Panel Discussion with SD Organizations

We had a wonderful night with leaders from local nonprofit organizations that work for the advocacy of refugees and immigrants in San Diego!

Thank you everyone who came out tonight. And a big THANK YOU to all the panelists who made time to have this important conversation with us about the challenges refugees and immigrants face in San Diego, and the contribution they bring to the community.

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Anon(ymous) director Randy Reinholz (far right) gave a word before the panel about the show’s message and its relevance today.

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We were honored to have with us (from left to right)
Ms. Dilkhwaz Ahmed from License to Freedom
Ms. Elizabeth Lou from Nile Sisters Development Initiative
Mr. Fahad Mohamed from Partnership for the Advancement of New Americans (PANA)
and Mr. Jama Mohamed from United Women of East African Support Team (UWEAST)
Far right is Yi-Lin Eli Chung, moderator for the evening’s event.

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Ms. Dilkhwaz Ahmed shared with us a powerful video from License to Freedom’s website (http://www.licensetofreedom.org/), about the stakes of sexual violence and exploitation, and the resilience of survivors.

Her presentation reminded us the importance of action beyond sympathy.

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Ms. Elizabeth Lou pointed us to the Nile Sisters website (https://nilesisters.org), which features their services and valuable information about issues concerning refugees and other vulnerable foreign-born populations in San Diego.

A lot of the information we pulled for Anon(ymous)‘s production came from Nile Sisters.

Mr. Fahad Mohamed shared with us PANA’s integrated voter engagement program, as well as their #RightToRoof campaign to address the hidden homeless issue among refugees and immigrants in San Diego.

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The THRIVE tool United Women of East Africa uses to identify and address priorities of community improvements.

Mr. Jama Mohamed shared with us his personal story coming to America as a young refugee, and eventually graduating from San Diego State University with a Psychology degree!

All the organizations featured on the panel could be found on our Community Resources page.

License to Freedom http://www.licensetofreedom.org/

Nile Sister Development Initiative https://nilesisters.org/. Also on Facebook https://www.facebook.com/nilesisters/.

Partnership for the Advancement of New Americans (PANA) http://www.panasd.org/
They are on Twitter @PANASanDiego

United Women of East Africa http://www.unitedwomenofeastafrica.org/. Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/Uweast1/. They are also on Twitter @uweast1.

SPECIAL THANKS to
San Diego State University Theatre Department
Dr. Huma Ghosh, from Women’s Studies Department, for spreading the word about the event and bringing in students
Adam Danska and Christina Martin,Production Supervisors, for helping us set up
Marissa McKinney,House Manager, for ushers and setup
Stephanie Kwik, Assistant Dramaturg, for media support
Confucius Institute at San Diego State University, for lending us their microphone

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HIGHLIGHT: Nile Sisters Development Initiative

Since the production of Anon(ymous), we have been aware of the many local nonprofit organizations that support and advocate for refugees and immigrants here in San Diego. We are honored to have the opportunities to connect with some of them and witness their amazing work.

Nile Sisters Development Initiative is a San Diego based nonprofit organization founded by Elizabeth Lou, Recipient of the Eleanor Roosevelt Award for Human Rights.

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The Nile Sisters Development Initiative mission is to educate, support, and offer training to refugee and immigrant women and their families to help them overcome barriers to social and economic self-reliance.

The Initiative facilitates refugee self-reliance beyond the initial allocation period through services such as emergency relief, employment facilitation, family advocacy and education.

When asked about how students could help to advocate for refugees and immigrants, Ms. Lou replies that educating oneself, and distributing reliable and helpful information on social media and to friends and family is one immediate action students could take.

The organization is a source of information about refugees and other vulnerable foreign-born populations, conducting assessments and offering free, reliable, and current reports for refugee and immigrant issues.

You can find these publications on Nile Sisters Development Initiative’s website at https://nilesisters.org/. And keep up to date with the organization’s current activities on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/nilesisters/.

Behind the Scene pt. 2

We are in the second week of Anon(ymous)‘s run! It has been a bliss.

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Thank you, Ken Jacques, for the beautiful photos!

Introducing more of our cast members, and what this show means for them:

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Siena Thompson / Naja

My name is Siena Thompson. Where I come from is beautiful, sunny southern California.

To me, home is a place of peace, acceptance, and love surrounded by friends and family.

This play is a wonderful discussion starter that will hopefully evoke change in the people who come to see it. My favorite line in the show is, “…all those memories inside of you. You’ve locked them inside for so long…” because no matter how painful the memory it’s always important to remember where you come from and what shaped you as an individual.

I hope the audience leaves asking questions and wondering where they come from and knowing how important it is to remember what helped make you who you are today.

