Sara Be shared her project with her peers on LAUNCH Day, which took place on March 6, 2020. Sara, a Thesis student, traveled to El Salvador during the summer of 2019 to film a documentary that accompanied her research about immigration, media, truth and storytelling. Her thesis challenges us all to look beyond the one-dimensionality of media and search for the stories that will bring depth to any issue. After reading her article below, you can view her full documentary here.
At home, my father, an immigrant from Indonesia, and my mother, an immigrant from El Salvador, held extremely different ideas on the topic immigration from each other--both of their independent immigration stories forming their personal opinions. Through my observations of my parents’ quarrels over politics, I discovered a disparity between the reality of the immigrant perspective and what I was seeing on the TV screen. Although we, United States citizens, are constantly exposed to the viewpoints of politicians and commentators, rarely are we given information from the perspective of immigrants themselves. I never saw a diversity of stories within mass media, just generalizations of countries or even larger areas to make a prepared point. We are deluded because we are often exposed to a false one-dimensionality of the immigrant’s story.
Fortunately, the strong media influences on public perception and policy can be used in a positive manner that detects biases and fallacies, seeking to enlighten media consumers instead of convincing them to support an political agenda. Storytelling of all types and mediums can have a tremendous effect on shaping people’s characters and opinions, just like the immigration stories of my parents affected my outlook on my country and the world of humans existing beyond its borders. Every human has their own personal truth, bringing a set of experiences as unique as their fingerprint to the table and adding a new side to the story; and although we can’t possibly comprehend every angle and approach to a concept, we can at least acknowledge that they exist and strive to take them into account as we make decisions and react to the world around us.
Stories have profound effects in politics. A critical strategy relating to this relationship between policy and stories is the use of policy narratives, using narratives to influence public opinion on policy matters. Although letting personal perspectives affect policy formation is what I am arguing for, when policy narratives are shared to mass media, they are often manipulated to only be expressed in a certain light. Twisted policy narratives are a worrisome concept because citizens may not be receiving the entirety of a policy or political decision, but a version that has been altered to show only the bits and pieces the media editor wants the consumer to see, a version that portrays a sole aspect or side to the story.
However, stories can be used in a way that positively influences thought over political policy. Politicians can use storytelling as a powerful tool to relay authentic stories that help listeners envision their aspirations and establish credibility. A truly authentic story will complicate the issue, because reality is always complicated. But understanding these complications aid citizens to gain an understanding of issues and possible solutions beyond surface level opinion.
How can a single story have so much influence, even enough to alter political policies? Stories transport one’s consciousness, a power they possess that cannot be replicated. When contemplating this notion, many may think of stories as transporting people to the unreal or inauthentic, because they physically are not being transported. However, this could not be more untrue. The transportation of the mind to another realm is just as valid, if not more valid, than the transportation of the body. Humans live the vast majority of their lives in their minds, and through absorbing stories they can broaden their understanding of the world around them without having to physically travel.
The invaluable result of purposeful stories is empathy, the stimulant that makes people care enough to build connections, delving deeper than soundbites and headlines, even when the issue doesn’t directly affect them.
Any given issue has infinite dimensions and viewpoints that reach far deeper than impersonal statistics. Although we can never as individuals begin to capture the entirety of a construct in our naturally biased minds, through intertwining our personal stories and the authentic stories of others in conversation and collaboration, we are awakened to the novel possibilities that exist when we obtain the collective consciousness that individual narratives shared and mixed with each other result in beautifully evolved, hybrid ideas. This way of thought could alter how we approach immigration policy, aiding decision makers to visualize essential components of the issue and construct insightful solutions. To put this proposed solution into action, I focused on the country of El Salvador and filmed a documentary capturing genuine perspectives of the natives, asking them questions related to their representation in US mass media.
Sara Be is a current senior. She is Student Body President, a National Merit Finalist, and a member of the National Honor Society. She has also served this year as Thespian Club President and Swim Team Captain. For the past few years Sara has participated in the school musical and tutored in the Episcopal Writing Center. Outside of school, she enjoys spending time with friends and family. Sara will be attending Duke University in the fall.