Tag: News

Stories

FI2W Video: Arab-Americans in New York Celebrate Heritage, Address Post-9/11 Perceptions

By Rima Marrouch, FI2W contributor

Despite the internal divisions in the Arab world, Arab-Americans came together recently in New York City to celebrate their heritage and to offer a fresh portrait of the Arab-American community in the post 9-11 era.

Arabs, Americans, and Arab-Americans –with roots in Egypt, Syria, Lebanon, Tunisia, Morocco, Iraq, and the Palestinian Occupied Territories– gathered during the Annual Arab-American and North African Street Festival on Great Jones Street in Downtown Manhattan. The event was part of the 5th Annual Arab-American Heritage Week, first proclaimed in 2005 by Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

The street festival evoked the atmosphere of a bazaar with traditional foods including tabouli, grape leaves, falafel, and spinach pies, as well as street stalls selling Middle Eastern books, jewelry, and music. The participants danced debka, a form of line dance widely performed at weddings and joyous occasions.

Watch a video of the festival:

Stories

Arriving Without an Invitation: New Book Offers Unique Perspective on the Life of an Illegal Immigrant

A FI2W Essay

By John Rudolph, FI2W Executive Producer
A Mexican migrant in the Arizona desert - Photo: Valeria Fernández.

(Photo: Valeria Fernández)

“The route is full of dangers. In summer there are usually soldiers guarding the footpaths who arrest anyone trying to get through illegally. There are just as many armed bandits lurking too, waiting to pounce and rob the illegal migrant of what little he owns. Whoever refuses to empty his pockets gets the thrashing of his life. In winter there are fewer soldiers, fewer bandits. Instead it’s a toss-up between dying in the snow or being eaten by wolves.”

Change a few details, and this could easily be a description of the perils facing undocumented immigrants as they cross from Mexico into the U.S. But the writer is Albanian, and the route he describes is his own passage from his native country to neighboring Greece, which he entered illegally in 1991.

Gazmend Kapllani

Gazmend Kapllani

In the current debate over immigration reform it is easy for Americans to loose sight of the universality of human migration. Around the world, national borders are constantly being crossed, both with and without governmental approval, as people facing difficult –sometimes desperate– circumstances search for safety, economic security and opportunities they can’t find at home.

“A Short Border Handbook” (published in the U.K. by Portobello Books), a new book by journalist Gazmend Kapllani, reminds us that the experiences often associated with undocumented immigrants in the U.S. are endemic to all who leave their homeland and show up in a new country “uninvited.” Using a blunt style and, at times, dark humor, Kapllani’s short book tells the story of walking to Greece in 1991 after the government of Albania opened its borders following the fall of the country’s totalitarian Communist regime.

(more…)

Stories

Advocating for Immigrants: Filmmakers Tell the Story of the Hispanic Press in America

By John Rudolph, FI2W Executive Producer

For many Americans, May 1, 2006 was when they first began to comprehend the power of the nation’s Spanish-language media. Hispanic radio and TV played a key role on that day, urging Latino immigrants to take time off from work to demonstrate for immigration reform. Millions participated in the protests in cities across the country.

But while Hispanic media was credited for its role in bringing out the masses on the “day without immigrants,” most people remain unaware of the long history of the Spanish-language press in America, and its tradition of advocating for Latino interests.

The first U.S.-based newspaper for Spanish-speaking readers – El Misisipi – made its debut in New Orleans in 1808, nearly two centuries before the historic marches of 2006.

La Cronica, published in Laredo, Texas, served Mexican exiles in the early 20th Century.

La Cronica, published in Laredo, Texas, served Mexican exiles in the early 20th Century.

By the mid-19th Century Spanish-language newspapers were editorializing and covering news in New York, California, Texas, New Mexico and Pennsylvania. Among the causes they supported were independence for Mexico and Cuba, which at the time were Spanish colonies.

The nation’s oldest continuously-published Latino newspaper, – La Prensa – was founded in New York in 1913, and exists today as the daily El Diario/La Prensa.

“We’ve been around for years. We’re not a new media,” said Juan Gonzáles, who chairs the Journalism Department at the City College of San Francisco.

Gonzáles is producing a film that tells the story of America’s Spanish-language media, Voices for Justice: The Enduring Legacy of the Latino Press in the U.S. Along with fellow filmmaker, Félix F. Gutiérrez, a professor of Journalism at the University of Southern California, Gonzáles recently showed a preview of the film to an audience of ethnic media journalists in Atlanta.

Gonzáles told Feet in Two Worlds that the film intends to dispel myths about Latinos both among Hispanics and in the wider society. ” Through the pages of our newspapers we really get an impression of what Latinos are like,” he said. “Mainstream media always shows negative stories (about Latinos) — about gang activity and crime.” Gonzáles noted that many Latinos don’t know the history of the Spanish-language press. “We’re feeling a big gap of knowledge,” — he said — “the film is going to fill a void in telling the story of a people.”voices_logo

The film project is also a way for Gonzáles and Gutiérrez to prod the Hispanic press to be more aggressive in the way it reports the news.

Today there are hundreds of Hispanic newspapers and magazine across the country. Spanish-language radio is a huge business, and Hispanic TV networks Telemundo and Univision have become as mainstream as their English-language counterparts.

Despite the numbers, Gonzáles, who founded El Tecolote, a bilingual community newspaper in San Francisco, laments that there’s “a lot of fluff” in journalism aimed at Latino audiences. “It does a disservice to the community,” he said.

“When it comes to hard stories, it’s something I continue to push for,” he said. “However much you don’t want to do it, you have to do it. Your simple existence is not enough. You need to help the community change conditions through your solid reporting.”

