"I am making a movie on the Hijab because many people ask me why I wear the Hijab, and many people stereotype people wearing the Hijab. Some people think I am different than others, when really we are all human." -Hoda, 10th grade, producer of The Hijab
"I want people to know there is more to me... I want to explore the culture of tomboy." -L, 9th grade, producer of I Am Me
"I am making a movie about makeup to show that it is neither good nor bad, but can be a way to express yourself creatively, and it can be empowering." -Bai, 11th grade, producer of Makeup Is Art
"Since 9/11 the media has portrayed Muslims as terrible people like terrorists and untrustworthy. This makes me very sad. I want people to know that Muslims are all different. I want people to know more about Islam." -Najma, 12th grade, producer of The Meaning of Islam
|Students perform peer interviews about Tatau (body art)|
These are the voices of high schoolers from East. When my friend and co-teacher Kim and I asked immigrant and refugee students to share their cultures and identities through documentary film, we thought we might be asking too much. I was nervous about asking kids who already feel different and out of place because of their stories, dress, and English language abilities to highlight their differences so that the world could better understand them. I questioned the fairness of such a request; after all, shouldn't it be us, the adults, to stand up in protection of them? I was also nervous because my baby was only two months old. The project was designed to support social emotional learning, and I knew that I would be learning alongside the kids about how to emotionally nurture them, myself, and my newborn. Kim and I were grateful that the Alaska State Council on the Arts and the NOVO Foundation were supporting this project, and we wanted to use the opportunity to the fullest, but we were also aware of entering unknown territory with students we cared about a great deal.
|Teaching with baby!|
We weren't prepared for the fierceness of the student voices. Where we thought we might find reticence and shyness, we found students ready to speak their minds. A young Somali woman expressed annoyance that all the Muslim girls at school were lumped together, as if they came from the same culture when in fact they came from all over the world and practiced Islam in a thousand different ways. Other Somali young women expressed frustration at the questions they received questions regarding their Hijab (do you have hair? aren't you too hot? does that mean you are oppressed by men?). They expressed wanting people to feel comfortable to ask questions, but they also wanted people to be respectful. Another student had mixed feelings about her identity as a tomboy. She loved herself, but she was constantly fielding questions from people about her clothing and style. She decided to make a documentary about being a tomboy, and opened her movie with all of her classmates running and giving her a huge hug while she carried a sign that stated "I am a Tomboy." Each student chose a topic they deeply cared about, and their passion was reflected in the quality of their final films.
They interviewed community members. One student wanted to educate the world about the importance of Samoan Body Art, and interviewed the owner of AK Fadez Barbershop, Alexander Von Dincklage Sr., about the story and symbolism of his tattoos (guys, you can get a killer cut at AK Fadez, by the way!). A group of Somali girls went to the 123 dollar store to interview the business owner who was also their aunty, and gathered stories amidst customers picking up samosas and spices. Local Aesthetician Sunshine Mebane teared up as she shared with the students the importance of accepting your body and face as it is, and to let makeup accentuate who you are rather than hide.
|Will was so loved!|
An East graduate and Black Feminist Artist, Synclaire Butler, spoke about how art allows her to express herself and her cultural fabric, a privilege not afforded her ancestors. Students, community members, and us teachers were transformed. Baby Will, at this point 3 months old, went from arm to arm throughout class. Students would show up just to hold him, and I smiled thinking that I was worried about how class would go with a baby.
|Students stood proud at the film screening|
They shared their films at a public screening at the Loussac Library Wilda Marston Theater, and again for the Mayor's Office and a Delegation of 30 Germans participating in the Transatlantic Welcoming Exchange who came to Anchorage to learn about how we are a Welcoming City. Students giggled shyly hearing their voices, they cringed the way we all do when we see and hear ourselves on the big screen, and yet their eyes gleamed with pride as they watched their concepts come to life through their hard work. They learned from each other, the community learned from them, and Kim and I perhaps learned most of all. I learned that everyone's heart opens with a baby around, and that my heart opens when students are brave and bold.
Watch the student films right here on Vimeo.
Watch the student films right here on Vimeo.