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Storytelling Night Celebrates Multiculturalism

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Storytelling Night Celebrates Multiculturalism
Posted on 01/24/2019
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“Lost in Translation,” a multilingual night of storytelling to celebrate multiculturalism in Portland, will take place on Monday, Jan. 28, from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. at the Portland Public Library’s Rhines Auditorium. The event is patterned on The Moth storytelling sessions, and is being orchestrated by Casco Bay High School student Emeline Avignon as the culmination of her senior learning expedition.

The event is free and open to the public, and will feature stories told in languages underrepresented in the community, including Kirundi, Swahili, Portuguese, Khmer, Lingala, Maliseet, Arabic and French. For those not familiar with those languages, there will be English summaries in the program handed out, as well as visuals to help listeners understand and appreciate these stories of the participants’ lives – and also some songs that will be performed.

“I decided to do this because I am passionate about inclusion, diversity and culture in community building,” Emeline said. “I hope it raises awareness of the fact that immigrants and Native Americans lose their languages through generations, and why this is a crucial loss we should help prevent.”

Emeline, who plans to study anthropology in college, said, “I have experienced my own language loss with French through school assimilation.” Her father is from France and her family on his side speaks French, and she also did when she was younger.

“I lost it when I started going to school because I was made fun of it, discouraged by my teachers, was embarrassed, and made friends that didn’t speak French,” Emeline said. “Unfortunately, I didn’t see the value (in speaking another language).”

She has been working on regaining her French and in fact just passed the Seal of Biliteracy test. In 2017, the Portland Public Schools became the first school district in Maine to present Seal of Biliteracy awards to recognize students who demonstrate their mastery of English and at least one other world language.

This past fall, the Maine Department of Education followed suit and announced that the state of Maine also will now award students with the seal for their language achievements.

Emeline invites the Portland community to come to the event to enjoy the storytelling and raise awareness about the value of multilingualism. “I hope people can celebrate these many languages together despite our differences,” she said.