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Fish Out of Water, Part 1

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コンテンツは WJCT Public Media & the Florida Theatre, WJCT Public Media, and The Florida Theatre によって提供されます。エピソード、グラフィック、ポッドキャストの説明を含むすべてのポッドキャスト コンテンツは、WJCT Public Media & the Florida Theatre, WJCT Public Media, and The Florida Theatre またはそのポッドキャスト プラットフォーム パートナーによって直接アップロードされ、提供されます。誰かがあなたの著作権で保護された作品をあなたの許可なく使用していると思われる場合は、ここで概説されているプロセスに従うことができますhttps://ja.player.fm/legal
Untold Stories Podcast
Untold Stories. A WJCT Public Media and Florida Threatre Production.(Morgan Gesell, Rain Henderson)

Dive into the profound and unexpected journeys of four remarkable individuals in "Untold Stories: Fish Out of Water, Part 1." This episode, recorded live at the iconic Florida Theatre on August 6th, 2022, the episode encapsulates the essence of embracing one's uniqueness in unfamiliar waters.

At the heart of each episode of 'Untold Stories' is the artistic director, Barbara Colaciello from BAB'S LAB, who expertly curates narratives, provides guidance to storytellers, and hosts the live events with finesse.

Michael Jordan, a musician from St. Augustine, opens the show with his enchanting music, embodying themes of water and self-discovery. His song "Sow" resonates with the theme, narrating the poignant tale of leaving home and finding oneself in the world. Jordan's unique guitar techniques and heartfelt lyrics set a contemplative tone for the evening.

Antoinette Johnson takes us on a rollercoaster of emotions, detailing her shift from a U.S. Army veteran to a beacon of hope and support through her enterprise, TrueJoy. Her narrative is a patchwork of challenges, rejections, and eventual triumph in Jacksonville, painting a vivid picture of resilience and the unexpected joy of finding one's tribe in the least likely places.

Ana Ng's narrative weaves through continents, explorinag her layered identity as a Panamanian-Chinese American. Her story, punctuated by cultural clashes and linguistic hurdles, offers a window into the life of a multicultural individual forging her path amidst diverse worlds. Ng's tale is a colorful mosaic of struggles and triumphs, echoing the complexities of a life lived across borders.

Grant Nielson provides a refreshing perspective on embracing one's quirks in a conformist world. Growing up vegetarian in a predominantly meat-eating community, his journey is laced with humor and introspection. Nielson's experiences, from childhood misunderstandings to finding his creative niche, underline the episode's theme: there's extraordinary power in owning your uniqueness.

Transcript

Please note that the following transcript has been generated by automated technology. While efforts have been made to ensure accuracy, there may be errors, inconsistencies, or deviations from the original audio. We encourage listeners to refer to the actual podcast episode for complete and accurate content. This transcript is provided for convenience and may not fully capture the nuances of the spoken word.

David Luckin
(jazz music)
- Welcome to Untold Stories,
a production of the Florida Theater and WJCT Public Media.
Tonight's program was recorded August 6th, 2022.
The theme, fish out of water.

Barbara Colaciello
We always start off with a musical act
and tonight we have a very special guest, Michael Jordan.
Michael lives in St. Augustine, he's been here since 2011.
He's a wonderful musician.
He plays guitar in a whole different way,
so I'm not going to explain it,
you're just going to be seeing it.
He does deal with themes of water
and that was perfect for this particular theme,
fish out of water.
So please welcome Michael Jordan.
(audience applauding)

Michael Jordan
Hello.
It is my immense pleasure to be here and play for you guys.
The song is about leaving home for the first time
and being out in the world by yourself.
That can happen when you're 18,
that can happen when you're 12, 42.
It's called "Sow," as in you sow the fields.
(gentle music)
(birds chirping)
(gentle music)
(birds chirping)
(gentle music)
(birds chirping)
(gentle music)
(birds chirping)
(gentle music)
♪ When I left my home ♪
♪ As a boy on my own ♪
♪ I was alone ♪
♪ My mama said, "Son, be patient with all you can ♪
♪ To be a man, Lord, if you can." ♪
♪ And sow ♪
(gentle music)
♪ When I left my home ♪
♪ As a boy on my own ♪
♪ I was alone ♪
♪ My daddy had said, "Son, work hard with your hands ♪
♪ To be a man, Lord, if you can." ♪
♪ And sow ♪
(gentle music)
♪ When I left my home ♪
♪ As a boy on my own ♪
♪ I was alone ♪
♪ Trying to find my ♪
♪ My third eye, eye, eye, eye, eye ♪
♪ When I left my home ♪
♪ Trying to find my third eye, eye, eye, eye ♪
♪ Thought I was blind ♪
♪ 'Til I met myself in a dream where I said, "Son, ♪
♪ "Why don't you look inside? ♪
♪ "Your eyes are fine, eyes are fine." ♪
♪ And sow ♪
(gentle music)
♪ And sow the fields of love ♪
♪ And sow the fields of love ♪
♪ And sow the fields of love ♪
[APPLAUSE]
Thank you, thank you.

Barbara Colaciello
So beautiful. Thank you for starting off tonight, Michael.
Didn't that make you want to dance?
Well guess what?
I always get people up on their feet.
I think it's important that we move and we groove.
And so I was thinking, alright, you know, I always try to come up with a dance
and the theme is fish out of water.
So I have been watching videos of fishermen casting off a line. "I don't fish."
So it was really interesting because everyone has some kind of British accent
who is telling you what to do about the fish.
So we're going to get up and we're going to do the stance of casting off the line.
So everyone up.
Come on, come on. And I can see you.
So I know.
Okay, so Jeremy is going to give us some music.
Got the rod.

[music]
♪ This seaweed is always greener in somebody else's lake. ♪

Barbara Colaciello
Oh, you guys are doing great.
You didn't know you were going to get an aerobic workout.
Thank you.
[applause]
Oh, they're not sitting down. They want to do more.
That was under the sea with a beat.
You don't know how long that took me to find a song for this, okay?
These are the things I do at night instead of go to bed.
So, we are going to begin the evening.
Our first storyteller is a very special person in my life.
I'm going to focus on how I meet people.
I don't know, sometime, maybe 2008, 2005, I really don't know the date.
But I--Antoinette Johnson walked into Players by the Sea
where I was going to be directing a play, Gem of the Ocean.
There were two female characters in that play, and she walked in.
One character was 29 years old.
The other one was 265 years old.
It's an August Wilson play, and that woman, Aunt Esther, embodies the history,
the African-American history in the United States.
So she comes in, of course. I have a read for the younger woman.
She actually is 28 years old.
And as she's reading, I'm looking at her face and the way she's using it and moving it,
and I just said, "Okay, can you read for Aunt Esther?"
And she said, "Well, I was going to suggest that, but I thought you'd think I'm crazy."
Anyway, she read for Aunt Esther. She became Aunt Esther.
She just was amazing.
And so tonight, when you hear her story, maybe it'll make sense, what I just told you.
Toni is a spiritual theologian. She has a company, TrueJoy,
which becomes a bridge for people that need help, and she's a special, special lady.
Please, please welcome Antoinette Johnson.
[applause]

