Originally published on ILLUME in April 2013
Dunia Kassay, a sophomore at Northeastern University, was on her way to the Boston Marathon when the explosions happened. The MBTA red line was put on hold so she decided it was best to just head home. On her way back her parents called to make sure she was okay.
“Alhumdulliah (praise be to God).” Kassay assured her parents in Arabic that she was fine. “Allahuakbar (God is great),” she said. “Asalmualaikum (may peace be upon you).”
Hearing Kassay speak in Arabic, people began whispering amongst themselves pointing at the headscarf tightly wrapped around her chestnut-colored face accenting her daring cheekbones. She lowered her head trying not to let it bother her and ignored the stares. But once she reached Harvard Square that evening, a man shoved her on his way out of the train car.
That night she wrote a Facebook post: “I’m done trying to prove I’m American enough, Bostonian enough, and Muslim enough for anyone anymore. I want the world to know that there is a person behind this scarf. Just because I cover my body doesn’t mean I can’t feel your pushes and shoves, just because my ears are covered doesn’t mean I don’t hear your comments, and just because I don’t fight back doesn’t mean I am weak.”
Kassay’s experience with racism and hatred is one of the three stories featured in the Muslim Inter-Scholastic Tournament’s documentary “We are One Boston.” The film — which was originally anticipated to release Friday, but changed to Sunday — is part of MIST’s outreach efforts to combat hateful bullying especially among the youth following the Boston Marathon bombings.
“The best that we can do as leaders of MIST and leaders of the community is to show students and show the world that we are here as a resource for them to talk to,” said Anum Hussain, regional co-director of MIST Boston. “And we won’t stand to be punished for the acts of one person.”
The film is aimed not solely at Muslims, but also non-Muslims including a story of an adopted Korean-American woman who was told to go back to her country and a German-Indian man who was beaten up in high school by his fellow football players after 9/11.
“The video is meant to be universal,” Hussain said. “It’s not meant to be just for anyone who believes in Islam. It’s meant to be anyone who has been discriminated or stereotyped or hurt based on any racial, religious, or any sort of background.”
The three people featured in the film have never shared their story before and it was very difficult for them to be on film and put what happened to them into a few sentences, Hussain said.
“They were getting emotional, some tears were shed,” she said. “It takes a lot of bravery to come in front of a camera and share what happened to you, but they were willing to do it for the sake of the future generations, future children, future students who will go through the same thing [they] did.”
The idea of the film came about after MIST sent out a statement the day of the explosions encouraging students to email or call either Hussain or Elimam Sanousi, also a regional co-director, if they were hurt or needed someone to talk to.
“We lent ourselves as an open resources to then,” Hussain said. “Everyone needs to realize we are all here for one another and no matter what anyone says to them, we should rise to the best self we can be and rise to any issue and not let that tear us down.”
Hussain, 22-year-old Emerson College alum, was working at HubSpot, where she is a Content Strategist, when she heard about the bombings from some woman. When she heard the news, her heart started beating really fast and she prayed it wasn’t a Muslim, thinking back to her experience with racist remarks after 9/11.
“Go back to your country,” someone once said to her on the bus in middle school. Hussain was confused because she was born and raised in Boston. But, this is her country.
Another time kids asked her, “Are you going to Pakistan to visit your Uncle Saddam Hussein?” Pointing out the fact that they shared the same last name.
She tried not to let the words bother her, but hate words live forever, she said. “When 9/11 happened and I went through all those comments there was no resources or big brother or big sister-like figure, a leader that said ‘hey if you need someone to talk to come talk to me,’” Hussain said. “That’s all these students need to hear. That’s probably all I needed to hear.”
The main goal is to communicate, she said. Hussain mentioned a recent story of a 10-year-old boy in Ohio was asked by one of his classmates if he was going to blow up a school. He was confused. “Wait? I’m going to blow up a school?” he said. The teacher only heard his remark and not the student who started the threat. She gave the boy detention and had his locker searched.
“This is not the correct way to respond in these situations and that’s why we are working on this video,” she said. “We want people to know [that] people are hurt by the things that are said and there is a certain way you should be responding to them and this is not it.”
The documentary was created in under four days. After the statement was sent out Monday night, friends, family, co-workers, and even people outside the U.S. emailed MIST Boston asking what they could do to help. That’s when the idea for the film was proposed. Tuesday, Hussain created a fundraising page, sent it to all 600 of her co-workers at HubSpot and raised over $1500 within 24 hours to produce the film. That night, she met with her friend who owns his own production company at Panera Bread to plan the storyboard.
After that things happened quickly.
Wednesday: Shot film.
Thursday: Edit film.
Friday: Launch film.
“There was really no time to stop and think,” Hussain said. “It was just go, go go!”
However, MIST decided to delay releasing their film on their original date of Friday after Boston was placed on lock-down. Hussain said it would be inappropriate and unsafe to launch a video of this nature on Friday.
“People’s lives are at risk and I don’t want us to try and shift that conversation,” she said in an email. “Once this city is safe with the victim captured, we can share the video. I need to be patient and not send the wrong message at the wrong time, especially when it impacts so many people.”
Many students and adults have responded with messages of support and care, thanking the directors for reaching out and having their backs. Others responded by sharing their own stories of hatred and racism that have happened to them over the years.
Adam Syed, a senior at Austin Preparatory School, was at his home in North Reading when the explosions happened. He found out through Twitter. Monday night he received the emailed statement from MIST and decided to contact them on Facebook thanking them for their kindness in reaching out to high school students.
“I was kind of in a bad mood that day,” Syed said. “There were just a lot of things going on that day. One of my friends had died that day and it was their one-year anniversary. It was nice to see them reach out to high schools like that [especially since] they are only a few years older than us.”
Although some people were kind enough to help up 19-year-old Kassay after she was shoved on the train after the bombings, she could not get that hateful moment out of her head. That’s why she decided to share her story on film. She didn’t want this to be swept under the rug. It was her job to educate others.
“I wanted to show them I am a Bostonian,” she said. “I am a die-hard Patriots fan. I walk Boylston St. I’m a Bostonian just like you.”