Our voices are powerful.
By Karl Valere
This isn’t simply true for when we yell at the top of our lungs, but rather each time that we are able to share ideas or stories that are meaningful, we exercise a form of power.
Stories to which others can relate have the power to resonate deeply with a listener — shedding light on a particular issue, explaining a life lesson, or perhaps inspiring a change in the listener’s behavior for the better.
In fact, our stories are so powerful that they can even be used as a coping mechanism to help deal with trauma. According to the American Psychological Association (APA), trauma is defined as “an emotional response to a terrible event like an accident, rape or natural disaster.”
Typically, shock and denial immediately follow the event, psychologists say, but longer term reactions can include flashbacks, unpredictable emotions, strained relationships, and even physical symptoms like headaches or nausea.
Research indicates that writing about trauma is healthy. Therefore, one could argue that talking about trauma in a safe and supportive environment, by extension, is also beneficial to one’s mental and physical well-being.
For Jacqueline Aquino, creating a safe and supportive environment in which others can share their stories of trauma is vital. “My mission is to destigmatize life struggles and promote self-care through storytelling,” the 22-year-old Baruch College alum writes on her website.
An Elmont graduate, rape survivor, artist, and advocate for social justice, Ms. Aquino embraces the fullness of her identity and uses the power of storytelling to liberate others. Ms. Aquino is also a fierce advocate for mental health education, often detailing her own journey of living with Type 2 Bipolar Disorder.
“As a masculine Latina woman who speaks openly about her mental health and history of sexual assault, I make many people uncomfortable,” Ms. Aquino acknowledged in our email interview.
But if you ask “Jackie,” she isn’t so much concerned with those who are uncomfortable, especially since so many people gravitate towards her tales of courage and resilience.
“Everyone finds comfort in knowing that they are not alone,” Jackie remarked. “Who I am is more important than who people want me to be.”
Read our full interview below as Jackie talks about being the co-founder of Let’s Talk About It (a storytelling company), her passion for the arts, what Elmont needs today, and the pressures of conformity versus staying true to yourself.
Full name: Jacqueline Aquino (Jackie)
Year graduated from Elmont: 2012
Schools attended & areas of study: CUNY Baruch College Bachelor’s of Science in Public Affairs, Theatre Minor
1. What’s your passion?
Storytelling. Whether it is through theater, social media or around the dinner table, I love sharing a slice of life’s experience with others.
Narratives have been shared in every culture as a means of entertainment, education, cultural preservation and instilling moral values.
Parents tell their children stories to help them sleep or to scare them into behaving well. Disney makes millions and millions of dollars every year by storytelling, I think it is an incredible method of communicating.
With #Let’s Talk About It, I invite people to add their edits to the script of life, I welcome individuals to input their ideas on topics that are rarely covered in traditional conversation.
Ideas such as mental health, sexual assault, racism, LGBTQ rights….all the topics they told you to avoid, my organization faces head on in order to reduce stigma and promote self-care.
2. With storytelling — how and when did you know that: “This feels right. This is what I’m supposed to be doing?”
Elmont’s stage, 2009. I was cast as Sarah Brown in Guys and Dolls. I know it may seem silly, a bunch of high school kids pretending to be older people in a distant world in a made up story — but singing and dancing about love and money and all the other things that make our world turn round — it felt so important.
I felt like electricity, lighting up the room with spirit, filling the room to the ceiling with my voice.
That started my theater career, that gave me the confidence to speak in front of hundreds, to be able to tell story and story again and to be comfortable telling my own.
With my theater experience, I had no problem serving on panels at student development trainings in college or giving policy proposals at town hall meetings for the New York City Council.
I did not know at the time how I would share my voice but I knew that I loved having the spotlight and the ability to make transform people.
3. Talk about why you believe the work you do is important.
Let’s Talk About It is an organization that allows a vulnerable population to know that they are heard and supported.
When I share my story of having bipolar disorder and being a rape survivor, I not only break the stigma but I empower others in similar situations to take control of their narrative. Everyone finds comfort in knowing that they are not alone.
When you can talk about these issues, you can find solutions or coping mechanisms, your words become ideas which can become powerful tools in changing society for the better.
These issues that are so taboo are affecting so many and Let’s Talk About It is important because we are all in this together. We need to cooperate, to listen to one another, and to know we are not alone.
When I explain my depression and mania through my characters Dackie and Mackie, people are not afraid to ask questions about mental health, with humor I believe we are able to address very serious ideas in a more proactive manner.
4. If you could introduce one project to the Elmont community, what would it be?
I would definitely create more public spaces, clean them up, there are so many empty lots and overgrown parks. An important and overlooked part of the story and our town is the setting, the design, where the action takes place.
Your environment is a huge factor in your mindset, your mental health, and perception. Elmont could definitely use some TLC in the public space department. Then, of course, events can be held in these parks, community sports, poetry readings, yoga classes…it literally sets the stage.
5. Describe a challenge you had to overcome to get to where you are now.
As a masculine Latina woman who speaks openly about her mental health and history of sexual assault, I make many people uncomfortable, including my father.
I have never been dainty or ladylike. I am loud and tough; the first to curse or get my hands dirty.
You are faced with ignorant judgment when you aren’t easily labeled or put in a conventional box.
For a very long time, I forced myself to follow the formula of “go to school, get a sensible job, get married, have the kids and the white picket fence” despite knowing those things would not necessarily make ME happy.
I have come to learn that who I am is more important than who others want me to be.
I do everyone a disservice when I am not true to myself and in that lesson, I have lost the support of a few friends and family members. That was really painful because I felt as though I had done something wrong, I had failed these people who meant so much to me.
However, because I am figuring myself out and acting without shame, I am finding more allies who understand me and are able to support my dreams more than the naysayers ever could have. Basically, haters gonna hate.
6. Are you content with your high school experience, or would you change anything? What advice would you give to your teenage self?
I loved my high school years, at the time I was wild and super dramatic but I had great friends, amazing teachers, life-giving experiences.
I would tell teenage Jackie to spend less time dating and more time with Key Club or Global Links. I would also tell her to focus on progress, not perfection, and that asking for help does not make her weak.
7. Name one thing that gives you hope for Elmont’s future. Why?
These kids!! I have met so many recently at community events, they are so resilient, incredibly intelligent and ready to change the world. I am not worried at all, the spirit and the energy that runs through those hallways is enough to get us to the moon and back.
Bonus: What would you like to be known for?
Being crazy enough to change the world.
Thank you to the incredible, Jacqueline Aquino, for granting us this interview. Be sure to stay connected to Jackie and Let’s Talk About It for updates on all their work and future endeavors!