Antoinette Johnson
Hi, everybody.
So I got to Jacksonville in 2006. I had just gotten out of the Army.
I was stationed up in Fort Stewart, Georgia, and every time I had to leave,
I would come to Jacksonville. I absolutely loved it.
One thing that I loved the most was every time I crossed the Georgia-Florida border,
it was like the sun would just come out from behind the clouds.
It was absolutely amazing. So I decided I was going to set up roots here in Jacksonville.
Well, the first three apartments I got here were on month-to-month leases,
and they were infested with everything from German cockroaches to palmettos to rats and mold.
Okay, that's different.
Then I started my job search, and it seemed like everywhere I went,
oh, no, you are, like, way too overqualified.
We think you're going to get bored here. All right.
So jobs are a little challenging.
But then I started to try to make friends, and for me, I go to the usual places,
you know, churches, local clubs, bars, salons, things like that.
I also got on a couple online dating sites, and I met nothing but swindlers, users,
and people that were in such dire financial need that they were willing to do anything to get those needs met,
including in a few cases steal from me.
So after about eight months of feeling completely rejected by this village disguised cleverly as a city,
I thought, okay, that's it, Jacksonville, I've had enough.
So I was living on Old Kings Road, and I decided, let me pack up everything,
I'm going to get out of Florida, that's it, I'm heading up to Savannah, I'm getting out of Dodge.
Pack up my car, I'm driving down University Boulevard,
I get off on the University and about an exit, and my car decides to break down.
Okay, universe, all right, you're trying to tell me something, I'm not sure what, but plan A, let me call up the family.
Hey, Auntie, yeah, my car just broke down, and, oh, no, oh, you know what, no problem, it's all good.
Next person, hey, cuz, yeah, yeah, yeah, what's going on, huh, how's Juneburg, okay, cool, cool, cool, cool.
Well, you know, my car just broke down, and, no, you can't either, okay, you know, no problem.
Hey, sis, yeah, things are kind of challenging here, my car just broke down.
No, no, anything you can send will be great.
Oh, okay, all right, so I get towed back to my apartment, and I'm going through my plans.
I have to find a way to get around.
My car's broken down, public transportation.
I live on Old Kings Road, I tried to get from Old Kings Road to downtown.
It took four hours.
That's it, navigating this city without a car is not gonna work for me.
Plan C, I'm gonna get every job I can within a three-mile radius, work my butt off, make some cheddar, and get out of here.
Well, I got those three jobs all along Baymeadows Road.
Within two months, one of those jobs completely shut down, and the other one had a massive layoff.
Okay, I get it, there is a vortex trying to keep me here in this city, but I am not going to give up yet.
I decide I'm going to get my commercial driver's license, and I become a limousine driver.
And I actually took pretty well to it, I enjoyed it.
One of my first driving gigs, I was in a 1955 Silver Dawn, it was a Rolls-Royce vintage vehicle.
It has zero air conditioning.
I'm picking up a newly married couple, they're so adorable.
We're driving down 295, and I'm thinking, "Ooh, it's pretty hot in here, let me roll down the window just a bit."
And this smell begins to permeate the vehicle.
It's a mixture of coffee and sulfur and rotten eggs and sewage?
Oh my God, Jacksonville, this is just not working for me.
So as I continued driving though, I discovered more and more about Jacksonville.
I also discovered Jacksonville's very unique form of prejudice.
I called it like a mixture between driving Miss Daisy meets Song of the South meets American History X.
It was a little bit of, "Oh my goodness, bless your heart, you are so well spoken. Why don't you come and work for me?"
So I'm going to pick up somebody for their special occasion.
I drive up and I hear, "Hey, I'm going to need you to get off my property, zigger!"
"Oh, I'm sorry sir, I'm just here to pick up your son and his friends for prom?"
Things didn't get too much better after that because in December of 2006, I got some news I wasn't expecting.
My only and older sister by 10 years, Denise Marie, had been diagnosed with stage 4 colon cancer.
And I think to myself, "Oh man, I thought it was going to be bad news, she's going to be totally fine."
Now, let me tell you why I thought that. My sister was a literal super human.
She was once hit by a semi coming across a bridge. Her car was completely crushed.
Do you know this woman got out of the car, told the driver to go screw himself, and then walked home?
Now we convinced her to go to the hospital where she literally walked away with nothing but a mild concussion.
But her death-defying feats didn't stop there. My sister also happened to love seafood.
And we came from a little swamp called Louisiana, so seafood was always on the menu.
Doesn't matter whether it's a fish fry, crab bowl, shrimp bowl, crawdad fest, my sister was there for it.
The problem was, she was also deathly allergic to seafood.
So when we had cookouts, she showed up, EpiPen in hand. I'm talking full-on reaction.
Swollen hands, swollen face, swollen throat, literally about to enjoy the last meal of her life.
Thriving, enjoying every last bite. She could survive anything.
But my sister wasn't just physically phenomenal, she was also emotionally phenomenal.
See, we grew up in a very religious Southern Baptist family. It was either God's way or no way.
And me, I was the little flower child, speaking peace and love.
And I had a really unique ability. I could see and communicate with spirits.
You know, like that movie, "The Sixth Sense"? I see dead people. But not as dramatic.
Now, my mother knew that I had this ability, and so did my grandmother.
They did the best they could to navigate that, but my mother really understood.
When I was five, my mother began to succumb to difficulties from the juvenile diabetes that she had lived her life with.
She was 35, and she went into the hospital.
Now, she knew that her time was coming, so she instructed my big sister to bring me to the hospital so she could let me know what was going on.
She knew that I could see, and she wanted to make sure that I was prepared for what was going to happen.
So for six months, my big sister drove me back and forth to the hospital so I could have these one-on-ones with my mother.
And I still remember the funeral.
I was the only one in that room, smiling from ear to ear, because I could see my mother standing next to her coffin.
And I began to tell my family, "Hey, Mom's OK. She has a new body. She's not hurting anymore.
Guys, she's feeling great. Isn't this wonderful?"
All my family saw was a little six-year-old that was coping with the loss of her mother via the use of wild imaginings.
But the one who believed me was my sister.
Over the course of the next three years, we would lose her father, both of our grandparents, two aunts and two uncles.
And I would also, in the midst of that, lose my sister, because when she was 16, she had a child.
And remember, I come from a very religious family.
They thought that she was going to be a bad influence on me, so they separated us.
And I didn't fully have my sister back into my life until I was about 18.
And around that time, I was really coming to terms with the fact that not only was I a spiritual medium, but I was also gay.
Like, super gay.
And coming from a black, Southern Baptist family, being gay is more of a white thing, you know?
Like gluten, or like raisins and casserole and coleslaw type of stuff.
So it did not go over very well, but my sister accepted me as if it was totally normal and natural.
She said, "Hey, you love who you love, right?"
And I thought, "Wow."
She was always there for me.
So in April of 2007, I'm still in Jacksonville, I'm still desperately trying to get out because this city is not for me, I'm not fitting in, I'm feeling rejected, and I get the call from my nephew.
"Auntie Net, mom's gone."
In that moment, I was suddenly thrust into that psychedelic tunnel from Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, you know, with all the wild images on the wall.
There's no earthly way of knowing which direction we are going.
There's no knowing where we're rowing or which way the river's flowing.
Is it raining? Is it snowing? Is a hurricane a-blowing?
Not a speck of light is showing, so the danger must be growing.
Are the fires of hell a-glowing? Is the grizzly reaper mowing?
Yes, the danger must be growing, for the rowers keep on rowing, and they're certainly not showing any signs that they are slowing.
I was suddenly thrust out of the waters of emotion and into the air of logic, being forced to come to terms with the fact that my only sister, the only connection to my family,
Denise Marie, 5'5", 120 pounds of Mighty Mouse Kryptonian energy, had been taken out by the kryptonite that is cancer.
And it just did not compute.
And not only did she disappear, but as I looked out into my world, my family, the spirits of my mother, my grandparents, and all of my ancestors who had been with me had also disappeared.
I began searching for light wherever I could, and the one place I found it was in my sister.
In the fact that she was always there for me, always helping me, always supporting me.
So that's where I began looking for her, in those acts of service.
One of the first things I began doing, because I was still driving for the limousine company at the time, is picking up people from bus stops in the limo and dropping them off at their various locations.
But let me tell you folks, there is nothing like driving down Moncrief, okay, in a stretch limo and having people come up to your window, mobbing the car, saying, "Hey, I got something to say."
It's a scary moment. I began to help wherever I could. I mean, I got so bad, I was in grocery stores and people would say, "Do you work here?"
"No, but I can help." So I'm running around stores trying to find things, doing everything I could.
I was the epitome of that Alan Watts quote. "Please let me help you or you'll drown," says the monkey, putting the fish safely up a tree.
I helped and helped as much as I could. And I didn't stop until about maybe three months later. I was in line at a McDonald's in Mandarin.
And there was this older woman behind me, and I had not had my fix of helping that day.
And so I turned around and I said, "Excuse me, ma'am, why don't you let me buy you lunch?"
She said, "What's wrong with you? I look like a bum or something? Look like I ain't got no money? I don't need you."
"No, ma'am, I just wanted to get you." "What's wrong with you? Got your head all in the clouds? Some kind of space cadet or something? I don't need you. Move."
So I moved and I stopped. Space cadet. That's what my sister used to call me.
She had shown up in the form of this irate woman and said, "What in the world are you doing? Why are you trying to help people who don't need your help?
Why is your head in the clouds? What are you really looking for?"
And so I spent the next few months trying to find out what I was looking for.
And it was looking for, what I was looking for was the things that my sister encouraged in me.
My sister was family, true family. She was a tribe. She accepted me fully for who I was.
She loved me unconditionally. She let me be myself. That's what I was searching for.
I was searching for connection. I was searching for trust. And I found it here in Jacksonville, of all places.
It has been 16 years and I have found an amazing new family of people who care,
people who love me and trust me for all that I am, people who are just as oddly quirky and unique as I am.
I found a thriving spiritual community. I found an amazing theater community.
I found new brothers and sisters and aunts and uncles. And the spirits of my family also began communicating and connecting with me again.
And so now I am grateful. I consider myself more of a flying fish here in Jacksonville,
able to better navigate those waters, able to better navigate myself and how I connect with others.
Thank you, Jacksonville.