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Cienna Johnson / Nemasani

My name is Cienna Johnson. Where I come from is about 500 miles north. I was born and raised in Alameda, CA, a small town where everyone knows someone you know.

Home is with my mom, dad, and younger brother.

Anon(ymous) is about a quest to find your inner truth, to discover what home is to you, and to figure out your place in the world. My favorite line is, “You have to keep what you love right in front of you, like a shiny coin at the bottom of a well.” The imagery communicates the process of remembering; reaching deep down to grasp a tiny fraction of a memory and holding onto it like it’s gold.

I hope the audience walks away asking themselves where they come from and what home is to them; and from there, share their stories and listen to the stories of others.

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Dillon Hoban / Strygal & Ensemble 

My name is Dillon Hoban. Where I come from is beaches and blue skies.

Home is Encinitas California. It is coming home from the beach in summer, caked in salt and sand. My home is my parents, sister, brother, and a consistent flow of friends and relatives passing through our oasis.

Anon(ymous) has given me a window into the brutal reality refugees are forced to endure each and every day. Without being involved in this production, I would have never been able to experience the world of this very underrepresented group of people. My favorite line in the play is at the very end. Anon asks Nemasani “What do you remember? Because what I remember is you.” To me this line encapsulates Anon’s journey. By allowing his memories to guide him, as we all do in our lives every day, he found his way back home.

I hope our audience develops understanding and compassion towards the people in this world dealing with being displaced form their homes and countries. Most of us fortunate enough to be born and raised in America have never experienced the dread of having no choice but to leave our home. This terrible circumstance is daily life for over 20 million people. And if anything, I hope our play can show the audience that refugees are indeed people whose only flaw is being victim to a set of very unfortunate set of circumstances.

AND one special interview with our scenic designer who designed the beautiful, versatile set for the world of Anon(ymous):

Ray Leonard / 2nd Year Graduate Scenic Designer

My name is Raymond Leonard and I was born in Mesa, Arizona but I grew up in Alaska. I graduated high school in Alaska and finished my undergraduate degree at the University of Alaska Anchorage.

Home for me is my art: the feeling of creating something from nothing and affecting others emotionally with my work is truly inspiring.

Ignorance is born from a lack of knowledge and a narrow world-perspective. Anon(ymous) for me is a small step to open a larger conversation with others about the hardships others are facing. It’s a way to help others become more mindful about what’s happening in the world today, and hopefully make the audience more compassionate towards others outside of their immediate social circle.

My favorite line is, “My dad says all these foreigners are flooding in with all their strange customs and their weird food, and they don’t speak English, and they’re not like us, and most of them are illegal, they’re illegal aliens, that’s what my dad says. Whenever he says that, I think of little green men in space suits, but that’s not the kind of alien he means, it’s a different kind of alien”. This line is the issue the play is addressing, and is very revealing of a common sentiment that nonforeign-born Americans might have.

I hope the audience walks away feeling emotionally affected in some way after watching this show. Whether those feelings are positive or negative, it’s the spark of a discussion about larger issues and ideas that is important.

Thank you to all who support and participate in this powerful performance. See you at the show!

Behind the Scene pt.1

Introducing the Anon(ymous) cast and creative team! We asked them the following questions:

My name is _________. Where I come from ____________.
1) What is home to you?
2) What does this play mean to you? What is your favorite line? Why?
3) What do you hope the audience walks away with?

Here are their answers.

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Randy Reinholz / Director

My name is Randy Reinholz I grew up in several small towns throughout the Midwest. I was born in St. Louis, MO and my family lived in small towns in Missouri, North Dakota, and Texas. I graduated High School from Camdenton, Missouri in the Ozarks.

My home is with Jean Bruce Scott, the love of my life.

Anon(ymous) is about the struggle to know the truth. To find a place in the world to call home. To know who your people are and how you came to be in the space you occupy.

My favorite line is “I am a goddess and I come to you in your dreams.” We all need to meet our goddess, to know them and embrace ancient wisdom.

I hope the audience walks away with ideas about how the world can become more compassionate. I hope the struggle on stage translates to generosity in life.

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Brian Ting / Anon

My name is Brian Ting. Where I come from is the Philippines.

1) Though I was born in the Philippines I call America home. My home isn’t perfect but what makes it my home is the passion I have to make it a better place for future generations.

2) As someone who came to the United States when they were 5 years old, this play is incredibly significant to me. Themes of feeling out of place and finding the meaning of “home” and where you belong resonated strongly with me. My favorite line in the show is “I’m really homesick… It’s like a big empty room inside of me”. I think it’s one that a lot of immigrants can relate to where, while though their homeland might have been war or poverty-stricken, it’s still “home” and incites that feeling of longing when you’ve been away from it.

