Issue 88 January 2012
America. Amreeka. The land of the free, the home of the brave. It has been a beacon of light for the oppressed and those wishing for a better life the world over. The Statue of Liberty reads: “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free…” In AMREEKA, we find a Palestinian mother, Muna Farah (Nisreen Faour), who is fresh off a recent divorce finally get accepted to immigrate to small town USA (Illinois) with her son Fadi (Melkar Muallam). It is important to note that this story is the epitome of the grass is always greener. In the West Bank, Muna and Fadi have their family even though they have increasingly difficult times getting anywhere and harassed by the plethora of checkpoints throughout the region. The skullduggery of the place finally proves to be too much.
The American dream however, is not at all what they came to expect. Muna begins flipping burgers at White Castle which she hides from her family as she was once a proud banking agent. Fadi gets beaten up at school by ignorant children, and their extended family is discriminated against by local Arab-phobes drummed up with the newly minted war in Iraq. Not exactly a better life for the both of them and certainly not a place that either of them could consider “home.” But what is home to people without a country to call theirs?
Cherien Dabis, the director, does a wonderful job of making this story a heartfelt look at what it means to be an outsider and what it means to believe in something so strongly, you will do whatever it takes to make it work. I believe that the character of Muna, played so beautifully by Nisreen, invokes a warmth and charisma that only truly good stories can bring out. She has a charming formula of gumption, true grit, and naivety which reminds me of my own mother. She is a real woman, who is not afraid to talk about her excess avoirdupois, but also knows it is better to be happy than worry constantly. A true testament is at the end of the film when Muna invites the kind and sympathetic Jewish principal (Joseph Ziegler) out with the family.
My parents were the first to move to America, I was actually born in Chicago, Illinois. My father came in 1971 and my mother at 19 years of age when she had me in 1981. It hasn’t always been easy. It wasn’t easy for the Japanese during World War II, the Irish over a century before or any other immigrant group. How easily third, fourth and fifth generations forget it all. They harden to the fact their ancestors were ever in the same boat coming off to the shore. I yearn for the day that people can live in a place that makes them happy, wherever in this world that might be, because opportunities exist for them to breathe freely.