Barbara Colaciello
Thank you, Tony. So our next storyteller. Also, I met with her walking in the door at my space called Babs Lab over at the Cork Arts District one night.
We were having a story slam and she showed up. I didn't recognize her. I said, "Is this your first time coming?"
"Yes, I saw this was happening and I decided I'm going to come and tell a story. I like to challenge myself every day."
"Okay, great." So, you know, slams, people get up and tell a story about a theme. They have like seven minutes.
And she told her story and she won the slam against a really amazing competition.
And so I started getting to know her and meeting her and she would come back and work on the craft of storytelling.
Ana is extremely interesting and you will hear her story. She went to FSU. She was in finances.
She's a financial professional and she has a lot of certifications. And she's another amazing woman.
And so please welcome Ana Ng.

Ana Ng
My father grew up in China during the Cultural Revolution.
He was a country boy. He played soccer barefoot and worked in the rice fields.
For dinner, he had white rice with just soy sauce. Protein was for special occasions.
So when he turned 18, he jumped to the opportunity to leave China for a better life.
He migrated to a Central American country called Panama.
And Panama is known for two things. The Panama hats that are actually from Ecuador.
And the Panama Canal that was built by Americans, also known as gringos.
My mother followed a similar path. In Panama, she worked in a bodega.
My dad quickly noticed her. And so he went to this bodega every day, every hour, on the hour just to say hi.
In three months, they got married. They wanted to take it slow.
And nine months later, an eight and a half pound Chinese baby girl was born.
Her name is Ana Ng. It didn't take me long to realize that I looked different.
In school, kids would say that because I have the Asian eyes that I didn't see as good as they did.
This little girl said that Asian kids don't have nipples. So I go to the pee-pee room with two other six-year-olds,
straight myself, to show that I, in fact, have them.
Another kid asked, "Do you know kung fu?" "Yeah, I know kung fu, yes."
I felt like I was living this double life that I had this facade putting up.
At home, I'm Chinese. My parents are Chinese. We speak Cantonese. We use chopsticks.
Everyone in my family can do the Asian squat. Normal, like, everyone does it, right?
Outside of the house, however, I was a different persona. I am Latina. I'm surrounded by Latinos.
We speak Español. We dance merengue. We listen to reggaeton.
I thought that this is who I am. Whenever I talk to someone new, this will happen.
Wow. [speaking Spanish]
You speak Spanish perfectly. [speaking Spanish]
Where do you learn it? How do you learn it? I learn it how you learn it. How do you learn it?
This constant Q&A reminded me that I'm not like everyone else. I'm different.
And I'm not expected to be here. I don't belong here. This is someone else's territory.
Fast forward to fifth grade. I'm ten years old. I'm having dinner with my family.
And my dad puts down his chopsticks, and he has an announcement.
[speaking Chinese]
There is this great business opportunity in China. And kids, we are moving to China next month.
In the middle of the school year, I don't know anything about China, and I don't have Wikipedia.
But what I do think maybe is that everyone will look like me, and there will be no more Q&A,
no more staring, and I will just fit right in.
We pack up our suitcases, we say bye to our friends, and we hop on a plane,
and we land on the other side of the planet.
We are in China, a country of a billion people and 300 languages and dialects.
The official language is Mandarin. My parents are from southern China, and we speak Cantonese.
And that means that I don't speak a s*** of Mandarin.
And I don't know a s*** of the Chinese characters. These little doodles? Eh, not me.
So even though I'm already in fifth grade in Panama, because I didn't know anything, I didn't know the language,
in China I was placed in first grade with a bunch of six-year-old babies.
I feel like I'm Gandalf walking into a room of little Frodo's.
And six-year-olds, as you might know, have tons and tons of questions.
[speaking Mandarin]
"Are you repeating first grade? How old are you? Are you a dumb kid?"
I lived in China for three years. And during that time, no matter how many Chinese friends I made,
no matter how much Chinese I learned, teachers and classmates always saw me as the foreign kid.
I am constantly reminded that this is not my place. I'm not from here. I don't belong here.
This is someone else's territory. Fast forward to fourth grade in China. I'm already 14 years old.
I went through puberty on my own with no one to relate to because everyone was still drinking milk from their mothers.
And I had dinner with my parents. My dad puts down his chopstick and has another announcement.
[speaking Mandarin]
So the great business opportunity that we came to China for was a con. And we are moving back to Panama.
All right, then. Pack up the suitcases, say bye to friends, hop on an airplane, and we land on the other side of the planet.
We are back to Panama.
I hadn't spoken Spanish in three years. So I forgot all of it. I didn't know s*** Spanish.
It was like deja vu all over again, learning a new language, having to adjust to the culture, doing the whole facade, the double live, the Q&A.
Again, I'm reminded that I am just I wasn't from here. I'm still not from here. This is not where I belong.
Eventually, I finished high school in Panama. And my mother has a master plan for me.
And the master plan is to not depend on a man, to be self-sufficient. And how are we going to do it? By getting a college education.
Florida State University has a campus in Panama, and I signed up as a first generation college student.
And I pay for my own tuition. And it's not because I have a sugar daddy.
It's because I work my ass off as a Toyota salesperson and I have two responsibilities.
Number one, look cute. Number two, shove Toyota Corollas and RAV4s down people's throats.
And I am very good at it. Let me tell an industry secret with you.
Take notes, because you're not you're going to be able to monetize this. Make your tickets work.
I know you guys work hard for these tickets. And the secret is that people like money.
And they love it when it's free. So how do we monetize it? By raising the price of the vehicle for $1,000.
And then when we close the sale, we give these customers $1,000 free money back to them.
And so we call this the cashback. And people love those cashbacks. Oh yes, they do.
Two years fly by. I sell tons of cars. I'm probably, humble bragging, the richest 22-year-old in the entire household.
You can fact check that. And I have my associate's degree from FSU Panama.
So what's next? I'm glad you asked. The American dream, of course.
I quit my job. I sell my telephone number to my colleague because people were bidding for it.
And say bye to friends. Pack my suitcase. Hop on a plane. And I land in the United States of America.
In college, I do everything. I joined the Hispanic Latino Student Union and with them,
I dance merengue bachata salsa and the Cuban reda. I joined the Asian American Student Union and I fold origamis and make these rice paper lanterns.
I am loving the diversity. And I think maybe America's where I belong. Not so fast.
See, the Chinese Student Association that I'm also part of, they get together to celebrate Chinese holidays.
And there are tons of holidays and they celebrate with food, specifically potlucks.
Now, I know some of my friends are here. They know that I love potlucks.
So you can imagine how devastated I am when I find out that I am not invited to those potlucks.
I know I cried three times. So I pick up the phone.
And call someone.
Do you know why they don't invite me to these potlucks? Hey, Ana, no offense, but you're not Chinese enough.
Wow. I'm not Chinese enough.
Maybe I should just stop trying to fit in. That's it. I give up.
Where was I? Oh, yes, trying to fit in. What I should be doing is go shopping.
I hear about this place where shopping is a pleasure. You know what that place is? Yes, it's Walmart.
So I go to Walmart. I grab this bag of pistachios, which I love.
I go to the cash register with my brand new American debit card.
And the cashier lady says, do you want cash back?
What? Yes. How much can I get? Up to $100.
For a transaction?
OK, so by buying this bag of lightly salted pistachios, I qualify for a $100 cash back.
This is the American dream.
The friend who gives me the right walks over and says, "Ana, is everything all right? There are tons of people behind you.
Do you know that they offered cashbacks?
Oh, is that what you're trying to do? I mean, why is it taking so long?
It's free money. Sorry, just one second.
Ana, it's not free money. This is a debit card and this is an ATM. So this is your own money.
So it's not cash back. The American dream is a scheme.
I have never felt so embarrassed and naive in my entire life. Back home, we don't mix banking services with pistachios.
Again, I'm reminded that this is not your place. You don't understand us. You're an outsider. You don't belong here.
This is someone else's territory.
So according to people, I'm not Panamanian enough. I'm not Chinese enough. And I'm definitely not American.
So who am I really? The variety of experiences and perspectives that my diverse cultural background has brought to my life
has more than made up for the feelings of lack of belongings that I have gone through throughout my life.
I embrace my life. I embrace who I am. And I don't want to be anyone else.
I love being this chameleon fish and go instead of bar hopping, I go fish ball hopping.
It makes my life colorful and interesting. And it's one of the reasons why I'm on this stage tonight.
And I wouldn't have changed a thing about it. The reality is I am Panamanian.
I am Chinese. And I'm also becoming an American in 2024.
Thank you.

