Three years ago, a restaurateur named Leo Cervantes paid me to write his life story. We became good friends, traveled to Mexico twice, and I learned more during that time than I ever expected. Three years later, Chilangos in the House is about to be unleashed on the world during a time when immigration is an especially hot topic. I took the job because I love true stories. We all want to identify ourselves in others to avoid isolation. We want to learn how other people solved the same problems we have right now.
In a story on the Psychology Today website called “Resilience and…4 Benefits to Sharing Your Story,” Sherry Hamby Ph.D cites the following reasons to live and tell:
- To help others benefit from your wisdom.
- To find your own voice because self-expression is important for so many reasons, such as for maintaining mental health.
- To re-affirm your values.
- To find peace and hope.
Storytelling goes as far back as the American Indians, writes Dr. Hamby. “I have been surprised at the power of emotional, autobiographical storytelling. Emotional, autobiographical storytelling means writing about events and people that have mattered to you in your own life--not just describing the facts of your lives. Research shows that even brief autobiographical storytelling exercises can have substantial impacts on psychological and physical health even months after the storytelling.”
In more modern times, matters of the heart and heartbreak, bereavement, alcoholism, addiction, abuse, rape or whatever the case might be are all interesting to others, entertaining and educational, especially if it’s a situation others may never have a chance to experience.
Cervantes, a 46-year-old Mexican immigrant, came to the U.S. at 19 to escape the widespread corruption of the drug cartels.
When asked why he was compelled to write Chilangos in the House, he says, “I had to tell my story. Who else’s story could I tell? I feel it’s important to help motivate other people by showing what I went through and how I keep going. When you fall down you only have two options. You can stay down on the floor or count to three---uno, dos, tres---and get up and go.”
Eventually, after much hard work, he became a U.S. citizen and is a living example of the American dream. Although with two restaurants, a mobile kitchen and a food truck, two young children, one college student and several properties to manage, life isn’t always what one may consider a dream.
But Cervantes is grateful for the progress he’s made in his life in spite of growing up poverty-stricken with an alcoholic father who was too often absent, and the less-than-healthy surroundings of his youth. Luckily, he was blessed with a mother who taught him by example how to live across the street from a garbage dump---which is exactly what they faced in Neza, Mexico City---and come out clean.
“My mother planted a microchip in me when I was young,” he says. “She taught me how to be positive and see everything as a gift. Even when I experience tough times I quickly figure out how to get out of the problem and into the solution.”
Crisis situations make us somehow think we’re special in having to explain ourselves, protect ourselves, run and hide, or heal, and make hard choices that may take years to identify. The good news is if you’ve lived through tough times, you have the gift of living to tell about it. You never know. Sharing that gift with the rest of the world could be the best thing that ever happened to you. Cervantes is about to find out.