The Liverpool Arab Arts Festival is in full swing and is always a highlight of the city’s cultural calendar. 2016 has been no different – but there’s still time to join in, in a very prescient way, too. ‘Migrant Stories’ takes place this weekend at Bluecoat and has the potential to move us all. By Alan O’Hare.

The news have never been closer to us. Online journalism from the front-line, 24 hour TV news and a print press that has never felt as incessant or impotent all invade our lives on an hourly basis. Keeping up is tough, but keeping invested is tougher.

For some, though, the news is actually something that happens to them. Passive interest is something they can only dream about. Migrants, in particular, spring to mind when thinking about the news and those who star in the movies of tomorrow. “Liverpool has been a home for migrant populations for centuries and continues to be a city where people from around the world come to live, work and create a new chapter in their life,” says Aleasha Chaunte, from Liverpool Welcomes. “People continue to come here for all kinds of reasons – there have always been migrant stories to tell in the city, but now it seems that it’s an incredibly important time for those stories to be heard.”

We chatted with Aleasha about Liverpool Arab Arts Festival (LAAF) and, in particular, this weekend’s ‘Migrant Stories’ event at Bluecoat. The ‘Liverpool Welcomes’ team are curating an afternoon of sharing and listening, as people from the Arab world recount their own geographical, cultural and emotional journeys to Liverpool.

These stories feel prescient… 
They’re often overshadowed by current affairs and politics – and the true experiences of people in and from the Arab world can either go completely unseen or portrayed in a one dimensional way. The theme of this year LAAF is ‘Undocumented’ and it aims to address this, which is what brought us together for this ‘Migrant Stories’ event.

Any other catalysts?
In a recent TED Talk, the novelist Chimamanda Adichie talked about the danger of a single story. We need to hear multiple stories, from multiple voices, to gain a true understanding of the world we live in. And we need to be better at listening.

We couldn’t agree more. What might we be listening to at Bluecoat?
The beauty of this event is that we don’t know what we will hear – we are inviting the public to come and tell their stories of migration, or that of their families and ancestors, in a very relaxed and open way. We’re anticipating that we’ll hear a range of experiences, revealing both the light and shade of life as a ‘migrant’, and the diverse and sometimes complex journeys people have been on.

What do you hope people will take from these real life tales?
Personally, I would hope that by sharing stories, audience members and participants will recognise the common humanity in the tales we hear and also see that, if we look deep enough, we are all migrants. Most people have at least one story of migration in within their own ancestry.

That’s particularly true of Liverpool, isn’t it?
The fabric of society is constantly moving and evolving, partly because of the migration of people. I really like a quote by John Powell (Haas Institute director), where he talks about the fact that we all change each other and that’ s good… he says that “if we do it right, we’re going to create a bigger ‘we’ and a different ‘we'”. I like that.

Any last words for those thinking of coming?
I hope the combination of stories at the event will mean that everyone who attends will see this change as a beautiful and positive thing. It might also help us to create a Liverpool that is a truly welcoming place for migrant communities, refugees and asylum seekers.

Migrant Stories
Liverpool Arab Arts Festival
Saturday July 23 2016, 2.30pm, Bluecoat, Liverpool

Liverpool Welcomes

Pic courtesy LAAF