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Do we want a future where our religious faith makes us a target?

The tragic events of September 11, 2001 also proved to be an unfortunate turning point in America’s socio-cultural dynamics. For a nation that’s built upon the principles of separating church and state, America’s multi-religious identity came to the forefront as specific groups, especially Muslims or Hindus and Sikhs (who were presumed to be Muslims), became the targets of mistrust and prejudice, both institutional and social. While Americans enjoy considerable religious freedom regardless of affiliation or faith, the increased polarization of the religious communities post-9/11 is a major cause for concern. This issue is addressed in Breakthrough’s multi-platform Facebook game America 2049 which, this week, takes players to Pigeon Forge, Tennessee.

The future that America 2049 presents, and asks players to save, shows a country torn apart by hate and mistrust. Yet the scenario of the future isn’t too far from us today. The Gainesville Times recently published a letter to the editor that exemplified the extremities of religious and ethnic hate that exists in certain parts of the country. A reader, responding to the May 6 story of a Delta Airlines pilot refusing to fly with two Islamic imams onboard, said-

“It is impossible to distinguish between Muslims who are anti-American and just waiting for a chance to do us harm, and those who are merely pursuing their religious beliefs in this country. The only way to be sure and safe is to exclude them all. Such action would not constitute bias or racism against a particular nationality just because they may be different from us, or the condemnation of a specific religion because it differs from our beliefs but the action is necessary to create conditions in which it is safe to live without a constant fear of terrorism.”

Such blatant justification of Islamophobia is alarming and begs us to work towards much more comprehensive multicultural education. Such views are further bolstered with several states, such as Tennessee, looking to pass a state bill which would essentially ban the practice of Sharia law in the state. The letter received much criticism and supports the statistic put forth by the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) that since 2000, the number of organized hate groups has increased by 50 percent.

America 2049 provides players with an interactive scenario where this situation — which is already all too real — gets worse in the near future. Players also learn about the strong Anti-Catholic sentiments that pervaded America in the mid-1800s. Such sentiments gave rise to a political party called The Know-Nothings – so called because members swore to deny any knowledge of the party when questioned by outsiders. The Know-Nothings exhibited an extreme disapproval of the wave of Irish and German Catholic immigrants to the U.S in the mid-1800s, often engaging in violence and pushing for stricter immigration and naturalization laws to restrict Catholic presence in the country.

In a classic case of history repeating itself — a point America 2049 aims to make – we are now witness to similar sentiments against Muslim or Arabian/South Asian immigration to the U.S. The recent uproar around the proposed construction of an Islamic Cultural Center near Ground Zero in New York City serves as an apt example of this prejudice. America 2049 aims to address such issues of mistrust and blind discrimination by challenging players to make their own choices on how to confront religious profiling by contextualizing the entire issue across history. The crucial question, therefore, is – in a country that prides itself on freedoms of many kinds, do we want a future where our faith makes us a target?

Photo courtesy of Crux Photography

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The winner of the I AM THIS LAND contest is…

From our b-listed blog-

(DRUMROLL PLEASE…)

The judges have spoken!

We’re pleased to announce that the winner for the I AM THIS LAND contest on diversity is Role Call!

Role Call was created by a team of students and alumni from Flushing International High School (FIHS) in Queens, New York under the supervision of FIHS Media Arts Teacher, Dillon Paul. The MTV-style video – of a student in class daydreaming about gender, cultural expression, and racial stereotypes – won the judges over.

Watch below!

Breakthrough got the chance to meet the winners at FIHS and we were quite taken with their story.Watch our interview with the high school team HERE. “The video was created in response to several incidents of violence in our school, and our desire to use media to promote respect and tolerance in our school and beyond,” said teacher Dillon Paul. “Our students come from approximately 40 different countries and speak 20 different languages. Like most high schools, however, cultural differences, sexual and gender identity can be sources of discomfort and fear, leading to bigotry, bullying and violence.”

Paul worked with current students and two alumni, Jean Franco Vergaray and Osbani Garcia, to introduce the Gay Straight Alliance, that promotes respect and equality for LGBTQ youth, at the school. Said Franco, “That we could portray one person being all these different personalities, all these different identities, was just a way to say, diversity is okay. People shouldn’t be labeled.”

We’re also pleased to announce the first runner up: What Are You? created by Genevieve Lin of Seattle, Washington.

Second place runners up (of equal ranking) are: I’m Coming Out and  American Girl by Eliyas Qureshi of Jersey City, New Jersey; American Dream by Suhir Ponncchamy of Belle Mead, New Jersey and Listen by Luke McKay of Fenton, Michigan. And check back for interviews with some of the other participants!  Visit I AM THIS LAND, to see all the amazing entries!

Send these videos on to your friends, post on your sites, share and discuss!

Comments on Breakthrough’s I AM THIS LAND give great insight and hope for the future

From our b-listed blog-

Thank you for all your amazing submissions to the I AM THIS LAND contest. The contest is now officially closed for entries but stay tuned as winners will be announced on Feb 1!

While the videos themselves were overwhelming and impressive, we were also amazed at all the viewers who posted engaging and insightful comments.

From looking at the production value of entries to discussions on diversity and the editorial content of the submissions, I AM THIS LAND’s comments section is informative, inspiring and encouraging. They are as important as the videos submitted! As one mentioned:

“If we believe the aphorism that “two heads are better than one,” then a multitude of traditions, values, and ideas can only be a tremendous resource as we face the challenges and opportunities of this century.”

