My name is Pascal. I use photography as a tool to connect with the world around me. I have been doing photography for about 7 years now. I have always been drawn to the challenge and beauty of photographing people, especially people I don’t know. I use a digital camera as an artifact of social interaction — a tool to start a conversation, to get to know people, and to share people’s stories with the world. Hence, in this article, I share both a literal and pictorial conversation I had with Banan, a Palestinian-American currently in her last year of a Computer Science undergraduate program at University of New Orleans.
My Name is Banan
I was born and raised in New Orleans, LA and I am originally from Palestine. I am a senior at UNO majoring in Computer Science. I don’t have any major life plans yet, besides graduating and getting a good job in the tech field. I just hope that what ever it is I end up doing, I’m happy and can continue to inspire other young girls in my community to get their education and know that they can get a good job in the United States in spite of their religion and how they dress (that was a worry of mine in high school). I get so happy every time I hear a young girl from my community say something along the lines of: “I want to be like Banan when I grow up.” Being a good role model is something I always aspire to be, I guess that’s what happens when you have six younger siblings!
Why do you dress the way you do? Can you touch on the argument that a hijab is more oppressive than it is liberating?
The hijab is not oppressive. When Muslim countries force women to wear the hijab, then I’d say it’s those practices that are oppressive. Forcing any particular style of clothing on people is wrong and restrictive. I choose to wear the hijab and I feel liberated by it, especially in a country where I’ve been told by men numerous times that I should take it off. That I’d look “better” without it. Many of my negative experiences go to show that in our society a woman’s value is too often focused on her sexual charm. From perfume and clothing ads to children’s dolls and TV shows, you’ll see the woman/sex combination. My hijab frees me from these beauty standards and gives me the right to assert my body, femininity, and spirituality as my own. To everyone who’s told me that I’d look much more attractive if I didn’t wear my hijab, thank you because that’s the point :)
How have people treated you or your family, especially given your choice of dress style?
When I was a kid I saw negative reactions people have towards the hijab directed at my mom. A lot of my nights consisted of replaying an insult directed at her and thinking of what I’ll say to defend her the next time someone says it. The 8-year-old me couldn’t keep up with the creative stream of insults. I couldn’t wait to grow up and wear it so she wouldn’t be alone. I wear it now and I am so proud to walk with her and all four of my sisters. I love my hijab and I’ll defend it and any muslim woman who chooses to wear it for as long as I have to.
Being Muslim in the United States means getting a lot of glares and racist comments thrown at you at the most random times. It means being told you don’t belong in the only place you have ever called home. A popular one is “Go back to your country, terrorist!”. During the 2016 election, a man yelled at my mom and sister saying: “I can’t wait till Trump gets elected and gets rid of you people.” My two younger brothers, ages 4 and 8 at the time, heard that comment. They really thought we had to pack up and leave on the day Trump was elected. As soon my 8-year-old brother, Mohammad, heard Trump won, he asked: “Can we take our trampoline with us? And does that mean no more school?” His comment about school made me laugh but the situation itself is far from humorous.
I’m pretty used to all of that negativity though. Often times my non-Muslim friends will point out the glares I get from strangers. “Hey Banan, you know that guy? He’s been mean mugging for a while there,” one of my friend might say. My response is usually “No, I don’t know that guy, but he thinks he knows me.” I try hard to make sure people’s ignorance does not get to me. It’s probably not healthy to take all of it in; I wish I realized that sooner. My goal is to be the person I needed when I was younger.
Banan on Palestine
Palestinian Americans tend to be extremely passionate about Palestine. The only time I ever have to stop myself from talking too much politics in public is when Palestine is brought up. Despite the Palestinian-Isreali conflict, the state of Palestine is living on through every Palestinian, no matter where he or she may live.
Banan’s story expanded my knowledge, compassion, and curiosity for Palestinians, and for others with whom I share very little demographic commonalities. It also reminded me that we, humans, are often scared to step out of our comfort bubbles in order to try to understand and celebrate others and their differences. The truth is that most of what we know of other people in demographics outside of our own comes from media (social media, news media, movies, books, etc.) and unfortunately at times through religious dogma and other examples of narrow world views. We most often don’t get a chance to truly know people. We often don’t get to know the people that we share neighborhoods and buildings with, and definitely not the people that live countries and continents away.
I don’t know if technology is helping us connect, because it definitely has the power to help us connect — the same way it has the power to divide us. But I hope that with or without technology, we can do a better a job of tearing down walls that divide us, and understand that humanity doesn’t stop inside of our own demographic perimeters. The beauty, pain, dreams of humanity are shared across all peoples. Dignity, freedom, beauty, and the pursuit of happiness are endowed in all, and that ought to be recognized and celebrated by all. This I believe is the way forward into a greater more prosperous, peaceful, future civilization.