Making Buffalo Home’s Community Filmmaker Series are stories filmed by community members. The video series gives community storytellers a platform to share their unique perspective on culture, identity, traditions, community and making Buffalo home. And they share these perspectives in their own voice.
By turning the role of filmmaker over to individuals we are able to capture the diversity our community from the perspective of the residents. The Community Filmmaker Series is also a meaningful way for WNED | WBFO to more closely connect with the community and involve the public with Making Buffalo Home.
Making Buffalo Home
Community Filmmaker | Sara Ali
Sara Ali takes us through her family's journey from the Middle East to Buffalo.
Growing up as a second-generation immigrant from a Muslim family welcomed a slew of discrimination. Raised in Grand Island, NY, I experienced Islamophobia and hate primarily from my white peers. It was difficult being in my own skin, although now I embrace who I am and am proud of my roots. However, it was treacherous journey to get to that point.
Being compared to literal feces because of my darker complexion is only one of many examples of the bullying I endured. As you heard in the video, I was made fun of for having hairy arms in the 3rd grade, which wasn’t only an example of me being ethnically different, but Western beauty standards already influencing the way children perceive what it is or isn’t the norm or attractive.
It wasn’t until after 9/11 that I experienced Islamophobia. My classmate and neighbor called me a terrorist and accused me and my family of being responsible for the horrendous attacks that took place. This was just the beginning. I remember that same neighbor once saw my parents praying in our living room. We were actually “friends” and hung out sometimes. The next day in school, kids came up to me saying “I hear your parents bow down to the ground.” They would walk away, laughing hysterically. Another boy drew a stick figure of me on an airplane with a bearded man wearing what appeared to be a burqa, flying into a tower. He gave it to me and said, “that’s you and your uncle.”
My father has also experienced his fair share of discrimination, especially in the workplace; from being told to go back to his country, being faulted for the 9/11 attacks, and even being told he is “one of the good ones.” He was also jumped when he was a teen for being Arabian. Even today, he still takes on the burden of being “different.”
I could publish a massive novel of the insults I’ve heard and derogatory words I’ve been called. It’s part of the reason why embracing biculturalism was so difficult. My white peers aren’t the only ones with a fist in this battle. Even when traveling to Jordan to visit my family, I was a disappointment for not speaking the language, not wearing the hijab, and being “too American.” As a teen, I wanted to embrace my culture but also wanted to be accepted by my peers. I also wanted my family to accept me as an American-Arab but was always too Western. I felt like I let down everyone around me.
College brought on the fetishization of my existence. My male peers would tell me how they’ve never been with an Arab girl and always wanted to “experience it.” I didn’t want to be an experience, I just wanted to be accepted.
Now, as a 27-year old woman, I still deal with being fetishized and discriminated against. I’ve accepted this is going to be a constant, lifetime battle. As an adult, it’s easier to manage. Growing up on and getting out of Grand Island somewhat subdued those past battles. As least now, I surround myself with people of color and immigrants, so I have a sense of belonging. Being around those who can relate to being “different,” or to be frank, not being white in America, makes it easier to exist.
- Sara Ali
Check off “white.”
I check my own box and write “Middle Eastern.” This doesn’t count; choose one of the options.
I check off “other.”
“Other” for as long as I can remember. Middle school reminds me every day.
The law says “white”, my peers say “brown”.
A shade too dark, and eyebrows too thick.
Nose too pronounced and arms too hairy.
Too dark for the white kids, too light for the black kids.
The other Arabs weren’t my friends--they were too “other.”
Confusion ensued; I contemplated slicing my skin off.
Red felt more fashionable than brown-but-not brown. Maybe caramel or coffee with a splash of milk.
Trails of blood formed into footsteps.
Maybe my peers would prefer to see my insides.
I remember the first time I got called a terrorist.
Brandon shouted from the back of the bus “terrorist! It was your family! You did it!”
Choking on silence, I didn’t know what to say. 11 years old and I already didn’t fit it in for my physical features.
“Don’t defend yourself,” I thought. Islam just wasn’t in style.
I didn’t allow myself to shed a tear, not until I got home that day.
He was suspended from school and forced to apologize.
Anger in his eyes as he begrudgingly said, “I’m sorry.”
I’m 27 years old.
They tell me I shouldn’t be ashamed of my skin color,
I have light skin privilege.
You don’t look Arab anyways. You look Italian. You’re kind of brown.
You can pass for white… Maybe Italian?
You’re privileged. Be thankful you look white.
Wait, legally, you are white.
Why are you complaining?
Making Buffalo Home
Community Filmmaker | Lisa Khoury
Community filmmaker, Lisa Khoury, shares her family’s love of their Lebanese culture.
I had never been more mortified.
I was in fourth grade, sitting at the lunch table at Eggert Road Elementary in Orchard Park when I pulled out what my mother had packed: a pita bread roll-up.
My friend, who was eating a Lunchable, looked over and grimaced.
It was 2001, just after 9/11, and I wasn’t just embarrassed by my lunch. I was embarrassed to be Middle Eastern.
My father and mother are Lebanese immigrants. In the 1970s, my dad’s parents, Michel and Loulou, fled the Lebanese civil war. They emigrated to Buffalo with their 11 kids so I wound up with 48 first cousins.
Our parents raised us all in a bubble -- speaking to us in Arabic; feeding us Lebanese food, and taking us to the local Lebanese church.
Bread was Tayta’s specialty.
When she first came to Buffalo, she started baking flatbread in her basement for her 11 kids. The smell was so delicious and strong -- it drew in neighbors. Her neighbors turned into customers. Fast forward a few years, and Tayta started a business -- selling pita out of her side door.
What us little ones didn’t realize was our grandparents and parents were building something monumental for us: a foundation. Eating Lebanese food and speaking Arabic gave us a passion for our culture; raising us together gave us an indestructible bond, and witnessing Tayta’s hard work gave us an entrepreneurial spirit.
Now, my cousins are grown up. We have our own lives and families. And we have a choice: Do we continue living our Lebanese heritage and sharing it with Buffalo? Or do we assimilate into American life and move away?
Well, all those years our parents and grandparents raised us together paid off.
Despite feeling like outcasts in school, my cousins and I are *adamant* about keeping our Lebanese culture alive. And we’re just as adamant about sharing it with the City of Buffalo.
This is the story of how my cousins are continuing Tayta Loulou’s legacy -- by connecting with Buffalo through Lebanese food -- and, specifically, pita bread.
Making Buffalo Home
Community Filmmaker | Tom Gadelrab
Tom Gadelrab from Lewiston, NY talks about how closely his faith and culture mix, and takes his own camera to document weekend traditions practiced in his Egyptian Christian Coptic faith including the making of Orban, the Eucharistic bread, and the Agape meal celebration that follows each Sunday liturgy in this video for Making Buffalo Home.
The Coptic faith prides itself on being a church with rich longstanding traditions, but beyond that it is a faith rooted in love. This sentiment is exemplary within our humble church here in Buffalo. Despite hundreds of congregants ranging over fourteen diverse nationalities, we are one big family with a unified heart. This spirit is ubiquitous regardless of whether our family lives down the street or halfway across the country. As our priest Father Mark puts it, “While the people may leave, St. Mary & St. Moses Church never leaves their hearts.”
Whether it be the Coptic church or any culture, I hope by sharing our differences and our stories, we can continue to make Buffalo home. A city with rich immigrant roots, we would be foolish to lose sight of this in the face of new, younger immigrant cultures - cultures that provide beauty and love if we take the moment to learn more about them.
- Tom Gadelrab
Making Buffalo Home is funded by Rich Products Corporation and Rich Family Foundation.