“Wow, everyone should know about your story.”
Often we take matters into our hands and feel the need to share other people’s experiences and trauma as if they were our own. This can happen out of good intentions such as raising awareness, but other times we do it just because we can. An example of this is the videos that are flooding social media of parents and children being reunited. People are witnessing and becoming a part of a very intimate moment. Yes, people should be aware, but at whose expense?
Recently, our group had the opportunity to leave water and other supplies for migrants in the desert, through an organization known as No More Deaths. As we walked down the trails I thought of all the people who had walked among these same trails carrying their hopes and dreams in the suffocating heat. I walked in the desert for 2 hours, some of them will walk for 2 weeks. And I didn’t even experience the worst part of it. I thought of the stories I have heard from people who have made this perilous journey. The way they had confided in me to share a traumatic experience. The honor I had felt to be able to listen to them. The way in which I would never disrespect them by sharing their story.
I also think back to the man I met in a detention center last week. The way in which I felt asking him about his case. I was asking very personal information, and I understand why he would be hesitant to open up to me. He did not know me and he probably was tired of telling his story over and over. I wanted to get to know him and him to get to know me in a way that made him comfortable. I gave him power over the conversation. He talked about the things he felt comfortable sharing, and told me about the things he wanted me to know. I learned a lot in that short hour. More than I could have imagined. Yes, people should know about the horrendous place that detention centers are. Yes, a personal narrative is more powerful than any video you will see on social media. Perhaps if we were to shed the light of their stories they would find more help, people would become more aware of what is actually going on, and more help would be offered. Despite this, I will not share what that man shared with me. It is not place, and not my story to tell.
Through these experiences I realized that despite the ties I have to this issue, I will never share these experiences. And that is my privilege. Therefore, it is not my place to be talking about anything I may have experienced upon this journey or anything I learned.
To hear these narratives from the people themselves is a privilege, and not something that you should be sharing with others. They trusted you. They were vulnerable with you not just anyone. They did not share that story for you to turn around and share it your friends, family, or on a blog post. It was intimate and in confidence. By sharing these stories we are taking power over their narrative. We are stripping them of their autonomy over their story.
These are their experiences to share, not our stories to tell.