Pendleton was completely packed with people on Thursday, November 16th at 7 PM. And more kept pouring in, so much so that chairs ran out and some people had to stand near the walls; not that they particularly minded, given the spectacular pieces of visual art that encircled the room. Shift, a showcase of immigrant and refugee narratives as well as a celebration of various cultures, expressed through various art mediums, was a resounding success.
Redefine, a student organization that aims to connect social justice work and creative expression, worked for weeks on planning this event in collaboration with Zeta Omega Eta, Refugees to College, Students Organize for Syria, Iraqi Student Association, and Call for Humanity. As a member of the club, I have watched the e-board members tirelessly work towards creating this first-ever event. Their hard work evidently payed off; the atmosphere was both lively and somber at respective points in the night, though the overall vibe was one of warm receptivity.
Mariam Reda and Komel Khan, co-president and artists chair of the club, respectively, were the MC’s of the night. Mariam outlined how the event originated out of the current tumultuous campus climate, and how it is more important than ever to listen to the narratives of others. They emphasized how this event aimed to provide an alternate means of accessing those narratives, namely through works of creative expression, including visual art, dance, spoken word, and film. A showcase of visual art, including photography and pencil drawings, was set up in the back of the room.
All of the performances and pieces were touching and powerful, two- and three-dimensional alike. A spoken word poem, performed by Maryam Younes, caused a hush to settle over the room, as her powerful performance on the immigrant experience of estrangement and assimilation captivated the audience; the exuberant Afro-Brazilian performance group ,UM Capoeira, brought smiles and laughter back into the room. Personally, there was one quote from Asrar, an immigrant from Sudan, that particularly affected me: “Christmas is special because even though they know that Santa is not real and people know it, they still pretend Santa is real. We don’t have a Christmas back home, nor snow. People know Santa is not real, but they still have hope. I think that this is really beautiful. I want people to see this photo and to keep up the pretending of Santa Claus and Christmas. This is not bad, this is beautiful.” For me, these simple words of pure joy and enthusiasm for the future brought actual tears to my eyes, ones that I quickly blinked away. This quote was excerpted from one of the pieces from the JPS Refugee Photo-voice Project, “Resettlement Through the Eyes of Refugees”, and the accompanying photos-and-quotes were just as moving. There were messages of hope, of jaded dreams, of hardships.
This night was very special, and it was awesome to be able to inhabit a shared space focused on broadening one’s perspective in a respectable way. Hopefully Redefine will bring similarly necessary and powerful events to campus in the future.