3) Regardless of political party or any preconceived notions that audience members may have, I hope they walk away seeing refugees in a different ways: as humans rather than “law-breakers”.

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Eric Durbin / Mr. Yuri Mackus & Ensemble

My name is Eric George Durbin. Where I come from family is the most important aspect of life and following your dreams is encouraged.

1) Home is wherever my immediate family lives. I moved around a lot as a child and even more as adult, because of my Air Force career. So it wasn’t ever a certain physical building, more where they currently resided.

2) This play has really opened up my eyes to the plights and struggles of refuges and the immigrants of this country. I’m hoping I can help in some small way to make their lives better and easier. “Facts are only, part of the story.” -Anon. Just something that really resonated with me and how life can really be full of things besides just the general facts.

3) That when they hear things on the news or from the current President about immigrants and “illegals”, that they are real people with lives that have sometime been uprooted or torn apart and why cant we offer assistance rather than turn backs on them. Our country is a beautiful place and why not help those in need.

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Mason Banks / Ali & Shadow & Ignacio & Ensemble

My name is Mason. Where I come from racial humor is fun and acceptable.

1) Home is where my sister, Mom, and Dad are. It is a place I can relax and not worry about the future.

2) This play is a chance to become familiar with and empathize with people dealing with monumentally different struggles, and find the joy in family. My favorite line is “Good. That’s good. My wife kills cockroaches, you know. She squishes them with her shoe.” This is my favorite line because I get to play with a father’s humorous threatening towards my daughter’s suitor. I love using humor to mask or screen emotions running beneath.

3) I hope the audience walks away with a sense of relatability to the people in the show. That although labeled “refugees” and “immigrants,” they are people with hopes dreams, struggles, and stories of how they got here.

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Milica Vrzic / Helen Laius & Pet Bird & Nice American Mother & Ensemble

My name is Milica. Where I come from young people are going away/abroad. Where I come from simplicity in every day life is outrageous.

Home is where you feel love shared everywhere, much artistic energy, and where people are incredibly genuine and spontaneous.

This play means asking people to think about what home represents for them, to explore more of what does that have to do with their personality.

My favorite line is “It’s only human, we are only human.” Because every person has humanity in them, regardless of their education, background, etc. It is important to remind ourselves to look after each other every day, and do whatever we can to improve ourselves.

I hope the audience walks out being more aware of what is going on in the world, their own country, but especially with the hope. That hope has to be supported by actions, on individual level first.

 

Promotion photo!

Take a look at the promotion photo of Anon(ymous) with our full cast!

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In the center are Brian Ting (left), Siena Thompson (middle), and Cienna Johnson (left).

Anon(ymous) is written by UC San Diego professor Naomi Iizuka, directed SDSU faculty Randy Reinholz.

Special thanks to Ken Jacques and Lizbeth Price for the beautiful shot!

The show opens on September 29th, and closes on October 8th, including two matinees on Sundays. To see more updates on the show, follow SDSU School of Theatre, Television, and Film on Facebook.

Their Wished-For Shore: Storytelling and Shared Themes in the Odyssey and Anon(ymous)

“Let all the elders of the land appear,
Pious observe our hospitable laws,
And Heaven propitiate in the strangers’ cause;
Then joined in council, proper means explore
Safe to transport him to the wished-for shore
(How distant that, imports us not to know,
Nor weigh the labour, but relieve the woe).”

                                           – Odyssey, Book VII

The Odyssey is an epic poetry attributed to the Greek poet, Homer, in the 8th century BC. It is composed of twenty-four books, and follows the story of Odysseus, the king of Ithaca, and his journey homeward after the Trojan War. In modern popular culture and literature, the Odyssey and Odysseus are often evoked to represent a great journey and its wanderer. Specific to refugee literature, writers and journalists have used the Odyssey as a framing device for the perilous journeys undertaken by refugees and other displaced people. Anon(ymous)—Naomi Iizuka’s adaptation of the Odyssey—builds upon the Homeric epic to tell a particularly timely story of modern refugee experience, apropos of the current global refugee crisis.

Several themes stand out when considering Anon(ymous) vis-à-vis its blueprint the Odyssey. This post will introduce three central concerns:

  • Maritime transport
  • Homecoming
  • Hospitality.

