Voice of a Storyteller

09/01/2020
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    Residents wave from an apartment building in the Tlatelolco housing complex in Mexico City. (AP)
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    The young architect sets out every afternoon with a microphone and a loudspeaker to walk the neighborhood. (AP)
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    People listen from a bench as Percibald reads children’s books aloud outside. (AP)
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    He reads stories to help children who are stuck at home during the coronavirus pandemic. (AP)
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    The children wave from an apartment building in Mexico City. (AP)
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Percibald Garcia isn’t an actor or voiceover artist. He’s not a teacher or childcare worker. But since May, the 27-year-old architect has been a popular storyteller among some kids in quarantine.

During the pandemic, weeks of confinement—no friends, no group activities—have been dull and dreary, especially for children.

“Almost nobody was looking after the way that kids were experiencing this lockdown,” Garcia says.

For months now, Garcia has taken his “wandering microphone” into the green spaces between buildings in an enormous Mexico City apartment complex. There he broadcasts stories while children listen.

During His time on Earth, Jesus told stories. He often spoke in parables because He knows that stories can reveal truth, overcome barriers, gather people together—and even change them.

Garcia reads stories like El Tlacuache Lunatico (The Crazy Opossum) by David Martín del Campo. He often plays songs by Mexican children’s composer Francisco Gabilondo Soler. Children pop up at the windows of the multistory buildings for the show. A few venture out with parents to sit on the grass or a bench.

“The public plaza has been extremely important in Mexico since the time of our ancestors,” Garcia notes. “It is where people meet, talk, where the life of a neighborhood develops.” The pandemic hit this aspect of life hard, because people have been encouraged not to go out or gather. He calls his reading project “De la Casa a la Plaza” (“From the house to the plaza”).

Garcia believes his readings help to reclaim those shared spaces—and stem the movement to a digital world. “In the last three months, everything has gone online—work, contacts, shopping,” he says. “This is an act of resistance in the face of this ferocious digitalization.”

Rogelio Morales listens from his grandmother’s window. Since March, the nine-year-old has spent much of his time playing video games. “The only thing I go out for is to walk my dog,” he says. “It’s a little boring.”

But of the storytelling, Rogelio says, “It’s nice. We can relax a little.”

Luna Gonzalez came outside with her mother. They listened to Garcia from a safe distance, both wearing face masks. “I imagine what the animals are like,” says Luna. “I get bored at home.”

Rogelio’s grandmother, Maria Elena Sevilla, also sits at the window. “It is not just children he is entertaining,” she says. “It is people of my age too.”

These days, most of his neighbors have cellphones, tablets, or computers. But Garcia wants them to hear the human voice—and thrill in the world of shared tales.