With many students entering panic mode as midterms take their toll, it’s important to find a time to unwind and chill out away from the pressures of the academic word. The Middle Eastern Student Center (MESC) agreed, and hosted an open-air showing of the critically acclaimed “Amreeka” under overcast skies on Nov. 21. Huddled in coats or reposed on blankets, several students gathered on the grass of the HUB for a night of humor, reflection and relaxation.
The HUB courtyard was practically deserted by 6 p.m. on Thursday except for the occasional student grabbing a late pick-me-up from the Coffee Bean or hurrying home from a late class. A modest crowd began to materialize around a tent staffed by four members of the MESC, where they handed out chips, warm tea and hot chocolate to the waiting attendees. I signed in and grabbed myself some tea, savoring its warmth as I huddled in my overcoat on the grass and watched two staffers set up the screen and speakers for the film. Several couples or small groups sat on quilts or along the brick planters, their excited whispers punctuated with the occasional laugh or playing with their phones and snacking on the provided refreshments. As the film began at 6:30 p.m., the general din died down and the crowd turned their attention to the screen.
Even with the echoes of an event being held at the Bell Tower, the sound system is sufficient to be heard all the way in the back stretches of the crowd. The film tells the story of a mother and her teenage son who migrate from the tribulations of the Gaza Strip to a small town in Indiana. They must face the harshness of Islamophobia in the post-9/11 world, as well as the difficulties in finding work, making friends and maintaining one’s cultural identity in a new environment. Despite its heavy subject matter, the film manages to keep itself light, with playful humor and a self-aware streak that manages to avoid the oftentimes depressing reality of immigration in the United States. The jokes drew loud guffaws from the audience with a hush of reverent silence over the crowd during the film’s more tense moments. The screening was a success and many passers-by were drawn into the crowd, grabbing some of the free food and settling themselves on the grass. The crowd was nebulous at times, as people shifted on the grass and occasionally left for a few minutes, but there was a certain stillness in the air, as if there were a bubble of tranquility around the filmgoers.
The film’s subject matter definitely hit close to home for many of the students in attendance. While we are all Highlanders, we all have diverse backgrounds and experiences that have brought us to where we are today. Many of us have immigrated from other states or countries, and countless students have had to deal with racism and prejudice in our lives. One student I spoke to, who asked to be identified as Tom, explained his difficulty with maintaining the culture of his native Korea while also trying to fit into American society. He expressed satisfaction with the film and its “focus on the all-important issue of human rights.” The film had something for everyone, and while not all of us in attendance may have had experiences similar to the characters, it reminded us that despite our superficial differences, we’re all people working to find happiness and acceptance in the world.
The film ended, many of the attendees hurried home, their temporary reprieve over and the responsibilities of work or studies calling. Several stayed however, and many stood around the refreshment table or remained on the grass. I spoke to event organizer Natalie Haddad, who explained that this was the first screening held by the MESC and that they hoped to have many more in the future. She was excited with the total turnout, and happily exclaimed, “Our goal was 50, but there were 65 people here!”
The night represented one of the most important goals for our student organizations and for UCR as a whole. It was a night of reflection and laughter, but most of all it was a night of acceptance. We live in a diverse world and our school is a small microcosm of differing backgrounds and culture, united in our desire for higher education and a better life. The characters in the film were able to find the acceptance and contentment they were striving for, and with the aid of events such as this, we can all come together as a campus community toward our common goal.