Barbara Colaciello
I just love the cash back. Wouldn't that be great? How much you want? Cash back. Okay.
That was fabulous. Isn't she fabulous?
She speaks like five languages. And obviously she's just a great lady.
Next up is one of the most creative people in Jacksonville as far as I'm concerned.
He... the word dabbles isn't really correct because he actually dives deep into a lot of different areas.
He has his advertising agency called Nueva in San Marco. He's an acclaimed musician.
And he's award winning designer. I also met him walking when he came in and came to a Story Slam.
Told a story because he is a very good storyteller and won that Slam.
So it is amazing. People just show up and they have this ability to wow the audience.
So tonight I give a big round of applause to Grant Nielsen.

Grant Nielson
So the first time I was ever away from my mom, I was about two years old.
And she left me at a neighbor's house while she ran some errands.
And this woman leans down. She's like, "Grant, would you like some apples?"
Now, there are only two real ways to answer this binary question. One of them is yes, please.
Another classic is no, thank you.
But the way that I, two year old Grant, answered that question of do you want some apples was
are there any animal products in it?
You see, my family is that rarest of American families, the vegetarians.
And in 2022, I can hear you saying that's not that big a deal.
Everybody has an alternative diet. And you're right now.
But in 1976, when my parents became vegetarians, it was unheard of.
And they became vegetarians for spiritual reasons. And leaving college, they decided that they were
going to start a farm. And they moved out to the country, out to Mount Pleasant, Iowa.
And they had a little farm there and they were so happy.
Well, they were out there a few years and they were pleasantly surprised by my pregnancy,
or the pregnancy of me.
And so the surprises kept coming because one fateful Christmas day, during the middle of a blizzard,
I was born. And as harrowing as my labor was, they took me back to their little farmhouse.
And we spent the rest of that frigid, blistering winter in a desolated cornfield.
And come spring, my mom turned to my dad, looked him dead in the eye and said,
"We're getting the f*** out of here!"
So we bopped around the Midwest a little bit, went to Kansas, Missouri.
And I was, I guess, three. And it was my mom's 30th birthday.
And she meets my dad as he's coming home from work and she meets him at the front door.
And she says, "Grant has chicken pox." And he says, "Great, awesome.
Well, I just lost my job and the company who owns our house has given us two weeks to get out."
So the Nielsen's were on the move again. And this time they widened the search a little bit.
They said, "You know, a lot of our family has gone from the Midwest down to Florida.
We know it's warm down there. It's not going to be icy and snowy and desolate down there.
So after searching around for a job, my dad relocated us here to Jacksonville, the beef capital of Florida.
And we got a quaint little house in southern Mandarin. And you know, it was lovely.
But in 1986, you know, as I mentioned, my parents became vegetarians for spiritual reasons.
We don't go to church. We didn't eat meat.
We weren't into sports or fishing or any of the other southern traditions.
And so imagine southern Mandarin in the mid 80s, a community so lacking in diversity that we were the most exotic people there.
And as I said, people are nice. People were kind. They didn't understand us, but they tried hard.
For the most part, they were confused by our lifestyle and just sort of assumed like we were in a cult or something.
There was a lot of that. There was a lot of like, "Oh, well, we don't understand what your people eat or, you know, your traditions."
I'm like, "I don't have any. We don't have any traditions. We just don't eat meat."
And, you know, the number of times that we were, you know, like, "Well, are you not in a cult, though?
Can you really say that's not a cult?" I'm like, "I can promise you there's no cult."
But growing up, you know, was interesting in the south.
And, you know, I recall one time I was six years old and I was at a neighbor's house and his mom was like, "Grant, would you like a burrito?"
Now, as I said, I was pretty well trained to ask for animal products, but six-year-old Grant was wiser than two-year-old Grant.
And he knew there's only two things that a burrito means. That's refried beans and cheese.
So I was like, "Heck yes, I want a burrito."
And so, you know, she makes a microwave burrito and I'm eating it.
And I'm eating this. I'm like, "Miss Oakland, these beans taste funny. These beans taste weird."
And she's like, "Oh, honey, that's a beef burrito."
And my eyes must have looked like Shelley Duvall in The Shining because I was mortified.
So the next thing that happens is my mom gets a call and it's Miss Oakland and my mom's like, "What's going -- what's on -- what's happening?"
And she's like, "Grant is freaking out. He's screaming, he's crying, he's saying something about not eating meat?"
And my mom's like, "Yeah, we're vegetarians. What did he eat?"
She's like, "A burrito, a beef burrito."
And my mom's like, "Okay, I'm on my way."
So she picks me up, right? I'm inconsolable.
We go home. We go home, she sits me down. She's like, "All right, calm down, first of all. You're going to be fine. What happened?"
I was like, "I ate a bologna burrito."
"Okay, well, you probably didn't eat a bologna burrito. Do you mean a beef burrito?"
"No, it was a bologna burrito."
Inconsolable.
She calms me down. She's like, "You're going to be fine. It doesn't matter what you ate. Do you feel bad?"
I was like, "No, I feel okay." And she's like, "Then you're going to be fine."
I'm like, "I'm not in trouble?"
She's like, "Oh, sweetheart, no."
And my dad got home, and I'm sure they had a good laugh about the bologna burrito bit,
but I was, I don't want to say traumatized, but I would be years before I would ever slip up again about meat.
I was, you know, this was my identity. I was a vegetarian. I was not interested in dabbling in meat.
And, you know, though our community was kind, they were nice. They tried really hard.
Parents, adults are kind, but kids are cruel.
And, you know, between being a vegetarian and not having that congregation, you know, and we didn't go to church,
I didn't have that community, that faith community.
And I was the kid that, at recess, I was out there with my sketch pad and my inhaler because, of course, I had asthma.
I couldn't go out for sports.
And so, you know, I'd spent most of my time by myself, you know.
Not hated, but not really accepted either.
And, you know, I took that time and I invested in creative pursuits.
You know, I loved visual art. I loved music.
When I was in seventh grade, I started my first band.
And when I was in eighth grade, we played our first show.
And by the time I was in high school, I was in a touring group, moving all over the country.
And I was performing on huge stages, and I loved performing, and I loved creating.
And I, you know, I started young and I just moved straight into that as a vocation.
And I turned these things into jobs.
And I learned about marketing and promotion and design.
And, you know, I worked on these large-scale events throughout the Southeast.
And eventually, I even started a brick and mortar marketing agency with my business partner in San Marco.
And now I get to do this stuff all day long, every day.
And I couldn't... I feel so lucky and so fortunate about that.
But I think I owe a lot of that to that otherness from my childhood.
I owe a lot to that having not quite fit in, not quite accepted.
And, you know, I think I've realized that there's a lot of strength in standing out.
There's power in being unique.
And throughout the years, you know, as I gained agency, as I realized that power,
I've been able to bring other misfits along with me.
People that are good at seeing outside the box and thinking of things creatively.
And, you know, now I have a son. He's nine.
And he's also one of those weirdos.
And he loves being weird. He loves being different.
He has no interest in fitting in.
And I love that about him.
And so, you know, I look at my life and I think, you know, if you're one of those fish
that's been yanked out of your environment and you feel stuck somewhere else,
I say lean into that uniqueness.
Because I think you'll be surprised how quickly you can grow legs.
Thank you.
[Applause]
[Music]

David Luckin
The live performances of Untold Stories at the Florida Theatre were originally recorded by Jeremy Moore and Eric Stansfield.
Saul Lucio is the technical director of the Florida Theatre.
The Untold Stories broadcast and podcast was produced by Brady Corum and Ray Hollister.
[Music]
[Music]

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Untold Stories Podcast
Untold Stories. A WJCT Public Media and Florida Threatre Production.(Morgan Gesell, Rain Henderson)

Dive into the profound and unexpected journeys of four remarkable individuals in "Untold Stories: Fish Out of Water, Part 1." This episode, recorded live at the iconic Florida Theatre on August 6th, 2022, the episode encapsulates the essence of embracing one's uniqueness in unfamiliar waters.

