Students explore identity, share stories at ‘Human Library’

Illustration by Erin Joo

Fabiana Acosta, Contributing Writer 

Everyone knows the phrase “never judge a book by its cover.” However, it not only applies to books, but to individuals as well. 

On Thursday night, VCU students participated in the Human Library, where people tell their stories of identity and history through poetry and spoken word. 

“I believe in trying to inspire more diversity and inclusive conversations to be more respectful. To treat people with kindness and try to get to a betterplace of understanding,” said Jed Baul, a sophomore who was inspired by past Human Library events and performed this year. 

The stories within each book

Baul shared his story “To the Parents,” in which he spoke about family and culture, appreciating the endless love his parents gave to him. He also touched on learning to live in a dynamic Asian household as a young boy. 

Having emigrated from East Asia to the United States, Baul hasn’t seen his home country since moving to the United States at 4 years old. 

“Growing up in a Filipino-Catholic household, it’s all about our family, built on emotional connection,” Baul said. “Making sure that everyone was being taken care of, that we support them and just trying to uplift each other.” 

His free-verse, spoken-word piece tackled the joyful and tragic moments his parents faced while raising a family, emphasizing how home is the people who make you feel secure. He described the true meaning of a family tree and how precious it is never to forget your own roots. 

“I choose to do spoken words and write in free verse,” Baul said. “For me, it works out well because I know to me, it’s 100% authentic, it’s 100% real. It’s my story and not anyone else’s to tell.”

At the end of his performance, Baul told the crowd how much he loved his mom and dad, wishing his mom a happy birthday. 

Another speaker, senior Sweatha Kovvuri, focused on the subject of culture and learning about one’s ethnic background in her spoken word piece, “My Morning Routine.” As she described her routine, she repeated the idea of stripping away pieces of yourself. 

“Heritage is your history, it can be in the way we look,” Kovvuri said. “For me, one of the reasons why I think everyone is beautiful is because there is history written on your body. The way you look is generations of genetics that have been passed down, and that’s who you are.”

Kovvuri described the power of curiosity, how seeing people of different ethnic backgrounds made her see a possibility of not having to sacrifice oneself or one’s heritage. She cites being in VCU Globe as a source of her curiosity for other cultures.

From the scent of curry attached to her clothes to focusing on the value of the bindi, she said there are no flaws in displaying her culture, and there are no stereotypes to follow. There is only embracing who you are. 

“Almost all the Indian women in my family wore a bindi, and I am the first one not to because I’m first generation,” Kovvuri said. “So I wanted to identify the bindi not only as a part of my culture, but as my way of feeling connected to the women that have come before me.”

Back on the shelves

At the end, performers tucked the bookmarks to the end of their page of their books and ended their performances. 

“I thought the event was a nice way to get people to share their personal stories in a safe environment,” said event attendee Jamal Samuels-Madagu. “It allowed people to gain an insight on what other people may have going on in their lives.”

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