The most memorable theme from the Odyssey depicts dangerous sea travel, which has gained particular focus in relation to the current refugee discourse. In 2015, the picture of a drowned boy on the beach brought the Syrian refugee crisis to international attention; particularly highlighted was refugees’ often deadly crossing of the Mediterranean Sea on overloaded smuggling boats. This experience of intense sea travel, fuelled by pictures of hundreds of refugees afloat and strained on an inflatable Zodiac boat, recalls memories of another mass migration in the 20th century from Vietnam, following the Fall of Saigon. For decades, the Vietnamese “boat people” has been a familiar portrait of refugees in modern American cultural memory. Traveling across a pernicious sea becomes a motif that penetrates two of the most high profile mass migrations in recent history, connecting the refugee crisis to the tale of the Odyssey, where the hero, too, has wrestled with the sea in search of safety and home.

The quest of “homecoming,” or “nostos” in Greek, then, is another theme that permeates the entirety of the Odyssey. In Greek literature, “nostos” refers to this theme of a hero’s epic journey homeward by sea, overcoming great challenges and obstacles in the process. The theme of nostos resonates with contemporary refugee experience for it highlights the difficulties and great distance a refugee must overcome to find home. While Odysseus sets sail for Ithaca, the protagonist Anon in Anon(ymous) wanders in a foreign land in search of his own home. While Anon could not return to his country of origin due to conflict and violence—much like the millions of refugees fleeing Syria today—he nevertheless is on a journey of “homecoming” or “home-searching/building” throughout Anon(ymous). Some places are too strange, some places are hostile, and some are already occupied; in the end Anon, as with Odysseus, knows when he is not at home. The feeling of homesickness and alienation is what propels him to wander from place to place, looking for somewhere he could truly settle.

Anon, like Odysseus, encounters different people on his journey. Each of these people has been in a given location for longer than Anon, even when they are migrant themselves, and acts as host to the young traveller. Some of them friendly and helpful, while some of them hypocritical, demeaning, or even downright hostile to Anon. This relationship between the host/veteran and the guest/newcomer could be related to the theme of “guest-host friendship” or hospitality in the Odyssey. Known as “xenia” in Greek, the concept of guest-host relation is tied in to every part of Odysseus’ adventure as an important element of Greek culture.

The law of xenia governs the relationship between a host and their guest. The host is to tend to the guest’s physical needs (food, lodging, bath) before asking whom the guest is. The guest on the other hand shall surrender their weapons at the door and not abuse the host’s house or those who live in it during their stay. Zeus governs the law of xenia; violating xenia is an offence against Zeus himself. Once Odysseus returns to Ithaca in the Odyssey, he kills the suitors for pursuing his wife and going after his kingdom during his absence. This slaughter is not only accepted, but predicted in the Odyssey as punishment for the suitors’ transgression and violation of xenia—failing to maintain the right guest-host relationship.

This theme of xenia is pertinent not only in the Odyssey, but also in Anon(ymous), especially with regards to immigrants and refugees in our post-911 world. Before 911, the United States was one of the most generous hosts to many refugees in the world, welcoming almost half the refugees who resettled around the globe according to the 2004 senate hearing before the Subcommittee on Immigration, Boarder Security and Citizenship. The US was also a country of immigrants that prided itself to be the land of freedom and opportunities. However after the trauma of 911, it has become difficult for many Americans to trust that those knocking on their doors would be good guests. In the meantime, many guests could no longer count on their American hosts and future countrymen to be good company.

Every refugee is a story in some sense. They are a physical, flesh-and-blood manifestation of the ways in which people cannot live together and the failure of governance and international relations.

-Refugee Advocate, Arthur Helton

World Relief CEO Stephan Bauman, staffer Matthew Soerens and others argue in Seeking Refuge: On the Shores of Global Refugee Crisis (2016) that because of the perceived risk of national security breach, some have “allowed fear to dominate the refugee conversation.” One of the solutions, according to Bauman and Soerens, is to humanize strangers; drawing from personal stories as well as history, public policy, and psychology, to balance compassion and security and assess the real risks and benefits of refugee resettlement. This project of telling these stories is by no means easy, but neither is it an exclusively modern dilemma.

The Odyssey in the ancient time is also riddled with fraught relationships between kingdoms, which lead to displacement of people and ever-so delicate dynamic of refugees and their hosts. Homer portrays several models of relationship between foreigners and natives in the twenty-four-book epic. The hosts Odysseus encounters could be loosely rated on a scale from the most aggressive Cyclops to the most compassionate Phaeacians. Between them are many more ambivalent characters that seduce (Calypso), corrupt (the Cicones), humiliate (the Circe), or simply seek to assimilate Odysseus and his crew (the lotus-eaters). Anon(ymous)’s characters often model after these memorable mythical figures. Mr. Zyclo, for example, recalls the tale of the Cyclops in the Odyssey, and acts as the most violently hostile villain to the protagonist in Anon(ymous). While Homer’s Phaeacian princess Nausicaa becomes Nasreen, daughter of the blind restaurant owner Ali (an adaptation of king Alcinous of Phaeacia).

