Young Latina parents in the “Hear Our Stories” project shared their digital stories on May 7 at the Visitors Center at Heritage State Park in Holyoke. About 75 guests, including students, staff, family and friends of the Community Adolescent Resources and Education (CARE) Center of Holyoke, UMass Amherst students and faculty attended.
The women presented their own first-person video narratives, called digital stories, combining recorded voice, still and moving images, music and other sounds to share and communicate their experiences as young parents for the project led by principal investigator Aline Gubrium, associate professor of public health.
“These young women prepared compelling digital stories of key moments from their lives to share with their peers, the media and the public,” she said. “They presented their stories in ways very rarely seen before in the mass media. One of the things that stood out for me is that this was a moment for the storytellers themselves, as media makers in their own right, to shine and to take the spotlight.”
Gubrium says that while mass media highlight the fact that Holyoke has the highest birth rate in Massachusetts among young women ages 15 to 19, “Hear Our Stories” focuses instead on the voices of young Latina women. “Although there are many young parents in the community, they seldom have an opportunity to share their experiences with the public or to provide comment with the intention to shift policies and practices that shape their everyday lives,” she points out.
Stories were interspersed with question-and-answer sessions and discussion. One of the major themes to emerge from the afternoon is that society needs to support rather than stigmatize and shame young mothers, said Gubrium. “Another theme was that we shouldn’t be looking at parents, children and families as mistakes. We discussed what that does to people. The consensus was that it’s important to treat young people and their families with dignity.”
The afternoon also highlighted the fact that many social situations and media portrayals treat young people as social problems or as taxpayer liabilities, Gubrium said. “A lot of current approaches and discussions that go on around young parents are veiled in racist and classist sentiments, which tend to leave unexplored histories of dispossession.”
Gubrium and her research partner, anthropology professor Elizabeth Krause, pointed out that young parenting women have a great deal of potential, “so many good things to contribute, as much as any other young person, and yet they are usually derided as drains on society. We want to complicate the conversation and ask, ‘Why does our society not support certain young people while it certainly supports others?’”
Besides UMass Amherst and the Care Center, the “Hear Our Stories” project is a collaboration of the Center for Public Policy and Administration, the Center for Digital Storytelling, WGBY, the Massachusetts Alliance on Teen Pregnancy, the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health, the Civil Liberties and Public Policy Program at Hampshire College and the Mauricio Gaston Institute for Latino Community Development and Public Policy at UMass Boston. “Hear Our Stories: Diasporic Youth for Sexual Rights and Justice,” is supported by a two-year, $500,000 grant from the Ford Foundation’s Sexuality Research Initiative to Gubrium and Krause.