The Power of Storytelling

Storytelling is central to our human existence, since it passes on cultural traditions from one generation to the next. Stories are also the best method of learning about others, which will eventually allow us to see, as a nation and world, that everyone is basically the same, and have much in common, and should therefore, treat others as equals. 

Storytelling in America began with Indigenous peoples. One of my favorite poets, Simon Ortiz, is an indigenous American from the Acoma Pueblo, New Mexico.

Born in Albuquerque, in 1941, Ortiz attended Fort Lewis College and the University of New Mexico for undergraduate studies. He received his MFA as an International Writing Fellow at the University of Iowa’s Writer’s School in 1969. He has taught writing and Native American Literature at the University of Arizona and other major institutions. 

One particular poem, “The Story of How a Wall Stands,” reminds me of what a culture, a society and humanity stands for, in that, while our histories may be separate, they are also intricately woven together and interdependent like Ortiz’s father’s wall. 

One thing that we’ve all noticed in today’s world is the division in the way in which we discuss people with differing cultural and political views. While it’s important to see how each group functions differently–their histories, trials, tribulations and successes–we cannot forget to look at the bigger picture in how they all come together to form a unique and diverse foundation of our society.

Failure to see this connection creates an inability to see how histories are interconnected and effect one another, since the United States, in particular, is a wall woven of so many different cultures. 


‘The Story of How a Wall Stands’
By Simon Ortiz

At Aacqu, there is a wall almost 400 years old, which supports hundreds of tons of dirt and bones – it’s a graveyard built on a steep incline – and it looks like it’s about to fall down the incline but it will not for a long time.

My father, who works with stone,
says, “That’s just the part you see,
The stones which seem to be
just packed in on the outside,”
and with his hands puts the stone and mud
in place. “Underneath what looks like loose stone,
there is stone woven together.”
He ties one hand over the other,
fitting like the bones of his hands
and fingers. “That’s what is
Holding it together.”

“It is built that carefully,”
he says, “the mud mixed
to a certain texture,” patiently
“with the fingers,” worked
in the palm of his hand. “So that
placed between the stones, they hold
together for a long, long time.”

He tells me those things,
the story of them worked
with his fingers, in the palm
of his hands, working the stone
and the mud until they become
the wall that stands a long, long time.


In Ortiz’s Father’s wall, each stone can be viewed as a separate story; they come in different shapes and sizes, but are all important in making up the wall and should be recognized as such. By taking a closer look and learning the whole story of the wall, the true structure of the wall is revealed:

“That’s just the part you see,
The stones which seem to be
just packed in on the outside,”
and with his hands puts the stone and mud
in place. “Underneath what looks like loose stone,
there is stone woven together.”

Ortiz reminds us that we should look at the single stones, but at the same time, we must also look at how the stones work together to build the wall, and how our relationships to everyone else, our caring and obligation to one another, are crucial in keeping the wall standing for “a long, long time.”


“The Story of How a Wall Stands,” from Simon Ortiz’s Woven Stone (U of Arizona Press, 1992).

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