Director’s Statement

Faiza Almontaser

“People wonder which religion do I follow – whether it’s Islam, Judaism, Buddhism, Hinduism or Christianity. Well if you’re still wondering because of my headscarf, yes I’m a proud Muslim, but that doesn’t mean I have no respect for the other beliefs or a bit of cruelty. Cause I believe in equality.”

These lines are from a poem I wrote called My Identity about my Journey. I grew up in a religious Muslim family where I learned to never judge others by their culture, religion, race but who they are and always respect everyone. When my family decided to come to the U.S.A. I was very excited to come and see my family in America, which I have not seen for years including my sister. I was happy when I came, until the first day of my middles school that is when I had second thoughts. I wished that I had never came to America, because that was the beginning of my journey of being bullied. Students looked at me and laughed about my headscarf. That is when one of the boys started calling me a terrorist. It was just because of my religion, and they made fun of my language just because they did not like how it sounded. I wanted to defend and speak for myself and ask them, who are you to judge me, based on what I believe, my culture, and my language? Would you like to be treated just the way you are treating me? Unfortunately, I did not speak English. In fact, I was the only student who spoke Arabic in the entire school.

It was shocking that three boys jumped me the first week of school. They were looking at me and laughing. My heart was beating so fast, and I was so frightened that my face started sweating. They were insulting me; all I was doing was walking away from them. It was a rainy day. They took my umbrella and started hitting me with it. They all looked older than me. Furthermore, they seemed like they were gang members. They thought because I didn’t speak English I won’t do anything to defend myself, but they were wrong. They saw the school security guards coming and they all ran away. I went home and told my family. My sister and my father came to school and spoke to the principal and made sure that they got an appointment to meet the three boys and their parents. As a result of the discussion the three boys were put into detention for few days.

Because students thought I couldn’t speak for myself, I worked very hard in order to learn English. At that time, it was my most important goal, which I accomplished. I learned English very fast and then I could help one of my friends who had just came from Yemen. Every time somebody said something that hurt her, I always found myself speaking up for her, trying not to make her feel the same way that I felt when I just came from Yemen – the feeling of a bird being locked inside its cage. In her second year, she went through a lot more than I did. Her father, who was 50 years old, and oldest brother, who was 19, were murdered in a robbery in the basement of their own store. The only way that she and her family could get out of that cage then was to go back home to Yemen. She had lost her two beloved wings, her father and her brother.

I have always asked myself why is our world filled with wars, racism, people committing a suicide, and many other terrible events.

But lately I have found the answer: Too many people don’t stand up for the truth, or for each other. Too many people only care about themselves and never put themselves into other people’s shoes and see how it feels to be bullied and left alone. In fact, they never realize that their actions make them participate in killing another human being. Looking back at middle school, the students did not only get excited when seeing a fight but they challenged the fighters and actually enjoyed watching so that later, they could gossip about it instead of trying to break the fight.

Graduating from middle school to Brooklyn International High School, I joined a program called the A.D.L (Anti-Defamation League), which fights against discrimination and racism. Because I believed that everyone deserves to be free and united, I joined the A.D.L program. We once went to a middle school where we lead some classes and taught students about bullying, racism, discrimination, and the consequences of those negative actions. We also went to different classes in our school and played certain games to teach them about bullying. Furthermore, Our school is one of the schools that have received the Golden Star Award as a result,- of the less bullying that happens in our school because of our teachings. Teaching others and standing up for the truth are the locks to wars that made children lives without parents and make people regain their wings and the key to freedom and happiness. Also because we as humans live on the same earth, sharing the same sun and moon, we must share the same love in order to find happiness, which cannot be separated from freedom. As I wrote in My Identity, “Now learn the mystery and be part of a peaceful community. Cause I’m not ignorant, I believe in change and equality.”

It has meant so much to make my film, POET AGAINST PREJUDICE, with BYkids to be able to express all of this through the medium of film.

Read more about Faiza working with Albert Maysles on the film in the Notes from the Field.