Sharing Immigrant Stories at the #11milliondreams Storython Boston


The #11milliondreams Storython, held on October 5th and 6th in both Los Angeles and Boston, was a collaborative effort of skill sharing and hands-on building to strengthen media practice in immigrant communities.  Drawing inspiration from social movements such as Occupy, which harnessed media and tech skills from participants in order to create tools and platforms that could better serve their efforts, the Undocutech project tapped into the preexisting resourcefulness and ingenuity of immigrant communities and channeled them into a creative space for tech and media. Since the project began, our role as the Undocutech team has been that of supporting organizer and facilitator, with the goal of amplifying the work conducted by immigrant communities.

The Storython

The Storython aims to create a space that is welcoming to all ages and skill sets, and is centered on the idea of creating and sharing compelling personal narratives.  We intentionally did not frame the event as a hackathon, because we became aware of limitations of using the model with immigrant communities.  From our experience, many people either did not know what “hacking” meant or they associated it with advanced technical skill.  However, projects like Migrahack are quickly building bridges between tech communities and immigrant communities, especially through hackathon-style events. On the other hand, stories have been a powerful influence for social change among immigrant communities, and we wanted our event to center around storytelling with media.

Hanging Out

On Saturday October 5th, we came together as organizers to set up and touch base with the Los Angeles team via Google hangout.  This provided an opportunity for teams to meet, offer support, and share the experience.  A memorable moment was when Vozmob blogger, Ranferi Ahiezer, communicated in Spanish (with the help of Lead Coordinator Maegan Ortiz’s translation) his desire to connect with us through Twitter. Ranferi mentioned having visited the East Coast in the past and expressed how happy he was to meet new people in Boston.

Found Objects

Urban planner and designer James Rojas shared with us the Found Objects workshop idea and materials, in which participants use a variety of objects to reimagine everything from neighborhoods to personal histories.  We began with Found Objects as a way to set the tone for the weekend as a whole.  It is accessible to all ages and skill levels, requires little facilitation, and is hands-on in the most literal sense.  By combining play and building, the activity affords participants the imaginative freedom to interpret objects in a variety of ways – to convey feelings, share moments, navigate space, or reenact a journey.  In an unfamiliar (and potentially intimidating) setting, it inspires a sense of confidence and creates a safe space to share personal stories. Beyond that, Found Objects places the contributions of participants at the forefront.  

A Boston youth creates her story using a variety of objects during the Found Objects workshop. On the left is her native Guatemala, where she lived her whole life up until three years ago. The blue line represents a geographical border, and the pink arrow is her journey north to the United States. The Statue of Liberty can be seen on the right.

Mobile Storytelling

The Mobile Storytelling workshop began with a brief history of the Vozmob project, and how it directly led to the development of the Vojo platform.  We explored notable examples of stories, groups, and campaigns created using both Vozmob and Vojo.  The first task in our workshop was to create a new account by calling the #11milliondreams Vojo group and recording an audio story.  One youth participant told the story of his parent’s immigration to Boston, while another told her own experience of meeting a fellow immigrant from her home country in school.  The second task involved creating picture stories and sharing them with the Vojo group via MMS.  One story pictures a youth standing in front of a world map holding a sign that says his family is attending an immigration march, and another depicts a Found Objects story.

Digital Video Stories

The Digital Video Stories workshop, conducted by Center for Civic Media Research Assistant and videographer Heather Craig, covered the basics of creating stories using a variety of video devices and emphasized common techniques and best practices.  First, participants viewed and analyzed videos.  Heather then showcased devices and equipment including DSLR’s, camcorders, shotgun microphones, and tripods.  Participants had the opportunity to handle professional equipment (for the first time, in some cases), although most preferred to shoot on their own devices, especially cell phones, when it came time to interview each other.  The storytellers were encouraged to explore the Media Lab and conduct interviews in different spaces.  Because of the personal nature of the stories, there were varying comfort levels with uploading content.  

Do Now

The Do Now activity, which kicked off Sunday’s event, enabled participants to learn more about one another.  In collaboration with Boston youth worker and educator Molly Jones, organizers set up the Do Now on a white board and urged participants to post: 1) something to LEARN from the group, 2) something to SHARE with others, and 3) our most influential STORY or storyteller.  Everyone wrote responses independently on sticky notes, posted them to the white board, and came together as a group to share aloud.  It gave us a better sense of what brought each individual to the event, both in terms of skill sharing around media and personal connection.  We heard stories of inspirational parents, grandparents, spoken word artists, and authors who shaped our understanding of the world.

Special thanks to our volunteers Mine Gencel Bek, Thalita Dias, Adrienne Debigare, Alexandre Gonçalves, and Becky Hurwitz, our partners United We Dream and Migrahack for making the Boston event a success, and to all the participants and those of you following our work online.  We are working to upload and share all content created during the #11millinodreams Storython both in Boston and Los Angeles.  More about our work can be seen at the #11milliondreams Storython website created by Heather Craig, and in a recent article by The Nation.

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