Stories

Music as Medicine: Sevdalinka Songs Help Bosnian Immigrants and Refugees Remember and Heal

By Jelena Kopanja, FI2W contributor – Second of two installments.
Mary Sherhart sings sevdalinkas at a Bosnian celebration in New York. (Photo: Jelena Kopanja)

Mary Sherhart sings sevdalinkas at a Bosnian celebration in New York. (Photo: Jelena Kopanja)

The name of Bosnia and Herzegovina –a small, heart-shaped country in the Balkans– is rarely associated with love.

The country made headlines in the mid ’90s as a place where ethnic hatred resulted in the death of 100,000 of its people and the exodus of many more. In addition to the photo albums and coffee grinders refugees packed in their suitcases as they fled, they also brought with them parts of their culture including sevdalinka, a traditional Bosnian song of love and longing for all that was left behind.

Now as Bosnian communities strengthen their roots in the United States, England and elsewhere, younger generations are growing up having little contact with their parents’ homeland. For these children, sevdalinka is perhaps a way to maintain a link. Mary Sherhart, director of Sevdah North America –a cultural organization dedicated to the study and preservation of this music– has seen the powerful connections sevdalinka can make.

“The little girls especially are enamored with it,” she said. “When those kids go home and hang out with their parents –in particular with their grandparents– the grandparents start singing, it gets them thinking about their youth. It is so healthy for these elders who feel particularly traumatized and isolated, as they often do not speak English.”

Listen to “Tamburalo Momce u Tamburu” (Youth was playing tamburitza) by Mary Sherhart, John Morovich and Balkan Cabaret:

[audio:http://www.jocelyngonzales.net/FI2W/05_Tamburalo.mp3]

From the CD “Somewhere Far Away” (2006)

(more…)

Stories

Sevdalinka, a Melancholy Soundtrack for Bosnian Immigrants and Refugees in the U.S.

By Jelena Kopanja, FI2W contributor – First of two installments.

NEW YORK – When Mary Sherhart first sang the traditional Bosnian songs known as sevdalinkas at a concert in 2004, a woman stood up and started weeping. Her bare arms, emblazoned with scars from the war that ravaged Bosnia in the early nineties, rose toward the ceiling.

Mary Sherhart, the president of Sevdah North America. (Photo: www.marysherhart.com)

Sevdalinka is “a bridge to home,” says singer Mary Sherhart. (Photo: www.marysherhart.com)

At that moment, Sherhart knew that to be a “responsible artist” she would need to learn more about this song and its people, as the music extracted from her audiences the most private of emotions.

The emotion was evident on the faces of those who came to listen to Sherhart and Sakib Jakupovic, a Bosnian musician, this past April in Queens, NY at the tenth-anniversary celebration of the Bosnian-American Association. At midnight, grateful guests lined up to personally thank Sherhart for coming. Many of them were older Bosnian men and women, self-conscious about their broken English, but nevertheless eager to express their gratitude.

Sevdalinka is a song of love in all its manifestations, but for Bosnians living outside their country, one feeling predominates — nostalgia.

“Sevdah takes a new meaning in the diaspora,” said Sherhart, who is the president of Sevdah North America, an organization dedicated to the preservation and study of this music. “It is a bridge to the time when they were happier, a bridge to home, a bridge to their children for whom those ties are not as strong.”

Listen toSnijeg Pade na Behar na Voce” (Snow has fallen on blossoms, on fruit) by Mary Sherhart and Omer Pobric:

[audio:http://www.jocelyngonzales.net/FI2W/08_Snijeg.mp3]

From the CD Srce Puno Bosne, Amerika i sevdah, Mary i Omer

(2005, Institut Sevdaha)

(more…)

Stories

Best Picture? Slumdog Millionaire Sparks Heated Debate Among Indians About Their Country’s Image: News Analysis From FI2W

By Aswini Anburajan, Feet in Two Worlds reporter

It was easier with Gandhi. Now that’s a movie a country and its people can love, wrap their arms around, and shout praise to. Love, peace, and Satyagraha (nonviolent resistance) — they roll off the tongue with an easy lilt that represents the best of what India has to offer.

Not the case with Slumdog Millionaire. There’s the ambiguity. What does it mean? There’s the connotation. The only other compound word that begins with “slum” and easily comes to mind is slumlord. It doesn’t quite inspire you to go out and change the world.

A scene from Slumdog Millionaire

On the surface it appears that India is celebrating the success of Slumdog Millionaire, the unlikely independent, low-budget film that swept the Oscars. Thousands crowded the airport in Mumbai to greet the cast upon their return from the Academy Awards ceremony in Los Angeles. The evening news in the U.S. beamed back images of the film’s youngest stars riding the shoulders of the crowd, their small hands clutching golden statuettes to shouts of “Jai Ho,” the title of A.R. Rahman’s Oscar-winning song from the movie.

But the post-Oscar celebrations and the Western embrace of Slumdog Millionaire mask a heated debate over the movie among Indians around the world.

Listserves for Indian American groups, such as the South Asian Women’s Collective in New York and South Asian Sisters in San Francisco, are brimming with comments about the film and links to blogs written by amateur and professional writers who either praise or condemn the film’s depictions of corruption and poverty. The South Asian Journalist Association (SAJA) has held four webcasts to date to discuss the implications of the movie and the heated controversy it has generated. Rediff.com, the largest Indian news website, has an entire page dedicated to international coverage of Slumdog.

The arguments range from the right to tell the story – India seen at its worst through British eyes doesn’t help the film’s cause – to charges that the film’s producers and British director Danny Boyle exploited the young children in the movie, plucked them from the slums, paid them little and failed to provide additional compensation when the film shot to global prominence. (more…)