Join Dmae Lo Roberts for a conversation with Sankar Raman, founder of The Immigrant Story – a website, traveling art exhibit and podcast documenting the journeys and stories of immigrants in Oregon and across the country. A volunteer-run nonprofit, The Immigrant Story also sometimes presents live storytelling events. One such event, coming up on the 20th anniversary of 9/11, will be the first live event The Immigrant Story has done since the pandemic began.
The Immigrant Story was founded in 2017 by Raman, who is also the board president. Raman also heads The Immigrant Story’s podcast series Many Roads to Here. In a relatively short time The Immigrant Story has become one of Portland’s premiere storytelling sites, and was named one of the region’s top nonprofit startups by Portland Monthly magazine.
After a successful career in high tech, Raman now explores the history of immigration in Oregon and in the United States through The Immigrant Story. An award-winning digital art photographer, storyteller and community leader, he’s turned The Immigrant Story into a compelling multimedia nonprofit to tell the stories and contributions of immigrants at a time when anti-immigrant hate has spiked high.
In this podcast you’ll hear a moving conversation with Raman. The podcast also features a personal audio piece by producer Michael Johnson, who recorded a conversation with his then two-year-old daughter Sophia about the images of the attack on the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001.
Sankar Raman (who was also featured on ArtsWatch for his photography in Blake Andrews’ April 26, 2021 story From hobby to passion to mission) immigrated to the U.S. to attend graduate school, earning a Masters in Physics and a PhD in Engineering from Purdue University. Raman says he was motivated to start the storytelling site after February 22, 2017, when he learned of the Oathe, Kansas, hate-crime shooting of two young Indian men who worked at a technology firm. One died from his wounds. Raman says the attack reminded him of when he was assaulted when he came to the U.S. as a college student to Indiana from Madras, India.
“And it brought back memories of me getting into this kind of altercation,” Raman recalls. “Thankfully I survived and that guy didn’t have a gun who attacked me a long time back. I was young like these guys were, so I thought the next day, I need to do something about it.”
Raman is proud of the work his 60 volunteer writers, photographers, web designers and exhibit and live event planners are doing for The Immigrant Story. The recent traveling exhibit I Am My Story traveled from the Oregon Historical Society to at the First Congregational United Church of Christ, 1126 S.W. Park Ave, Portland, where it’s on view through October 31, 2021.
The I Am My Story exhibit features six young women in their 20s who came originally from Burundi, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and the Central African Republic. Many of the stories are gathered into a book collection to be published soon.
“And what is impressive about (these) young women is that they are juggling multiple identities,” says Raman. “They are African. They are Black. In some cases they were a woman wearing a hijab. And they are all survivors of genocide, first-time college goers, and they are breaking with their past and they are really thriving.”
The live storytelling event I Am My Story Live: Voices of Hope will take place on September 11, at 7-9 p.m. at the Alex L. Parks Performing Arts Center at Jesuit High School, 9000 SW Beaverton-Hillsdale Highway, Portland. This event will be a highlight of Welcoming Week, which is designed to bring together immigrants, refugees, and U.S.-born residents to raise awareness of the benefits of welcoming everyone to our communities.
I Am My Story Live includes a performance by renowned viola player Dijana Ihas, a professor at Pacific University who is also a survivor of the war in Bosnia. Ihas was a member of the Sarajevo String Quartet, an ensemble that played more than 200 concerts during the longest assault on a capital city in the history of modern warfare, the Siege of Sarajevo. To honor the Sarajevo String Quartet, Ihas will be joined by prominent Portland-area musicians Inés Voglar Belgique (violin, Oregon Symphony), Keiko Araki (violin, Oregon Symphony), and Heather Blackburn (cello, Portland Cello Project).
From 8-9 p.m., five storytellers from across the globe will share the stories of the arduous journeys that brought them to the United States. The storytellers, from Burundi, Rwanda, Cambodia, and Syria, will tell first-person tales of their fortitude and resilience after surviving genocide. All of the storytellers receive professional coaching and mentorship to aid in performing their personal stories in front of an audience.
As an example of The Immigrant Story’s live events, see this video from a previous storytelling event, featuring the experiences of Mariamou Abdoulye in high school hearing about Rose Festival princesses. Watch her storytelling here.
At the end of the podcast, we’ll hear a moving personal piece by producer Michael Johnson in San Francisco. He had a conversation with his two-year-old daughter Sophia, who had reactions to the attack on the World Trade Center 20 years ago. Stay with us at the end of this moving episode for his Johnson’s audio art piece Talking With Sophia, first aired on September 11, 2002, the first anniversary of 9/11.
Michael Johnson has trained many producers and reporters in public radio in digital production through his years at Western Public Radio, and served on assignment in Managua, Nicaragua during the Contra/Sandinista Civil War. Johnson has been a freelance producer/reporter for the BBC, a training consultant for NPR, and general manager of KALW-FM. He currently works for The Moth and KQED-FM in San Francisco.