Amidst the rising anti-refugee and anti-immigrant sentiment in the United States, Muslim children in the Washington DC area took a stand this spring in an unconventional way: the expression of their cultures through song, poetry, and dance at Arena Stage in the Mead Center for American Theater.
By Kristina Bogos
On the evening of Wednesday, March 22, CCAS and the Fund for the Future of Our Children co-hosted a concert to celebrate the hopes, dreams, and promises of refugees and immigrants from the seven Muslim countries affected by the Trump administration’s Immigration Executive Order, commonly known as the “travel ban.” At “Children of One World: Celebrating the Cultures of the Excluded,” more than 100 elementary and middle school children, who hail from Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen, celebrated their religion and heritage through cultural performances. By expressing and sharing the cultures of the Muslim countries targeted by the ban through the eyes and voices of children, “Children of One World” aimed to send a powerful message of unity and to foster peace and understanding with the wider public.
“It was remarkable how this event came together. Everyone agreed that children’s performances could highlight the cultures of the banned countries in a positive way,” said Dr. Susan Douglass, K-14 Education Outreach Coordinator at CCAS. “The enthusiasm and creativity of everyone involved—from the co-sponsors to the wonderful artistic directors and the community leaders who prepared the performers, all the way to the children and youth themselves—brought the program together quickly. The excitement in the audience that evening, and the comments of those who attended, showed how worthwhile the event was.”
Performances at the concert included the recitation of a poem by Avideh Shashaani, president of Fund for the Future of Our Children, entitled “Tell Me Where to Be Born” by the Medina Montessori Elementary Class, who also performed the song “The World Is a Rainbow” in English. The Al Fatih Academy, an Islamic school in Reston, Virginia, performed numerous Arabic works through song, dance, and spoken word poetry. Students of the Washington International Academy danced to traditional Somali music, performed the Syrian dabke dance, and sang to popular Yemeni music.
“I believe we dehumanize by quoting numbers and not names. Whenever we remove the showing of faces we also make it easier for hurtfulness and unkindness to continue,” said N.J. Mitchell, Artistic Director at Mt. Gilead Baptist Church in Washington D.C. “You could tell the audience was pleased by their continued conversation, introductions, and excitement of being present to experience the production.”
Other audience members like Grace Cavalieri, an award-winning American poet, playwright and radio host of “The Poet and the Poem” at the Library of Congress, recognized the need to continue these cross-cultural conversations and promote the cultures of the Middle East in order to counter stereotypes at home.
“Something has to change in this city, this region, this world,” Cavalieri said. “This program brought us access. It opened the door for all of us to come in and for the children to reach out with their sweet voices.”
Kristina Bogos graduated from the MAAS program in May 2017.