A live storytelling event with NWNY

Written by Divya Ramesh

A 19-year-old girl, sweating in her cocktail dress and her eyes wide with fear, was driving through a slum in Rio de Janeiro with a middle-aged male stranger. She was lost, and also late for her friend’s wedding, so she had little choice but to blindly trust that this stranger would not rape or assault her, and that he would take her to her destination.

A crowd of nearly 70 people sat transfixed as they listened to this true tale, narrated by a young woman at NWNY’s live storytelling event on June 24. Held on the rooftop of NWNY founder and director Arielle Kandel’s Bed Stuy apartment, the event featured stories by several young immigrant women who previously participated in a storytelling workshop series led by NWNY and storytelling nonprofit The Moth.

The clear, sunny evening was perfect for storytelling and socializing. Peppy music and a wonderful view of the Manhattan skyline greeted guests as they excitedly trooped up to the roof deck for this unique experience. Guests hailing from different corners of the US and the world, including Istanbul, Peshawar, Guinea, Chennai, and Paris, mingled enthusiastically over drinks and delicious snacks. Conversations ranged from personal immigration challenges and women’s rights to what makes New York City so special. “A storytelling event like this is one of the best ways to feel connected,” said Danya Sherman, a guest at the event.

With the sun mercifully down, and the guests satiated and quenched, the event began. Arielle kicked things off by sharing the inspiring tale of her grandparents’ move to New York years ago. Next, Arielle introduced each storyteller and read their witty answers to the question, “When do you feel most like a New Yorker?” The audience cheered and nodded in agreement as they listened to the tongue-in-cheek answers, such as, “when I am walking fast for no reason at all”, “when I dress crazily and nobody cares”, and “when I fall asleep on the train and always manage to get up before my stop.”

Then, one by one, each woman walked confidently to the center of the roof deck with microphone in hand and told her five-minute story. The crowd clapped, laughed, and empathized; everyone could relate to the motivating accounts of moving to a new city. As Azadi Siemens, one member of the audience, said, “I have been an immigrant three times in my life. It is a process I feel very sympathetic towards and a journey that greatly interests me.”

Stories of overcoming apprehension and moving thousands of miles away from home to Las Vegas, Hawaii, and New York, vanquishing homesickness, immigration woes, and language barriers – and surviving among strangers, spiders, and scorpions – moved the crowd. There were also other relatable, gritty, often humorous stories of fighting one’s fears and embarrassments.

As the event, interjected delightfully by cooing babies, drew to a close, the audience hooted and clapped in appreciation. The enjoyable evening, with perfect weather, beautiful hues across the sky, and, most important, the very moving stories told by young, confident women, is sure to be etched in attendees’ minds for a long time.

For those of you who could not attend this event, and those who would like to listen to the wonderful stories again, there is another NWNY fundraising storytelling event coming up on July 25.

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