At the heart of each episode of 'Untold Stories' is the artistic director, Barbara Colaciello from BAB'S LAB, who expertly curates narratives, provides guidance to storytellers, and hosts the live events with finesse.

Michael Jordan, a musician from St. Augustine, opens the show with his enchanting music, embodying themes of water and self-discovery. His song "Sow" resonates with the theme, narrating the poignant tale of leaving home and finding oneself in the world. Jordan's unique guitar techniques and heartfelt lyrics set a contemplative tone for the evening.

Antoinette Johnson takes us on a rollercoaster of emotions, detailing her shift from a U.S. Army veteran to a beacon of hope and support through her enterprise, TrueJoy. Her narrative is a patchwork of challenges, rejections, and eventual triumph in Jacksonville, painting a vivid picture of resilience and the unexpected joy of finding one's tribe in the least likely places.

Ana Ng's narrative weaves through continents, explorinag her layered identity as a Panamanian-Chinese American. Her story, punctuated by cultural clashes and linguistic hurdles, offers a window into the life of a multicultural individual forging her path amidst diverse worlds. Ng's tale is a colorful mosaic of struggles and triumphs, echoing the complexities of a life lived across borders.

Grant Nielson provides a refreshing perspective on embracing one's quirks in a conformist world. Growing up vegetarian in a predominantly meat-eating community, his journey is laced with humor and introspection. Nielson's experiences, from childhood misunderstandings to finding his creative niche, underline the episode's theme: there's extraordinary power in owning your uniqueness.

Transcript

Please note that the following transcript has been generated by automated technology. While efforts have been made to ensure accuracy, there may be errors, inconsistencies, or deviations from the original audio. We encourage listeners to refer to the actual podcast episode for complete and accurate content. This transcript is provided for convenience and may not fully capture the nuances of the spoken word.

David Luckin
(jazz music)
- Welcome to Untold Stories,
a production of the Florida Theater and WJCT Public Media.
Tonight's program was recorded August 6th, 2022.
The theme, fish out of water.

Barbara Colaciello
We always start off with a musical act
and tonight we have a very special guest, Michael Jordan.
Michael lives in St. Augustine, he's been here since 2011.
He's a wonderful musician.
He plays guitar in a whole different way,
so I'm not going to explain it,
you're just going to be seeing it.
He does deal with themes of water
and that was perfect for this particular theme,
fish out of water.
So please welcome Michael Jordan.
(audience applauding)

Michael Jordan
Hello.
It is my immense pleasure to be here and play for you guys.
The song is about leaving home for the first time
and being out in the world by yourself.
That can happen when you're 18,
that can happen when you're 12, 42.
It's called "Sow," as in you sow the fields.
(gentle music)
(birds chirping)
(gentle music)
(birds chirping)
(gentle music)
(birds chirping)
(gentle music)
(birds chirping)
(gentle music)
♪ When I left my home ♪
♪ As a boy on my own ♪
♪ I was alone ♪
♪ My mama said, "Son, be patient with all you can ♪
♪ To be a man, Lord, if you can." ♪
♪ And sow ♪
(gentle music)
♪ When I left my home ♪
♪ As a boy on my own ♪
♪ I was alone ♪
♪ My daddy had said, "Son, work hard with your hands ♪
♪ To be a man, Lord, if you can." ♪
♪ And sow ♪
(gentle music)
♪ When I left my home ♪
♪ As a boy on my own ♪
♪ I was alone ♪
♪ Trying to find my ♪
♪ My third eye, eye, eye, eye, eye ♪
♪ When I left my home ♪
♪ Trying to find my third eye, eye, eye, eye ♪
♪ Thought I was blind ♪
♪ 'Til I met myself in a dream where I said, "Son, ♪
♪ "Why don't you look inside? ♪
♪ "Your eyes are fine, eyes are fine." ♪
♪ And sow ♪
(gentle music)
♪ And sow the fields of love ♪
♪ And sow the fields of love ♪
♪ And sow the fields of love ♪
[APPLAUSE]
Thank you, thank you.

Barbara Colaciello
So beautiful. Thank you for starting off tonight, Michael.
Didn't that make you want to dance?
Well guess what?
I always get people up on their feet.
I think it's important that we move and we groove.
And so I was thinking, alright, you know, I always try to come up with a dance
and the theme is fish out of water.
So I have been watching videos of fishermen casting off a line. "I don't fish."
So it was really interesting because everyone has some kind of British accent
who is telling you what to do about the fish.
So we're going to get up and we're going to do the stance of casting off the line.
So everyone up.
Come on, come on. And I can see you.
So I know.
Okay, so Jeremy is going to give us some music.
Got the rod.

[music]
♪ This seaweed is always greener in somebody else's lake. ♪

Barbara Colaciello
Oh, you guys are doing great.
You didn't know you were going to get an aerobic workout.
Thank you.
[applause]
Oh, they're not sitting down. They want to do more.
That was under the sea with a beat.
You don't know how long that took me to find a song for this, okay?
These are the things I do at night instead of go to bed.
So, we are going to begin the evening.
Our first storyteller is a very special person in my life.
I'm going to focus on how I meet people.
I don't know, sometime, maybe 2008, 2005, I really don't know the date.
But I--Antoinette Johnson walked into Players by the Sea
where I was going to be directing a play, Gem of the Ocean.
There were two female characters in that play, and she walked in.
One character was 29 years old.
The other one was 265 years old.
It's an August Wilson play, and that woman, Aunt Esther, embodies the history,
the African-American history in the United States.
So she comes in, of course. I have a read for the younger woman.
She actually is 28 years old.
And as she's reading, I'm looking at her face and the way she's using it and moving it,
and I just said, "Okay, can you read for Aunt Esther?"
And she said, "Well, I was going to suggest that, but I thought you'd think I'm crazy."
Anyway, she read for Aunt Esther. She became Aunt Esther.
She just was amazing.
And so tonight, when you hear her story, maybe it'll make sense, what I just told you.
Toni is a spiritual theologian. She has a company, TrueJoy,
which becomes a bridge for people that need help, and she's a special, special lady.
Please, please welcome Antoinette Johnson.
[applause]

