Stories Of Ours Founder, Erin Kang, Shares Why It Is Important For Us To Tell Our Stories

The Canadian based platform, Stories of Ours, is literally changing lives one story at a time. Erin Kang created it in 2012 with a primary goal to encourage other immigrants like her to connect with each other through the exchange of their unique and diverse experiences. Four years later, it has evolved into a story telling experience that is pushing the boundaries of how we define ourselves as individuals in our current world. Kang shares her story with us.

Stories of Ours Founder Erin Kang (middle) with guests. Photo credit: Sean DeCory

Tell us more about Stories of Ours
Stories of Ours is a project that uses storytelling and art to challenge dominant narratives, and to make conversations about equity, oppression, and privilege more nuanced and human. We host events, produce a podcast, and deliver workshops that all center around the importance of not only sharing our stories, but really listening to others. We work with people who are usually mis- or under-represented in spaces like media, entertainment, art, and journalism to share their lived experiences. One of our goals is to complicate how we view people as single things – ‘immigrant’, ‘refugee’, ‘Muslim’, ‘woman’, ‘queer’ – because we are, of course, so much more than singular stories. It’s about claiming that space in a really grassroots way and taking ownership of the stories that are told about us, in our own words. It’s about not just sharing “queer stories” or “Muslim stories”, but giving dimension to the person. I think that’s how we grow towards empathy and solidarity.

What inspired you to start Stories of Ours?
My family is very close. It’s me, my mom, and my sister. We’ve gone through a lot together, things that really shook up our family and ultimately tore us apart from my dad. I hadn’t realized how much trauma we all walked away with, because we went so deep into survival mode after he left. You can forget that you’re supposed to be healing when you get carried away with life. It’s only in the past few years that I’ve really begun to look at who I am and how I’ve gotten to be here, in my lifetime and beyond.

I’ve been writing since I was young — not professionally, but cathartically. I had a lot of feelings, even back then. I always felt different, on the outside, and a big part of that was certainly growing up in a pretty small, very white town. When I began to look more deeply at the things I held inside, writing let me channel them out. I joined a writing group that a friend started, and began to share these things with others. We all became closer. They started another storytelling group, that they run out of people’s living rooms, and I began to tell stories in public. It was transformative not only to know that I was healing and growing, but that I was able to invite others along on my journey as well.

At around the same time, I was having lots of conversations with my mom about what happened in our family. I realized how different our experiences were living in the city, given she was mostly surrounded by other Koreans while I had quite a diverse network. I began to think a lot about how that difference impacted our respective journeys of healing and growth. Half of our city was born outside of Canada – we house hundreds of Diasporans. All of these tendrils merged into the first event we hosted, in January of 2015. I brought together 6 people from different countries to share their stories of immigration. Afterwards, people were hungry for more, so I just kept doing them. We have an event every other month, and the theme has grown from being focused on immigration, as I explained earlier.

Faith Paré performing, July 2015

Faith Paré performing, July 2015. Photo credit: Sean DeCory

Why is it so important for people to tell their stories?
On the individual level, it’s an incredibly liberating and healing experience to share something about yourself. You can let things breathe, rather than holding onto it tightly inside for prolonged years. You can learn a lot about yourself and really challenge yourself to grow.

But I think that the really magical thing that happens is at the community level. Telling, and listening, to stories grows our capacity to relate. It builds bridges between communities and across differences. The hope is that all sides would approach it with the openness and willingness to be challenged that this requires. It’s disarming to hear a personal story from someone, especially someone you have preconceived ideas of. It gets easier to have a conversation with a person who tells you about their experience. It connects you to the larger picture, the bigger conversation – racism, misogyny, transphobia – in a more nuanced and human way.

This presents us with unique strategies to challenge the status quo. Maybe we can get some real work done on the very real challenges that so many of us walk with, starting simply in our own communities.

What are some popular guest experiences?
Many people approach me wanting to be involved, but also hold this conviction that what they have to say doesn’t matter or isn’t interesting. But once we start talking and learning more about each other, because I coach most storytellers through the process of writing out and sharing their stories, things really open up. It often takes an outside force to help guide you towards understanding where your fears lie, what makes you angry, what parts of you are still raw and hurt.

Once we go through that together, there’s a pretty strong connection. I’m grateful to say I consider many of the people I’ve met through Stories of Ours a friend. It has also grown a community in itself of people who have either been to the events or shared a story. Many people I work with are not performers or public speakers, so there’s also a sense of awe in themselves – we overlook how empowering it is to feel listened to.

The space and community we have is really special. At our events, you see elderly Chinese people sitting next to queer Somalian youth. You hear truly different stories. IT’s always fun to watch the connections grow. At the beginning of an event, people may not be speaking to each other much. But by the end, everyone’s laughed together, cried together, sat in the same space while reflecting on their own joys and struggles. A real togetherness that emerges, and it feels powerful.

Natalia Martinez performing, July 2015. Photo credit: Sean DeCory

Natalia Martinez performing, July 2015. Photo credit: Sean DeCory

Given personal experiences you may have had, how do you continue to challenge prevailing stereotypes and negative perceptions about topics like race, gender, class and ethnic background?
I think that one of the most radical things we can do is to speak out with our truths. I hope to continue seeking creative ways to work with folks who are not often heard or seen in the mainstream and ensure we’re part of the conversations that go on.

Featured Image credit: Sean DeCory

The Voix is a creative platform that empowers the voices of global storytellers. For more information, visit: Thevoix.com.