Dr. Edward Mamary, a Health Science and Recreation professor, was recently a Principal Investigator on a project entitled “Living in an Unfinished America: Shared Experiences of Discrimination and Resilience by Arab, Muslim & Sikh Americans.” Spurred by a series of anti-Arab and anti -Muslim advertisements placed on San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency vehicles (and upheld in other jurisdictions as legal under the First Amendment), the project was sponsored by the City and County of San Francisco Human Rights Commission, with support from the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency and the San Francisco Department of Public Health.
The project used a participatory action research methodology called “Photovoice,” to explore the lived experience of those coping with Islamophobia and anti-Arab prejudice. The Arab American, Muslim, and Sikh participants came from a wide range of backgrounds in terms of age, race/ethnicity, religion, and language. Using photography and narrative, participants shared their experiences with prejudice and discrimination. They also revealed how they met these challenges with resilience, cultural pride, and self-determination.
Defending My Son
A Palestinian American woman used Photovoice to share her experience with prejudice and discrimination with a picture of her son.
This is my son. His name was Osama. I chose a picture of his school to show with his picture. After 9/11, many people at his school (students, teachers, and staff) tormented him. One teacher in particular continually called him Osama Bin Laden. He had nothing to do with his name and we had nothing to do with what happened on 9/11. They made it like it was his fault. He was 20 years old when he got shot. They said it was mistaken identity, but he got shot because he’s a Middle Easterner, because he had Arabic writing on his car. And they tried to make it seem like he just was in the wrong place at the wrong time. Every time I pass that school, I wish I could see if someone needs help or is being discriminated against. I would want them to know that nothing is wrong with them. I joined this project because of my son. He is not alive to defend himself. I raised my kids to defend themselves. I was raised to stand up for what I believe in and for my religion—how to behave, how to act, how to respect, how to love.
—Fayza, Palestinian American Muslim woman
A Sikh American man used photovoice to describe how he overcame discrimination with the help of his parents and wearing his turban proudly.
Here is an older Sikh man tying a turban on one of my good friends. This captures a very special moment from our culture, when a Sikh dad or father-like figure ties a turban on his son or daughter. It is like slowly tying valuable cultural ideals into each and every fold of the fabric. It helps the younger generation understand who they are and helps them define their identity. This photo reminded me of the time my dad tied a turban on me as a teen. I didn’t like it, especially because I got called racist slurs at school. After that experience, I went on to eighth grade and cut my hair. I didn’t feel good about myself. My parents would tell me stories of how the Sikh Gurus sacrificed their whole families so Sikhs can wear their turbans like crowns and practice their faith proudly and fearlessly. In eleventh grade, I started growing my hair again and started tying a turban. I feel connected to my roots now and every layer of my turban helps me stand tall in a crowd, proud to be a Sikh.
—Harkanwar, Sikh American man
The photos and narratives were exhibited at public events at the San Francisco City Hall Rotunda in April 2015, and at the Women’s Building in August 2015, providing an opportunity for dialogue with policy members, educators, health care providers, and the community at large.
Poster for the exhibition of Photovoice held on August 12, 2015 in San Francisco, California.
Community partners on the project included the Asian Law Caucus, the Council on American Islamic Relations, the Arab Cultural and Community Center, the Islamic Network Group, the Sikh Coalition, the San Francisco Department of Public Health, and the San Francisco District Attorney’s Office. A second Photovoice project on anti-semitism is underway, with the first exhibit to debut in early spring. Along with Dr. Lynne Andonian, an Occupational Therapy associate professor, Dr. Mamary will be presenting a workshop session on Photovoice at the College of Applied Sciences and Arts’ Center for Applied Research on Human Services (CARHS) Brown Bag event in spring 2016.