Antoinette Johnson
Hi, everybody.
So I got to Jacksonville in 2006. I had just gotten out of the Army.
I was stationed up in Fort Stewart, Georgia, and every time I had to leave,
I would come to Jacksonville. I absolutely loved it.
One thing that I loved the most was every time I crossed the Georgia-Florida border,
it was like the sun would just come out from behind the clouds.
It was absolutely amazing. So I decided I was going to set up roots here in Jacksonville.
Well, the first three apartments I got here were on month-to-month leases,
and they were infested with everything from German cockroaches to palmettos to rats and mold.
Okay, that's different.
Then I started my job search, and it seemed like everywhere I went,
oh, no, you are, like, way too overqualified.
We think you're going to get bored here. All right.
So jobs are a little challenging.
But then I started to try to make friends, and for me, I go to the usual places,
you know, churches, local clubs, bars, salons, things like that.
I also got on a couple online dating sites, and I met nothing but swindlers, users,
and people that were in such dire financial need that they were willing to do anything to get those needs met,
including in a few cases steal from me.
So after about eight months of feeling completely rejected by this village disguised cleverly as a city,
I thought, okay, that's it, Jacksonville, I've had enough.
So I was living on Old Kings Road, and I decided, let me pack up everything,
I'm going to get out of Florida, that's it, I'm heading up to Savannah, I'm getting out of Dodge.
Pack up my car, I'm driving down University Boulevard,
I get off on the University and about an exit, and my car decides to break down.
Okay, universe, all right, you're trying to tell me something, I'm not sure what, but plan A, let me call up the family.
Hey, Auntie, yeah, my car just broke down, and, oh, no, oh, you know what, no problem, it's all good.
Next person, hey, cuz, yeah, yeah, yeah, what's going on, huh, how's Juneburg, okay, cool, cool, cool, cool.
Well, you know, my car just broke down, and, no, you can't either, okay, you know, no problem.
Hey, sis, yeah, things are kind of challenging here, my car just broke down.
No, no, anything you can send will be great.
Oh, okay, all right, so I get towed back to my apartment, and I'm going through my plans.
I have to find a way to get around.
My car's broken down, public transportation.
I live on Old Kings Road, I tried to get from Old Kings Road to downtown.
It took four hours.
That's it, navigating this city without a car is not gonna work for me.
Plan C, I'm gonna get every job I can within a three-mile radius, work my butt off, make some cheddar, and get out of here.
Well, I got those three jobs all along Baymeadows Road.
Within two months, one of those jobs completely shut down, and the other one had a massive layoff.
Okay, I get it, there is a vortex trying to keep me here in this city, but I am not going to give up yet.
I decide I'm going to get my commercial driver's license, and I become a limousine driver.
And I actually took pretty well to it, I enjoyed it.
One of my first driving gigs, I was in a 1955 Silver Dawn, it was a Rolls-Royce vintage vehicle.
It has zero air conditioning.
I'm picking up a newly married couple, they're so adorable.
We're driving down 295, and I'm thinking, "Ooh, it's pretty hot in here, let me roll down the window just a bit."
And this smell begins to permeate the vehicle.
It's a mixture of coffee and sulfur and rotten eggs and sewage?
Oh my God, Jacksonville, this is just not working for me.
So as I continued driving though, I discovered more and more about Jacksonville.
I also discovered Jacksonville's very unique form of prejudice.
I called it like a mixture between driving Miss Daisy meets Song of the South meets American History X.
It was a little bit of, "Oh my goodness, bless your heart, you are so well spoken. Why don't you come and work for me?"
So I'm going to pick up somebody for their special occasion.
I drive up and I hear, "Hey, I'm going to need you to get off my property, zigger!"
"Oh, I'm sorry sir, I'm just here to pick up your son and his friends for prom?"
Things didn't get too much better after that because in December of 2006, I got some news I wasn't expecting.
My only and older sister by 10 years, Denise Marie, had been diagnosed with stage 4 colon cancer.
And I think to myself, "Oh man, I thought it was going to be bad news, she's going to be totally fine."
Now, let me tell you why I thought that. My sister was a literal super human.
She was once hit by a semi coming across a bridge. Her car was completely crushed.
Do you know this woman got out of the car, told the driver to go screw himself, and then walked home?
Now we convinced her to go to the hospital where she literally walked away with nothing but a mild concussion.
But her death-defying feats didn't stop there. My sister also happened to love seafood.
And we came from a little swamp called Louisiana, so seafood was always on the menu.
Doesn't matter whether it's a fish fry, crab bowl, shrimp bowl, crawdad fest, my sister was there for it.
The problem was, she was also deathly allergic to seafood.
So when we had cookouts, she showed up, EpiPen in hand. I'm talking full-on reaction.
Swollen hands, swollen face, swollen throat, literally about to enjoy the last meal of her life.
Thriving, enjoying every last bite. She could survive anything.
But my sister wasn't just physically phenomenal, she was also emotionally phenomenal.
See, we grew up in a very religious Southern Baptist family. It was either God's way or no way.
And me, I was the little flower child, speaking peace and love.
And I had a really unique ability. I could see and communicate with spirits.
You know, like that movie, "The Sixth Sense"? I see dead people. But not as dramatic.
Now, my mother knew that I had this ability, and so did my grandmother.
They did the best they could to navigate that, but my mother really understood.
When I was five, my mother began to succumb to difficulties from the juvenile diabetes that she had lived her life with.
She was 35, and she went into the hospital.
Now, she knew that her time was coming, so she instructed my big sister to bring me to the hospital so she could let me know what was going on.
She knew that I could see, and she wanted to make sure that I was prepared for what was going to happen.
So for six months, my big sister drove me back and forth to the hospital so I could have these one-on-ones with my mother.
And I still remember the funeral.
I was the only one in that room, smiling from ear to ear, because I could see my mother standing next to her coffin.
And I began to tell my family, "Hey, Mom's OK. She has a new body. She's not hurting anymore.
Guys, she's feeling great. Isn't this wonderful?"
All my family saw was a little six-year-old that was coping with the loss of her mother via the use of wild imaginings.
But the one who believed me was my sister.
Over the course of the next three years, we would lose her father, both of our grandparents, two aunts and two uncles.
And I would also, in the midst of that, lose my sister, because when she was 16, she had a child.
And remember, I come from a very religious family.
They thought that she was going to be a bad influence on me, so they separated us.
And I didn't fully have my sister back into my life until I was about 18.
And around that time, I was really coming to terms with the fact that not only was I a spiritual medium, but I was also gay.
Like, super gay.
And coming from a black, Southern Baptist family, being gay is more of a white thing, you know?
Like gluten, or like raisins and casserole and coleslaw type of stuff.
So it did not go over very well, but my sister accepted me as if it was totally normal and natural.
She said, "Hey, you love who you love, right?"
And I thought, "Wow."
She was always there for me.
So in April of 2007, I'm still in Jacksonville, I'm still desperately trying to get out because this city is not for me, I'm not fitting in, I'm feeling rejected, and I get the call from my nephew.
"Auntie Net, mom's gone."
In that moment, I was suddenly thrust into that psychedelic tunnel from Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, you know, with all the wild images on the wall.
There's no earthly way of knowing which direction we are going.
There's no knowing where we're rowing or which way the river's flowing.
Is it raining? Is it snowing? Is a hurricane a-blowing?
Not a speck of light is showing, so the danger must be growing.
Are the fires of hell a-glowing? Is the grizzly reaper mowing?
Yes, the danger must be growing, for the rowers keep on rowing, and they're certainly not showing any signs that they are slowing.
I was suddenly thrust out of the waters of emotion and into the air of logic, being forced to come to terms with the fact that my only sister, the only connection to my family,
Denise Marie, 5'5", 120 pounds of Mighty Mouse Kryptonian energy, had been taken out by the kryptonite that is cancer.
And it just did not compute.
And not only did she disappear, but as I looked out into my world, my family, the spirits of my mother, my grandparents, and all of my ancestors who had been with me had also disappeared.
I began searching for light wherever I could, and the one place I found it was in my sister.
In the fact that she was always there for me, always helping me, always supporting me.
So that's where I began looking for her, in those acts of service.
One of the first things I began doing, because I was still driving for the limousine company at the time, is picking up people from bus stops in the limo and dropping them off at their various locations.
But let me tell you folks, there is nothing like driving down Moncrief, okay, in a stretch limo and having people come up to your window, mobbing the car, saying, "Hey, I got something to say."
It's a scary moment. I began to help wherever I could. I mean, I got so bad, I was in grocery stores and people would say, "Do you work here?"
"No, but I can help." So I'm running around stores trying to find things, doing everything I could.
I was the epitome of that Alan Watts quote. "Please let me help you or you'll drown," says the monkey, putting the fish safely up a tree.
I helped and helped as much as I could. And I didn't stop until about maybe three months later. I was in line at a McDonald's in Mandarin.
And there was this older woman behind me, and I had not had my fix of helping that day.
And so I turned around and I said, "Excuse me, ma'am, why don't you let me buy you lunch?"
She said, "What's wrong with you? I look like a bum or something? Look like I ain't got no money? I don't need you."
"No, ma'am, I just wanted to get you." "What's wrong with you? Got your head all in the clouds? Some kind of space cadet or something? I don't need you. Move."
So I moved and I stopped. Space cadet. That's what my sister used to call me.
She had shown up in the form of this irate woman and said, "What in the world are you doing? Why are you trying to help people who don't need your help?
Why is your head in the clouds? What are you really looking for?"
And so I spent the next few months trying to find out what I was looking for.
And it was looking for, what I was looking for was the things that my sister encouraged in me.
My sister was family, true family. She was a tribe. She accepted me fully for who I was.
She loved me unconditionally. She let me be myself. That's what I was searching for.
I was searching for connection. I was searching for trust. And I found it here in Jacksonville, of all places.
It has been 16 years and I have found an amazing new family of people who care,
people who love me and trust me for all that I am, people who are just as oddly quirky and unique as I am.
I found a thriving spiritual community. I found an amazing theater community.
I found new brothers and sisters and aunts and uncles. And the spirits of my family also began communicating and connecting with me again.
And so now I am grateful. I consider myself more of a flying fish here in Jacksonville,
able to better navigate those waters, able to better navigate myself and how I connect with others.
Thank you, Jacksonville.

