The Importance of Storytelling

Where are you from? 

Storytelling is an important aspect of academic research.  The course began by thinking about the ways students' personal stories related to the concepts framing the course: place, belonging and/or im/migraiton.  Our point of departure was Emily Bailin's TED talk The Power of Digital Storytelling.  In her talk, Bailin discusses the fact that when someone asks us "Where are you from?" we often name a place, yet we are so much more than places. Students worked on their own "Where are you from" assignments:  

Imani South plays with notions of place, particularly north and south, in depicting her story:                     

Nowadays they say, "WE THE NORTH"; however, I say, "I am the SOUTH".    

Here is my story.  Where am I from? They ask.  

I come from a multicultural tapestry, woven with a variety of backgrounds.  

I am the South.  

I am a product of my bothers and sistes from our homeland, Africa.  

Guyanese, Jamaican, Bajan, Scottish, Canadian.

I am the South.  

Lesley Cheung's version seeks to reframe the question "Where are you from?" to ‘"What encompasses your life?”   She ends by stating: 

To be asked ‘where are we from’ is a privilege, it allows others to know how proud we are to be from a certain location or place. Everyone is different and we should appreciate all our differences.  

Tyler Lee's account discusses how although he feels welcome in Canada, this was not the case for his family members who migrated before his birth: great grandfather on my mother’s side experienced the difficulties of paying a head tax when he migrated to Canada in 1919 to work on the railroads.  Unable to bring his family over, he must have felt a sense of segregation. A more recent case would be with my grandparents who were unable to immigrate together due to the laws surrounding migration at the time.    


Amanda Yiu discusses visiting Scarborough bluffs and flying kites in the park.  For her, home involves both family and place

Where are you from? A question that seems to be asked to me all the time, expecting me to say China or some other Asian country. My answer: here. I am from here. I am from my family and my family is from Scarborough.

Mushtaba Jalali's narrative describes the long process of transit between the place where he was born, Afghanistan, and Canada, and the feeling of incompleteness when asked where he's from and the expectation of naming one place: 

… I am a migrant, a person who has travelled great distances just to be here. I am person from Afghanistan, Pakistan, India and the countless cities and kilometers of land in which I resided before I reached the status of immigrant, before I finally found a home to permanently live in

Influenced by their powerful stories, instructor Paloma Villegas also wrote a poem titled "mis roots" [my roots] describing where she comes from.


Despite Bailin's argument that we come from more than just places or locations, students worked with software called Storymap to map their histories of mobility and fixity as well as situate them within larger social and historical processes.  

An important pedagogical philosophy is to never assign students work one would never do oneself. Therefore, Paloma Villegas' storymap represents her migration history, which has influenced her teaching style.  

In Silvia Serpas-Hidalgo's storymap titled "My mobility in the Americas," she describes her relationship to place: 

My parents and my grandmother were born in San Salvador [El Salvador].  It’s where I get my dark skin and mixed facial features.  Since outward appearance is what people notice first, people usually ask me where I am from expecting an “exotic” answer.  I answer as one word: LondonbutmyparentsareSalvadorian

Like Tyler Lee's grandfather Daniel Mark's great-grandfather also had to pay a head tax to move to Canada. "Where am I from?" describes a long history of migration and transnational mobility.   Daniel explains how both his great-grandfather and grandfather returned to China to marry,  given the value they placed on maintaining their culture.  

Danielle Brody's Storymap titled "Way Acrosst the Ocean Where it all Began" led to an interesting discovery.  Her family has resided in Scarborough for as long as she could remember, however through the assignment she realized that her three times great grandmother was a seamstress for Queen Victoria.  

Kiran Mistry's storymap "Started from the bottom, now we're here" a line from a song by Toronto rapper Drake, discusses the effects of multiple migrations on her family members.  Her grandfather and his family migrated from India to Kenya, back to India, then to Britain and finally to Canada.  She speaks about these multiple migrations as pieces of a puzzle, which make up her family history.  

Image credits:

We all have a story to tell, Magenta Rose:

Floral tapestry

color burst

CN railway tracks MarcusObal, 2007,

Scarborough Bluffs

Long way to go Wajahat Mahmood