Through storytelling, people are reminded they are not alone in their struggles, said Jose Bañuelos, chairman of the San Antonio Film Institute during the “Be Bold. Be Heard” event April 30 in the campus auditorium.
“Storytelling is important because in today’s digital age, I feel we don’t connect as much face-to-face, but the ability to stand up and public speak is still relevant,” said Megan Pope, communication lecturer and one of the event’s organizers. “I wanted to create this showcase to prove that it’s an important part of communication.”
Speech students selected eight peers to share stories of grief, loss, homelessness, substance abuse, suicide, coming out and being an undocumented immigrant.
English major Katelynn Alonzo said her life changed her freshman year of high school when her uncle and his three daughters moved into her home after she had been an only child her entire life.
“Despite the hardships of this change, we learned to appreciate each other,” Alonzo said.
Alonzo remembered her uncle came home one morning after working a night shift and found his daughters unwilling to go to school; Alonzo offered ice cream for a week if they complied.
“Needless to say, they made it to school on time,” she proclaimed.
Alonzo said her uncle got her socks as a gift for the nice gesture she did.
“Working the night shift, having no money and being homeless, he bought those socks for me,” Alonzo said. “Those socks meant everything to me.”
“From having no siblings to having three siblings, it was quite the adjustment,” Alonzo admitted. “But it was the best adjustment of my life.”
Communication major Morgan Petrash said her grandmother was her best childhood friend.
“I remember one day, in third grade, there was a tear on my dad’s face,” Petrash said. “My mom uttered the words I dreaded to hear: Your grandmother has passed.”
Petrash explained dealing with her grandmother’s loss has become easier with time.
“I just got engaged,” Petrash said. “At my wedding, there will be a table with a chair reserved for my grandmother, where she will be looking at me as I marry my new best friend.”
Meghan Gonzales, an accounting major, said she was 18 when she saved her friend from a smoking vehicle after a car accident.
“Once out of the vehicle, she regained consciousness,” Gonzales said. “I was relieved to see she was alive. We hugged, laughed and cried.”
Gonzales concluded the lesson learned that day is people shouldn’t take moments with loved ones for granted.
Laughter erupted when Wachiba Selemani, a kinesiology major and refugee from Congo, said he thought San Antonio was a person when he first moved to the United States.
“I was the translator for my parents but spoke very little English,” Selemani said. “I tried asking for water at the airport in New York, but they kept giving us things like coffee and even eggs.”
Selemani said he asked around where San Antonio would be waiting for them until an airport employee said it was a Texas city.
“What is Texas?” Selemani asked.
Selemani said he adjusted to San Antonio culture and learned English and Spanish.
“I encourage you guys to appreciate what you have in life,” Selemani urged. “You never know where life’s gonna take you.”
Alejandra Peña, a bilingual education major and undocumented immigrant, closed out the event with her story of redemption.
“I always felt guilty for my education and achievements,” Peña said. “According to some, I was stealing opportunities from normal people–someone not like me.”
Peña admitted depression and anxiety led her to contemplate suicide.
“I battled with depression and anxiety for years,” Peña said. “Some members of the media called us animals, criminals, rapists and drug dealers. I felt worthless.”
Peña said she overcame her suicidal thoughts but developed a substance abuse problem.
“I felt it was the only way to numb the pain of listening to people like me made out to be villains,” she explained.
Peña said she graduated high school with honors, then posted a photo in her cap and gown on Instagram with a caption supporting recipients of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. Her post received 1,500 likes.
“It was the first time in my life I felt I had 1,500 people in my corner. I felt their silent messages of love and support. I felt pride,” she said. “I felt pride not because I’m an undocumented immigrant, because that’s something I wouldn’t wish on anyone, but because of the things I’ve achieved in spite of it.”
Peña said she’ll be two years drug free in the summer and thanked the office of Student Counseling & Wellness Services for helping her.
“I thought seeking help was for the weak,” Peña confessed. “But it’s been the bravest, strongest thing I’ve ever done.”
Peña said she shared her story to encourage people to vote.
“I want your voice. I want you to scream for the millions who are working in the fields for less than minimum wage,” Peña challenged. “I want you to scream for the millions who are being trafficked. I want you to scream for the families still separated on our southern border and held in detention centers. I want you to scream power, because some can only whisper in fear of retaliation.”
Mathematics major Andrew Mazza and communications majors Miya Daniel and Jessica Tennyson also participated in the event, which was co-sponsored by the Mesquite and the Office of First-Year Experience.