Barbara Colaciello
Thank you, Tony. So our next storyteller. Also, I met with her walking in the door at my space called Babs Lab over at the Cork Arts District one night.
We were having a story slam and she showed up. I didn't recognize her. I said, "Is this your first time coming?"
"Yes, I saw this was happening and I decided I'm going to come and tell a story. I like to challenge myself every day."
"Okay, great." So, you know, slams, people get up and tell a story about a theme. They have like seven minutes.
And she told her story and she won the slam against a really amazing competition.
And so I started getting to know her and meeting her and she would come back and work on the craft of storytelling.
Ana is extremely interesting and you will hear her story. She went to FSU. She was in finances.
She's a financial professional and she has a lot of certifications. And she's another amazing woman.
And so please welcome Ana Ng.

Ana Ng
My father grew up in China during the Cultural Revolution.
He was a country boy. He played soccer barefoot and worked in the rice fields.
For dinner, he had white rice with just soy sauce. Protein was for special occasions.
So when he turned 18, he jumped to the opportunity to leave China for a better life.
He migrated to a Central American country called Panama.
And Panama is known for two things. The Panama hats that are actually from Ecuador.
And the Panama Canal that was built by Americans, also known as gringos.
My mother followed a similar path. In Panama, she worked in a bodega.
My dad quickly noticed her. And so he went to this bodega every day, every hour, on the hour just to say hi.
In three months, they got married. They wanted to take it slow.
And nine months later, an eight and a half pound Chinese baby girl was born.
Her name is Ana Ng. It didn't take me long to realize that I looked different.
In school, kids would say that because I have the Asian eyes that I didn't see as good as they did.
This little girl said that Asian kids don't have nipples. So I go to the pee-pee room with two other six-year-olds,
straight myself, to show that I, in fact, have them.
Another kid asked, "Do you know kung fu?" "Yeah, I know kung fu, yes."
I felt like I was living this double life that I had this facade putting up.
At home, I'm Chinese. My parents are Chinese. We speak Cantonese. We use chopsticks.
Everyone in my family can do the Asian squat. Normal, like, everyone does it, right?
Outside of the house, however, I was a different persona. I am Latina. I'm surrounded by Latinos.
We speak Español. We dance merengue. We listen to reggaeton.
I thought that this is who I am. Whenever I talk to someone new, this will happen.
Wow. [speaking Spanish]
You speak Spanish perfectly. [speaking Spanish]
Where do you learn it? How do you learn it? I learn it how you learn it. How do you learn it?
This constant Q&A reminded me that I'm not like everyone else. I'm different.
And I'm not expected to be here. I don't belong here. This is someone else's territory.
Fast forward to fifth grade. I'm ten years old. I'm having dinner with my family.
And my dad puts down his chopsticks, and he has an announcement.
[speaking Chinese]
There is this great business opportunity in China. And kids, we are moving to China next month.
In the middle of the school year, I don't know anything about China, and I don't have Wikipedia.
But what I do think maybe is that everyone will look like me, and there will be no more Q&A,
no more staring, and I will just fit right in.
We pack up our suitcases, we say bye to our friends, and we hop on a plane,
and we land on the other side of the planet.
We are in China, a country of a billion people and 300 languages and dialects.
The official language is Mandarin. My parents are from southern China, and we speak Cantonese.
And that means that I don't speak a s*** of Mandarin.
And I don't know a s*** of the Chinese characters. These little doodles? Eh, not me.
So even though I'm already in fifth grade in Panama, because I didn't know anything, I didn't know the language,
in China I was placed in first grade with a bunch of six-year-old babies.
I feel like I'm Gandalf walking into a room of little Frodo's.
And six-year-olds, as you might know, have tons and tons of questions.
[speaking Mandarin]
"Are you repeating first grade? How old are you? Are you a dumb kid?"
I lived in China for three years. And during that time, no matter how many Chinese friends I made,
no matter how much Chinese I learned, teachers and classmates always saw me as the foreign kid.
I am constantly reminded that this is not my place. I'm not from here. I don't belong here.
This is someone else's territory. Fast forward to fourth grade in China. I'm already 14 years old.
I went through puberty on my own with no one to relate to because everyone was still drinking milk from their mothers.
And I had dinner with my parents. My dad puts down his chopstick and has another announcement.
[speaking Mandarin]
So the great business opportunity that we came to China for was a con. And we are moving back to Panama.
All right, then. Pack up the suitcases, say bye to friends, hop on an airplane, and we land on the other side of the planet.
We are back to Panama.
I hadn't spoken Spanish in three years. So I forgot all of it. I didn't know s*** Spanish.
It was like deja vu all over again, learning a new language, having to adjust to the culture, doing the whole facade, the double live, the Q&A.
Again, I'm reminded that I am just I wasn't from here. I'm still not from here. This is not where I belong.
Eventually, I finished high school in Panama. And my mother has a master plan for me.
And the master plan is to not depend on a man, to be self-sufficient. And how are we going to do it? By getting a college education.
Florida State University has a campus in Panama, and I signed up as a first generation college student.
And I pay for my own tuition. And it's not because I have a sugar daddy.
It's because I work my ass off as a Toyota salesperson and I have two responsibilities.
Number one, look cute. Number two, shove Toyota Corollas and RAV4s down people's throats.
And I am very good at it. Let me tell an industry secret with you.
Take notes, because you're not you're going to be able to monetize this. Make your tickets work.
I know you guys work hard for these tickets. And the secret is that people like money.
And they love it when it's free. So how do we monetize it? By raising the price of the vehicle for $1,000.
And then when we close the sale, we give these customers $1,000 free money back to them.
And so we call this the cashback. And people love those cashbacks. Oh yes, they do.
Two years fly by. I sell tons of cars. I'm probably, humble bragging, the richest 22-year-old in the entire household.
You can fact check that. And I have my associate's degree from FSU Panama.
So what's next? I'm glad you asked. The American dream, of course.
I quit my job. I sell my telephone number to my colleague because people were bidding for it.
And say bye to friends. Pack my suitcase. Hop on a plane. And I land in the United States of America.
In college, I do everything. I joined the Hispanic Latino Student Union and with them,
I dance merengue bachata salsa and the Cuban reda. I joined the Asian American Student Union and I fold origamis and make these rice paper lanterns.
I am loving the diversity. And I think maybe America's where I belong. Not so fast.
See, the Chinese Student Association that I'm also part of, they get together to celebrate Chinese holidays.
And there are tons of holidays and they celebrate with food, specifically potlucks.
Now, I know some of my friends are here. They know that I love potlucks.
So you can imagine how devastated I am when I find out that I am not invited to those potlucks.
I know I cried three times. So I pick up the phone.
And call someone.
Do you know why they don't invite me to these potlucks? Hey, Ana, no offense, but you're not Chinese enough.
Wow. I'm not Chinese enough.
Maybe I should just stop trying to fit in. That's it. I give up.
Where was I? Oh, yes, trying to fit in. What I should be doing is go shopping.
I hear about this place where shopping is a pleasure. You know what that place is? Yes, it's Walmart.
So I go to Walmart. I grab this bag of pistachios, which I love.
I go to the cash register with my brand new American debit card.
And the cashier lady says, do you want cash back?
What? Yes. How much can I get? Up to $100.
For a transaction?
OK, so by buying this bag of lightly salted pistachios, I qualify for a $100 cash back.
This is the American dream.
The friend who gives me the right walks over and says, "Ana, is everything all right? There are tons of people behind you.
Do you know that they offered cashbacks?
Oh, is that what you're trying to do? I mean, why is it taking so long?
It's free money. Sorry, just one second.
Ana, it's not free money. This is a debit card and this is an ATM. So this is your own money.
So it's not cash back. The American dream is a scheme.
I have never felt so embarrassed and naive in my entire life. Back home, we don't mix banking services with pistachios.
Again, I'm reminded that this is not your place. You don't understand us. You're an outsider. You don't belong here.
This is someone else's territory.
So according to people, I'm not Panamanian enough. I'm not Chinese enough. And I'm definitely not American.
So who am I really? The variety of experiences and perspectives that my diverse cultural background has brought to my life
has more than made up for the feelings of lack of belongings that I have gone through throughout my life.
I embrace my life. I embrace who I am. And I don't want to be anyone else.
I love being this chameleon fish and go instead of bar hopping, I go fish ball hopping.
It makes my life colorful and interesting. And it's one of the reasons why I'm on this stage tonight.
And I wouldn't have changed a thing about it. The reality is I am Panamanian.
I am Chinese. And I'm also becoming an American in 2024.
Thank you.

