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Thursday, November 15, 2007

Footage from the aftermath

In the aftermath of September 11, 20-year-old Stanford University student Valarie Kaur set out across the country to document what she called "the stories not being told, the faces not being seen." Kaur visited Northeastern Tuesday to share her story and film.

With no film experience and her cousin as her camera man, Kaur traveled the United States to record the experiences of Arab-looking Americans after September 11. Her experiences and footage developed into the full-length documentary "Divided We Fall."

"It has been quite a journey," Kaur said. "I just jumped in my car with my cousin and a camera, and it completely changed my life."

Kaur began her journey by focusing on her community, the Sikhi, a religious group centered on peace and contribution to the community. Many Sikhi's were targeted after September 11 because of their turbans, a required religious garb for men. According to Kaur's film, many people had the misconception that wearing a turban equated to being a terrorist.

One loss in the Sikhi community was that of Balbir Sodhi, who was shot by self-proclaimed patriot Frank Roque in Mesa, Ariz., in front of his family-owned gas station hours after donating everything in his wallet to families of September 11 victims.

The Sikhi community was horrified by the hate crime and by how dangerous its own country had become for them. In one day, they had gone from being an American to being an "other in this us-against-them war."

"The movie was very moving to me," said Diana Mai, a sophomore art major. "It's not just about being Muslim. It's about others. It's about racism and what it means to be an American."

What it means to be an American was the prevailing theme of the movie, which touched on the Japanese-American experience during World War II and the interment camps they were forced to enter to prove their patriotism.

Members of the Asian American Center (AAC) said students could have an impact on the meaning of being American.

"I first saw this film at an Asian American Student conference at Yale," said Christina Ho, a member of AAC who sponsored the event. "I left basically with a mission to bring this to our campus because we have a really great international affairs program, we have really compassionate people, and we really have an energy to create change at this school."

Kaur said she hopes the movie will generate change. She spoke to the audience about how she wished the perception of a man wearing a turban would change.

She said when she sees a turban she thinks of her cousins, her uncles and her lifestyle. When uninformed people outside of her community see turbans, they see a dangerous threat.

With each screening of "Divided We Fall" Kaur said she feels she is getting her wish.

"Witnessing how stories change the way people see has been the most joyful thing [about] touring with this movie," she said. [Link]

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