymouth County Commissioner.

Growing up, Christian Ko, Monitoring and Evaluation Specialist at IINE, rarely felt like he belonged. A classmate once said to him, “You’re a strange-looking Mexican, but do you want to be my lab partner?” This interaction was typical for Ko, who was born in Guatemala to Tawainese immigrants. It’s also what passed for “fitting in” in a Texas middle school. But, as Ko says, fitting in and belonging are not the same.

“Storytelling is the fastest way to connect,” says Cheryl Hamilton, Director of Suitcase Stories at IINE, the region's oldest immigrant and refugee resettlement nonprofit. “You’re experiencing human themes that we all have in common, like fear, hope, or love. It allows all of us to engage with these issues intimately when you’re hearing the story unfold in front of you.”

“We want them to realize that this is the real world,” adds Baker. “And if they’re going to be business leaders, they need to be able to work across cultural differences.”

Erin Cullinane and Mackenzie Vieira (both Class of 2023), and Suitcase Story storyteller, Aline Binyungo, also told harrowing and at times humorous tales of their immigrant experiences.

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