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Thursday, May 22, 2008

Author discusses hate crime documentary

Divided We Fall, a documentary about the hate crimes committed against Muslims, Sikh Indians and others mistaken as Muslim, makes its statewide premier 7 tonight at Ohio University’s Baker Center Theatre. Valarie Kaur, a third-generation Sikh American who wrote and co-produced the film after a turbaned man was murdered in her town, will answer questions after the screening. She spoke with The Post’s Ashley Luthern about making Divided We Fall, and exploring race, religion and identity in times of national crisis.

The Post: What was the basis for your film’s title, Divided We Fall?

Valarie Kaur: In the aftermath of 9/11, I saw so many bumper stickers that said United We Stand, and it seemed to me that we forgot the second part of the saying, “divided we fall.”… In order to become fully united, we had to face the ways in which we’ve been divided.

Post: You are proud of your Sikh heritage and identify as an American. When you were filming, how did you feel and react when you experienced hate first hand?

Kaur: Well, it’s quite a way to come of age. It was the first time that I had seen myself as a foreign un-American. I realized I had to fight to be seen and understood. It was painful, emotionally traumatizing and I’d have nightmares. But what was happening wasn’t happening to just my community, but to Southeast Asians and Latinos, anyone who had brown skin or a beard. It had happened to Japanese Americans in WWII, and the Chinese Americans who were mistaken for Japanese. Every singe community in the U.S. at some time has been seen as outsiders….

Post: Are the people you interviewed in the film, and others around the nation, still experiencing the effects of the mentality of a post-9/11 national consciousness?

Kaur: Absolutely. The immediate numbers of hate crimes decreased in the months after 9/11, but what’s happened is a cultural shift into subtle, every-day prejudices against Muslims and those who look Muslim. For example, teachers don’t stop kids from calling other kids “terrorist,” but to us, it’s like our n-word. The task now is to decrease the number of those subtle acts of discrimination that never get reported as hate crimes.

Post: How has making this film turned into your quest for self-identity?

Kaur: Before making the film, during my childhood and teenage years, I hated the in-between space. I wanted to be fully accepted as white and Christian, or fully accepted as Indian. I wanted to belong like every kid. Through this journey, I’ve come to discover that this in-between space is one of tremendous strength, and if I owned the space I could speak truth. I realize the storytellers in our communities are the ones who are in-between. It’s given me tremendous courage to live own moral compass. [Link]


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