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Rylee Carrillo-Waggoner

“It’s important to me that you have these stories, that we as a family pass on our memories.” With these words my grandmother ended the letter she sent me one summer day out of the blue. It enclosed stories of her childhood: growing up with her sister who had passed away long before I was born, of some her favorite pastimes, and of events that she felt truly shaped her life. I continue to feel so grateful that my grandmother put in the time to share her stories with me because of the newfound connection to her that I felt after reading them.

Stories have the power to bring us closer together. Intergenerational stories allow us to find a firmer sense of self in the world and to feel an unparalleled sense of connection and belonging. After receiving my grandmother’s letter I felt inspired to talk to all of my grandparents, as well as my parents, to hear their stories as well, to further connect to my family. Hearing their stories I found myself more connected to my Mexican-American heritage, gaining a more complex understanding of my family’s experiences and history. Moreover, I grew up in Connecticut but my entire family is from the southwest. I feel connected to a place I’ve only ever visited because of the stories that I have heard about that take place there. My father’s childhood home just outside of Houston. My great-grandmother’s house in Pasadena with a grove of orange trees and lemon trees in the back. Places that appeared as hazy memories of my toddler mind have since been brightened, filled in by the stories my parents have told me about these places, about their connection to them.

Sharing our stories with those we love, letting our memories become the memories of the next generation, linking ourselves to one another through our narratives. That is one of the most precious and indispensable gifts that we can offer one another. I learned this both through my personal experiences, but also through my time as a comparative literature major at Columbia University, where I looked at the impact of narratives of communities of people and specifically at the power of intergenerational narratives in fostering a sense of belonging and connection to one’s world and oneself. At Columbia I also attended workshops held by the Oral History department that offered training on how to interview people and provide the space for people to discover just how large their own catalogue of memories truly is. Each time I interview someone, whether they be my interviews with my family, or with others that I have interviewed for school and personal projects, my understanding of the power of sharing our stories becomes exponentially strengthened. I am passionate about doing the work that I can to help offer this gift to others as well, to enable others to feel that sense of connection that only comes through shared stories.