WTI Magazine #46 2014 October, 29
Author : Sergio Carvajal-Leoni Translation by:
The ability to tell stories is one of the most powerful skills that humans have. For thousands of years we have used stories to make sense of our lives and to pass down cultural identity from one generation to another. Nonetheless, recording technologies changed many of the reasons why we used to tell stories.
For years now, we have imported most of the stories we consume - via TV, movie theaters, etc - given that the quality of the storytelling that places like Los Angeles are able to produce, has been far greater than the one we could produce in our hometowns. The results? A sense of detachment from our own lands as well as a romanticism for faraway locations that look much more appealing than our own surroundings. Luckily, technology has evolved to turn that trend back around.
One and half year ago I teamed up with Romina Olson, a 1st generation Italian American actress and photographer, to create a model for local storytelling that "geo-ethnic" communities - such as the Italians from Central Texas - could use to revitalize their own communities and take ownership of the stories that they consume to preserve their cultural identity. Although the project had an academic focus - it was my master thesis - we wanted to create real examples on video of what these type of local stories could look like. For that we created the short documentary series "the Texan Italian Stories".
Armed with affordable cameras and using every new technology available for the purpose of creating and distributing stories, we visited different cities in central Texas and highlighted a few of the millions of stories of the Texan Italian community.
"Texan Italian" we defined as the mixture of Italian nationals, Italian Americans and Italophiles (those people of other ethnicities who are deeply connected to Italy). The final pieces were crafted to resemble a magazine on video, where different stories are featured around one central theme that changes from episode to episode.
I will not say that the journey was easy. Throughout the process we encountered many roadblocks. "Italians are too individualistic" we would hear from some of the many Texan Italians as a way to make us feel better for the lack of attention that the series received. Despite of having more than 400,000 people in Texas who claimed Italian ethnicity in the 2010 census, we often had to resort to paying for "facebook post boosts" to get people to watch something that was about their ethnicity, in their geographic location, shared with them for free. That said, we also enjoyed many beautiful moments where people would come to us with tears in their eyes, marveled about the fact that some of their stories were finally told. Those moments made every one of our efforts worthwhile.
On October 21st, I presented the series to a packed room of students at Texas State University. At the presentation one student asked me "did you ever imagine as a kid that you would be telling stories like this?". The answer? "perhaps not," as a kid I felt that if I was to tell stories they would have to be as epic as "Indiana Jones" or "Star Wars." As an adult, nonetheless, I feel that as much as I love the imported stories, nothing beats a good local story. In the end, it does not matter how much a story entertains me, if it can not help me love the place where I am and my surroundings, it is nothing but pure entertainment... and we're over saturated with that already.
The Texan Italian Stories can be viewed in the vimeo site http://www.vimeo.com/italaustin, our latest and last episode is titled Tex-Mex Italians, which is focused on the Texan Italian community of San Antonio.