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Ulysses and Nausicca (1888) by Jean Veber

Odysseus’ interaction with the Phaeacians brings to mind many aspects of the current refugee dilemma. Odysseus, as a foreign male down on his luck, had to convince Nausicaa that he was not only harmless but a moral man. Odysseus explained to Alcinous and Arete the reason Nausicaa did not reveal to them immediately his presence: “[…] fear and reverence did my steps detain, / Lest rash suspicion might alarm thy mind: / Man’s of a jealous and mistaken kind” (Book VII). Odysseus understood that people were quick to anger and distrust of strangers, and he must tread carefully on foreign land. Conversely, Arete the queen is cautious of the stranger her daughter brought home: “Tell, then, whence art thou? Whence, that princely air? And robes like these, so recent and fair?” (Book VII). Odysseus, who claimed to be a wanderer lost at sea, dressed in fine clothes made by palace maids, had alerted Arete. She might be suspicious of his stories, or suspicious of his relationship to Nausicaa who gave Odysseus the clothes. The questioning triggered Odysseus to make calculative presentation of his stories, aimed to ease the Phaeacians’ minds.

Despite the fictional nature of the Odyssey, Odysseus’ concern and wariness speak to an experience shared by today’s refugees seeking asylum, similar to Anon’s hesitation and guardedness when questioned about his identity and background. Journalist Patrick Kingsley in his book The New Odyssey (2016) documents the anxiety of Syrian refugee Hashem al-Souki after attending his interview with the Swedish immigration office: “Is there something wrong? Did his interviewer not believe him?” (Kingsley 310). Hashem and his family’s future hinged on Swedish immigration authorities sympathizing with his experience and plead. And his fear of his interview answers not being accepted or believed was more than hypothetical.

Kelly Oliver in Carceral Humanitarianism: Logic of Refugee Detention (2017) points out the numerous challenges refugees face while attempting to tell their stories, officially or in personal capacity. According to UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) convention, an asylum seeker must have “a well-founded fear of persecution for reasons of race, religion, nationality, political opinion or membership in a particular social group” (14). This prerequisite of fear is problematic when combined with the current asylum-granting system, especially during the interview process. Many asylum seekers are traumatized by experience of violence and conflict (hence the “well-founded fear”) which may lead to hesitation, inconsistent testimony, agitation, and even the inability to testify during immigration interviews. Meanwhile, “the [UNHCR interview] guidelines also insist that interviewers verify the truth of the testimony and resolve inconsistencies through confrontational techniques.” However the guidelines on how to provide sensitive techniques to obtain information from traumatized asylum seekers are not always, if rarely, followed in the case of refugee women fleeing sexual violence, who are “least likely to be ‘heard’ and believed” (Oliver 31).

Oliver notes the paradox of fear and believability being the prerequisites of asylum, while the presence of fear often aversely affects an asylum seeker’s chance of being believed: “how does she testify to fear in a way that is convincing?” “what does it mean to prove trauma” “how much trauma is enough to justify asylum, and how does a person convince administrators and interviewers that his trauma is real?”

Storytelling is often a vexed art, and the stake is particularly high in the case of refugee stories. Both Odysseus and Anon, across centuries and cultures, struggle with the telling of their stories. The challenge and responsibility we confront as theatre practitioners is likewise related to this endeavor of (re)presentation. Iizuka’s Anon(ymous) reimagines the Odyssey in contemporary context, perhaps to attempt what Bauman and Soerens aspire: to tell and listen to human stories of refugees and their experience with compassion. Understand that the tales are each made of flesh and blood, about humanity’s failures of maintaining relationship, and our chance of redeeming that connection. In the spirit of xenia, of homecoming, to overcome the pernicious sea and, as Alcinous promises, focus on not the labor, but the relief of suffering, to find a safe path for many wanderers to the much wished-for shore.

Works Cited

Bauman, Stephan. Seeking Refuge: On the Shores of the Global Refugee Crisis. Chicago: Moody, 2016. Print.

Homer. The Odyssey (AmazonClassics Edition).

Kingsley, Patrick. The New Odyssey: The Story of Europe’s Refugee Crisis. London: Guardian Faber, 2016. Print.

Oliver, Kelly. Carceral Humanitarianism: Logics of Refugee Detention. Minneapolis: U of Minnesota, 2017. Print.

UNHCR. Convention and Protocol Related to the Status of Refugees.