International Institute of New England’s ‘Suitcase Stories’ now streaming
Suitcase Stories, the International Institute of New England’s live performance series of personal stories by foreign and U.S.-born residents about their refugee and immigrant stories and connections, has been striking a chord in Boston’s own melting pot since 2017. During the COVID-19 pandemic, public spaces have shuttered, but the need for stories of perseverance is greater than ever, and so Suitcase Stories has taken to the screen for virtual storytelling and community conversations.
“Suitcase Stories is a program we launched to explore migration topics, particularly refugee and immigrant experiences, through the art of storytelling,” said Cheryl Hamilton, creator and director of Suitcase Stories, during one of the online broadcasts. “As you can imagine, right now our clients are particularly vulnerable. But we’ve also been able to help many people remotely — we’re doing wellness checks, we’re teaching people online — so things have continued despite this unique time.”
IINE has launched several ways Bostonians can engage with Suitcase Stories from a distance. The Suitcase Stories Conversation Series hosts a live online conversation between Hamilton and a previous Suitcase Stories performer. This allows audience members to learn more about that individual than a short story can tell. Audience members can engage with the performer by asking questions and making comments via a chat feature. These conversations require prior registration.
The interviews take the form of casual, fun conversations between friends, often veering into what the interview subjects are doing to stay sane at home. In an interview with Chris Ko, a Suitcase Stories performer and IINE employee based in Lowell, Hamilton mentioned that Ko was a renowned pastry chef in the office. Ko offered sage advice for stress bakers during the pandemic and showed off the artwork he’s been making during social distancing.
The organization has also launched the Suitcase Stories Circle, an online program accessed via a membership fee, which connects members with storytellers through interviews, discussion resources and information about fostering more inclusive communities generally and during the pandemic. Members are also privy to membership-only gatherings (virtual at the moment), talks and special events.
Previously performed Suitcase Stories sets and the Conversation Series are available to be viewed for free on the IINE YouTube page. Hearing about the immense challenges these immigrants and refugees have gone through to get to the United States, and the healthy dose of humor those stories are often delivered with, brings respite from and perspective to the COVID-19 challenges at hand.
Hamilton says, “There are some silver linings that we have to look for, and its true we’re connecting with people more than we ever were. I hope that we can continue that afterwards, whenever the after starts.”