Education for Liberation

Bonchinchando is a Dominican, Puerto Rican, Cuban word meaning “he said, she said,” gossip, talk behind backs, character assassination. It is not a Spanish word, and we name our exercise with this term because it comes from the African, Taino, Arawak, Spanish mix of cultures, which characterizes these peoples. It is not from “Hispanic” culture, and it is not from Spain, the former colonizer.

This exercise is similar to the game “Telephone.” In the circle one person whispers a story out of their lives into the ear of the person sitting next to them. And this person passes the story into the next person’s ear. In this way it is similar to “Telephone.”

There are three form-and-content requirements for this story:

(1) It must be short;

(2) It must be true; and

(3) It must be about you, the person who is telling the story.

This is a community building exercise, and these last two requirements are to help people share a part of themselves with the other people in the group, circle, class.

Bonchinchando is a listening exercise. In the circle, people have different accents, people’s understandings are different. People’s vocabularies are different, and people have varying levels of attention to detail. Therefore, the focus is for the listener to get the story accurately. The goal is for the story to go all the way around the circle intact. When it reaches the last person, this person stands up and tells the story out loud.

The effort from everyone in the circle is to honor the story. Unlike “telephone,” in which all manner of character assassination takes place, where “your mama” will be brought in on the whim of the person on the other end of the line, here the goal is to take care of the person’s story.

If there is a problem in communication from one listener to another, the person who is having trouble hearing can “ask for an operator:” This is done by the person asking for anyone in the circle who has already heard the story to get up from their chair and go to assist, “interpret,” for the person who is having trouble hearing.

If there are ten people or less, the stories go around one-by-one until everyone has told a part of their lives to the group. If it is more than fifteen people one story can go in one direction, and someone else can send a story in the opposite direction around the circle. In this way people are not sitting around in silence for too long.

The success of the first two or three stories can set the stage for success in the exercise. Conversely, if the first or second story is butchered up, if it is not respected and cared for, it can inhibit anyone from sharing personal information that is valuable to them. The goal is for the group to get good at listening closely to each other with a caring ear.