We recently sat down with Nestor “the Boss” Gomez, host of the storytelling podcast 80 Minutes Around the World and 40-time winner of the Moth Grand Slam.
Nestor, who used to stutter, hails from Guatemala and found his voice after migrating to Chicago, enrolling in high school, and learning to navigate a new culture. Currently, he uses his platform to encourage others to tell their stories.
“Every place, person and thing inspires a different story or poem,” he says.
This piece has been lightly edited for clarity.
The Journey North
My childhood was a very hard childhood. I was the second of four siblings. Actually, I’m the second of six. Two of my siblings died when they were very young. We were poor and my family made Guatemalan worry dolls [small cloth figures dressed in traditional Mayan clothing] that we sold at the airport and tourist shops.
A bunch of my uncles and aunts lived in the same house, so we made the worry dolls so we could have some money. My grandmother was in the United States and sent home money.
I was 15 years old [when I migrated to the United States]. I came with my middle brother, sister, and another brother. My grandmother used to live here [in the United States], but she couldn’t get a job so she went back to Guatemala.
When Guatemala was in the midst of a civil war in the mid-1980s, tourists stopped coming [to the country] and we could not sell our worry dolls. So we had some financial issues that drove us to make the journey [to the United States] too.
[The trip] was long and dangerous. I tell a story about [it] here: https://player.themoth.org/#/?actionType=ADD_AND_PLAY&storyId=15045
Sharing His Voice
I used to stutter as a kid when I was in Guatemala. The store had a counter and you had to go to the counter and order things like milk. My family was too poor to send me to speech therapy. My father would send me to the store to get things we needed. That was basically the therapy I got.
Words in writing were the only way that I could communicate properly. Therefore, I wrote poetry from an early age, and it wasn’t until late in life that I finally got over my stuttering.
I stuttered again in the United States because of the change of culture and the new language. My first year in high school I was feeling shy. By the time I finished high school, I was married and had a baby on the way. I was forced to talk so I could get a job and pay the bills for my family.
Then I went to The Moth five years ago.
For my first Moth, I wrote a story according to the theme and went with my then-girlfriend. I put my name in the hat but almost took it out three times. The first person told their story and I remember telling my girlfriend, “They’re too good.” I wanted to take my name out but my girlfriend kept me from doing it.
I won the slam that night! What I didn’t know was that winning meant that I had to participate in the Grand Slam in front of an even bigger audience.
I didn’t even notice I was telling stories about immigration. My first story was about my first day in Chicago. I spoke with a Mexican guy and we were both speaking Spanish but had some misunderstandings because of different words.
I’ve been [to the Moth] 60-100 times and have won close to 40 story slams.
Encouraging Others to Share Their Voices
Our show [80 Minutes Around the World] and Podcast features the stories of immigrants, refugees, their descendants, and allies as a way to combat the anti-immigrant and racist rhetoric of the current administration.
Our goal is to educate and inform a larger audience of the different reasons, struggles and realities of the immigrant experience.
I want people to know that immigrants are not criminals, rapists, and drug dealers as some people would like you to think. On the show, we’re not trying to change anyone’s mind, but to tell people’s stories and build bridges instead of walls.
A lot of people think [immigration] is a choice but when a house is on fire, you get out of the house or you burn. People are escaping civil war, tough economic situations, not being able to love who they love or to be who they are in their countries.
I am very blessed and very grateful. Doing my own show has allowed me to share my stories and to give a platform to others. When I came [to the United States] I didn’t have a voice. I stuttered so I didn’t have a voice. I was undocumented so I didn’t have a voice. I didn’t speak English so I didn’t have a voice.
That’s why now in the storytelling circuit I am known as “the boss” — not because I think that I am the best storyteller out there but because in Spanish boss sounds a lot like “voz,” which translates to voice.
It’s a blessing and an honor to be able to use my platform this way.