Dream Project

January 23, 2018

Stories: A part of the Dream Project family

By Fa’aumu Kaimana Elsea


Some number of decades ago, my mother played bingo in Burien, at a hall where the auto collision repair center stands today. As she pulled out of the lot in her Chevy Camaro, mum picked up a little surprise. A county cop followed her from Burien to West Seattle going about the speed limit—at least according to mum. The lights did not come on until they reached the end of 16th Avenue.

“Do you know how fast you were going, honey?” said the cop.

“About the limit,” said mum.

“Let me see your identification.”

Following that was a ‘father-to-daughter’ style lecture on the importance of road safety.

In her last of subsequent encounters with the same cop, however, the cop apologized.

“Police don’t apologize. But I am sorry for your inconvenience.”

He must have figured out there was no point picking on a young, single mother who then-recently immigrated to the U.S. from Thailand and drives a Chevy Camaro.

Why did I tell a story of mum in her Chevy Camaro and encounters with the cop? Despite the fact I will no longer participate in Dream Project, this is only my second year at UW. Who said this had to be a “farewell” piece?

Anyway, stories remain a fundamental part of who we are and why we do what we do. In our world of consumerism, emphasis on personal achievement, and the UW Time Schedule, we generally find it difficult to think of how our own stories—and stories of our families, friends and communities—play a major role in who we are today. Think about how hard it was to “Tell a story from your life, describing an experience that either demonstrates your character or helped to shape it.” (Spoiler alert: the UW Time Schedule may help lead one to their own stories.)

As I worked with Evergreen High School mentees over the past several quarters, I too was challenged. Storytelling is difficult not simply because writing is difficult. Stories take on all sorts of forms, from prose and poetry, to oral traditions. Stories (along with the many marginalized groups) continue to endure silencing by dominant groups through neocolonialism, imperialism, and racism—among other things, of course. And then, perhaps as a result of any of these, there are stories that cannot easily be understood through any of our outsider lens or viewpoints.


For those reasons, I did not intend to root out each of my mentees’ stories one-by-one. I wished simply to foster an environment where mentees could develop their own stories and narratives. Whether their stories were ultimately “told” and in what forms is best left to imagination (there are constraints we must take care to acknowledge as part of the ongoing realities of mentoring). What mattered is that my mentees understood the importance of their own stories and the role they play in shaping who they are. By learning about who they are as students and as people, I began to learn how much Dream Project mentees too can play active roles in social justice and movement towards racial equity.

My participation in Dream Project may be over, but the work I am doing in the racial equity department is not. As I kick off a study abroad trip to Sāmoa deeply invested in decolonization, I wish to leave Dream Project with one final point. Family (a term I will problematize) play a crucial role in supporting our mission towards social justice. After my mother passed away last year, I learned how important it is to be surrounded by folks who advocate and fight for social justice in their communities. Relationships matter, especially if we want to effectively tackle the problems of systems, ideologies and institutions that have dominated and silenced for too long.

Much alofa.