New York Times (Opinion)
By Julia Meltzer
June 20, 2017
While working in Syria periodically from 2005 to 2010, I lived in Damascus and traveled often to Aleppo. Spending time there, in a city where ancient trade routes, commerce and culture were still thriving, made a deep impression on me. In 2012, while I was distributing my last film, about a Quran school for women and girls, Aleppo was entering the war in Syria. I found it devastating to consider the fate of the city and its inhabitants and wanted to find a story that would help me maintain a connection to the place.
One of my colleagues, Mustafa Zeno, was from Aleppo, and his mother and sister had recently moved from there to Los Angeles. After meeting Rudayna and Dalya, I realized the story I was searching for was right in front of me, and I began to film their transition into their new American lives.
The pair’s move to Los Angeles is not the typical Syrian refugee narrative that has dominated the news. They are a middle-class family who was lucky enough to already have American citizenship. They did not cross the Mediterranean in a raft, but nonetheless, like all immigrants, they struggled to adjust to a new culture and the loss of their former home. As I followed them over four years, I realized that Dalya’s experiences as a young Muslim girl integrating her traditional customs with American culture was a story that many could relate to. And of course, as the 2016 presidential campaign ramped up and the Muslim travel ban was put forward as a proposal by Donald Trump, the challenges she grappled with became even greater. But she is moving forward with her life regardless. She is now in college, where she hopes to study architecture and to return to Syria at some point to help rebuild.
Dalya inhabits a very particular community in Southern California — an Arab Muslim immigrant world that is often quite private, especially for women. By offering an intimate glimpse into Dalya’s life, I hope viewers absorb the perspective of a young Syrian-American Muslim woman and how she sees the world during these complicated times.
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