Barbara Colaciello
I just love the cash back. Wouldn't that be great? How much you want? Cash back. Okay.
That was fabulous. Isn't she fabulous?
She speaks like five languages. And obviously she's just a great lady.
Next up is one of the most creative people in Jacksonville as far as I'm concerned.
He... the word dabbles isn't really correct because he actually dives deep into a lot of different areas.
He has his advertising agency called Nueva in San Marco. He's an acclaimed musician.
And he's award winning designer. I also met him walking when he came in and came to a Story Slam.
Told a story because he is a very good storyteller and won that Slam.
So it is amazing. People just show up and they have this ability to wow the audience.
So tonight I give a big round of applause to Grant Nielsen.

Grant Nielson
So the first time I was ever away from my mom, I was about two years old.
And she left me at a neighbor's house while she ran some errands.
And this woman leans down. She's like, "Grant, would you like some apples?"
Now, there are only two real ways to answer this binary question. One of them is yes, please.
Another classic is no, thank you.
But the way that I, two year old Grant, answered that question of do you want some apples was
are there any animal products in it?
You see, my family is that rarest of American families, the vegetarians.
And in 2022, I can hear you saying that's not that big a deal.
Everybody has an alternative diet. And you're right now.
But in 1976, when my parents became vegetarians, it was unheard of.
And they became vegetarians for spiritual reasons. And leaving college, they decided that they were
going to start a farm. And they moved out to the country, out to Mount Pleasant, Iowa.
And they had a little farm there and they were so happy.
Well, they were out there a few years and they were pleasantly surprised by my pregnancy,
or the pregnancy of me.
And so the surprises kept coming because one fateful Christmas day, during the middle of a blizzard,
I was born. And as harrowing as my labor was, they took me back to their little farmhouse.
And we spent the rest of that frigid, blistering winter in a desolated cornfield.
And come spring, my mom turned to my dad, looked him dead in the eye and said,
"We're getting the f*** out of here!"
So we bopped around the Midwest a little bit, went to Kansas, Missouri.
And I was, I guess, three. And it was my mom's 30th birthday.
And she meets my dad as he's coming home from work and she meets him at the front door.
And she says, "Grant has chicken pox." And he says, "Great, awesome.
Well, I just lost my job and the company who owns our house has given us two weeks to get out."
So the Nielsen's were on the move again. And this time they widened the search a little bit.
They said, "You know, a lot of our family has gone from the Midwest down to Florida.
We know it's warm down there. It's not going to be icy and snowy and desolate down there.
So after searching around for a job, my dad relocated us here to Jacksonville, the beef capital of Florida.
And we got a quaint little house in southern Mandarin. And you know, it was lovely.
But in 1986, you know, as I mentioned, my parents became vegetarians for spiritual reasons.
We don't go to church. We didn't eat meat.
We weren't into sports or fishing or any of the other southern traditions.
And so imagine southern Mandarin in the mid 80s, a community so lacking in diversity that we were the most exotic people there.
And as I said, people are nice. People were kind. They didn't understand us, but they tried hard.
For the most part, they were confused by our lifestyle and just sort of assumed like we were in a cult or something.
There was a lot of that. There was a lot of like, "Oh, well, we don't understand what your people eat or, you know, your traditions."
I'm like, "I don't have any. We don't have any traditions. We just don't eat meat."
And, you know, the number of times that we were, you know, like, "Well, are you not in a cult, though?
Can you really say that's not a cult?" I'm like, "I can promise you there's no cult."
But growing up, you know, was interesting in the south.
And, you know, I recall one time I was six years old and I was at a neighbor's house and his mom was like, "Grant, would you like a burrito?"
Now, as I said, I was pretty well trained to ask for animal products, but six-year-old Grant was wiser than two-year-old Grant.
And he knew there's only two things that a burrito means. That's refried beans and cheese.
So I was like, "Heck yes, I want a burrito."
And so, you know, she makes a microwave burrito and I'm eating it.
And I'm eating this. I'm like, "Miss Oakland, these beans taste funny. These beans taste weird."
And she's like, "Oh, honey, that's a beef burrito."
And my eyes must have looked like Shelley Duvall in The Shining because I was mortified.
So the next thing that happens is my mom gets a call and it's Miss Oakland and my mom's like, "What's going -- what's on -- what's happening?"
And she's like, "Grant is freaking out. He's screaming, he's crying, he's saying something about not eating meat?"
And my mom's like, "Yeah, we're vegetarians. What did he eat?"
She's like, "A burrito, a beef burrito."
And my mom's like, "Okay, I'm on my way."
So she picks me up, right? I'm inconsolable.
We go home. We go home, she sits me down. She's like, "All right, calm down, first of all. You're going to be fine. What happened?"
I was like, "I ate a bologna burrito."
"Okay, well, you probably didn't eat a bologna burrito. Do you mean a beef burrito?"
"No, it was a bologna burrito."
Inconsolable.
She calms me down. She's like, "You're going to be fine. It doesn't matter what you ate. Do you feel bad?"
I was like, "No, I feel okay." And she's like, "Then you're going to be fine."
I'm like, "I'm not in trouble?"
She's like, "Oh, sweetheart, no."
And my dad got home, and I'm sure they had a good laugh about the bologna burrito bit,
but I was, I don't want to say traumatized, but I would be years before I would ever slip up again about meat.
I was, you know, this was my identity. I was a vegetarian. I was not interested in dabbling in meat.
And, you know, though our community was kind, they were nice. They tried really hard.
Parents, adults are kind, but kids are cruel.
And, you know, between being a vegetarian and not having that congregation, you know, and we didn't go to church,
I didn't have that community, that faith community.
And I was the kid that, at recess, I was out there with my sketch pad and my inhaler because, of course, I had asthma.
I couldn't go out for sports.
And so, you know, I'd spent most of my time by myself, you know.
Not hated, but not really accepted either.
And, you know, I took that time and I invested in creative pursuits.
You know, I loved visual art. I loved music.
When I was in seventh grade, I started my first band.
And when I was in eighth grade, we played our first show.
And by the time I was in high school, I was in a touring group, moving all over the country.
And I was performing on huge stages, and I loved performing, and I loved creating.
And I, you know, I started young and I just moved straight into that as a vocation.
And I turned these things into jobs.
And I learned about marketing and promotion and design.
And, you know, I worked on these large-scale events throughout the Southeast.
And eventually, I even started a brick and mortar marketing agency with my business partner in San Marco.
And now I get to do this stuff all day long, every day.
And I couldn't... I feel so lucky and so fortunate about that.
But I think I owe a lot of that to that otherness from my childhood.
I owe a lot to that having not quite fit in, not quite accepted.
And, you know, I think I've realized that there's a lot of strength in standing out.
There's power in being unique.
And throughout the years, you know, as I gained agency, as I realized that power,
I've been able to bring other misfits along with me.
People that are good at seeing outside the box and thinking of things creatively.
And, you know, now I have a son. He's nine.
And he's also one of those weirdos.
And he loves being weird. He loves being different.
He has no interest in fitting in.
And I love that about him.
And so, you know, I look at my life and I think, you know, if you're one of those fish
that's been yanked out of your environment and you feel stuck somewhere else,
I say lean into that uniqueness.
Because I think you'll be surprised how quickly you can grow legs.
Thank you.
[Applause]
[Music]

David Luckin
The live performances of Untold Stories at the Florida Theatre were originally recorded by Jeremy Moore and Eric Stansfield.
Saul Lucio is the technical director of the Florida Theatre.
The Untold Stories broadcast and podcast was produced by Brady Corum and Ray Hollister.
[Music]
[Music]

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