Viewers suggested looking beyond the physical appearance of a person, beyond their clothes, the color of their skin and their accents. Many discussed how perceptions are formed, the way we quickly form an idea based on preconceived notions.

“If each one of us were to trade places with another race, culture for a period of time, this world would be more understanding to each other.”

Many left personal anecdotes and stories, and had a platform to express their own emotions. The attempt by some of the filmmakers to break away from the stereotypical portrayal of certain communities and issues of sexuality was applauded by others.

At first I had tears in my eyes – “Gay, straight, crooked” – but then it was hard not to laugh “Eyes like Bobby” etc. I’m stunned – such a simple, loving, hysterical coming out should be had by any and all who want one. This message will help to make it so. I’m sure of it. Bravo!

We are proud to have hosted I AM THIS LAND hope these conversations can continue. Check out all entries and feel free to continue write to us with comments and feedback.

I AM THIS LAND submissions show diversity, talent and sensitivity

From our b-listed blog-

As we approach the last day to submit on videos (midnight EST, today, Jan 21st!) for I AM THIS LAND, our contest on diversity, we are overwhelmed with the creativity and thought behind the submissions.

From a young girl challenging our tendency to categorize people, to an Indian-American man trying to come out to his parents, to a young Muslim girl defining what it is to be American, I AM THIS LAND has managed to highlight important issues in the debate on diversity in the United States.

This past November, Breakthrough launched the I AM THIS LAND contest.  We asked people to make a video on diversity using the phrase “I AM THIS LAND,” and enter to win a grand prize of $2,500 and more (including a day’s internship at SPIN magazine).

The resulting characters in these videos are rich: a young man literally hungry for diversity, a student trying on many different identities to prove the different kind of people there are in this land, a girl with multicultural backgrounds.

Through parodies, documentary, animation and feature film style videos; videos featuring original songs; videos with poetic narration and graphics, filmmakers across the country have responded to our call!  Through a truly ingenious use of their time, budget and skills, I AM THIS LAND’s filmmakers have explored the role national and religious identities, sexual orientation, language and more have in uplifting diversity.  We are also proud of the hundreds of viewers that have contributed to the project tenfold by leaving comments with their thoughts on the issues and how diversity only makes America stronger.

Watch the videos, vote and comment at http://iamthisland.org/watch-and-vote. We are thrilled to see the amount of interest these videos have generated online, and hope they continue to foster debate and discussion.

We are also very happy that stars like Michael Urie (Ugly Betty), Sharon Jones (Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings), Lisa Brescia (Mamma Mia)  and writers such as Ishmael Beah and Maria Hinojosa and more have lent their support to us for I AM THIS LAND.

Stay tuned for more contest details at I AM THIS LAND.org! There’s still time to enter!

I AM THIS LAND says “enough is enough”

As an organization, we watched all the things that happened in 2010: From anti-immigrant actions and racial profiling to bullying and homophobia; from fear mongering to the extreme, divisive rhetoric of the mid-term elections: it’s time for a do over. With I AM THIS LAND, we’re calling on you to make a video using the words, “I am this land” while standing up for the values that are supposed to define this country: respect for one another and our differences. You can make any type of video: an animation, short documentary, music video, any other genre or a mash up- just give us goosebumps!

As part of the project, we are very happy that stars like Michael Urie, from Ugly Betty fame, and Sharon Jones from Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings, have come on board to support the cause. During the contest, we will be releasing many voices on the issue and hearing their perspective.

Our friend, Michael Urie from Ugly Betty said:

“We need to keep our minds and our eyes on the prize, and that is diversity and equality for all… We can’t just assume it’s happening without our work and our effort. People are still being profiled, people are still being bullied, people still don’t have the same rights as other people. A great leap was made in 2008, but we can’t give up just because. We have to keep working forward, keep moving towards this higher goal, which is equality.”

Info on entering:

From now until January 7th, upload your videos to the contest site www.iamthisland.org, and fans across the country will view, discuss and rate each submission.  Then a panel of high profile judges – John Jackson, director of social responsibility at MTV Networks; Liz Friedlander, award winning music video director for U2, REM and feature films; Malcolm Campbell, publisher of SPIN magazine; Julie Zeilinger, founder of teen feminist blog “F bomb”; Maria Hinojosa, award-winning journalist, and managing editor and host of Latino USA; and singer Sharon Jones from Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings – will review the top 15 videos (top 10 as voted by the public and 5 selected by Breakthrough) and select the winners. Submissions begin November 16th and continue until January 7, 2011, and will be judged for overall impact of message, narrative, calls to action, and creativity.

The top winner receives a grand prize of $2500! Additional prizes include Activision games such as Guitar Hero, Band Hero, DJ Hero, a MTV goody bag, tickets to hit Broadway musical Mamma Mia and more.

We also want to make sure we include those in the Twitterverse in the conversation on diversity. Follow @breakthrough, and with the hashtag #iamthisland.org, tell us who or what symbolizes diversity to you. All are entered to win a DJ Hero by Activision.

We’re happy to have on board a list of key partners:  Activision (makers of Guitar Hero and DJ Hero), SPIN Magazine, Change.org, WITNESS, Mobilize.org, Parlour Magazine, Hollaback, HeadCount, Women’s Media Center, F-bomb, See3, Latina Lista, Vivir Latino and 20,000 Dialogues.

For full details, contest rules, and prizes, please visit www.iamthisland.org.

Enter to win now, and let us know your hope for the future!


Oh Arizona! Jokes aside, how many racist laws can we deal with?

The British band Massive Attack played in New York City last night, and while their entire performance was framed by high-tech LCD projections against war, racism, corporate monopolies and violations of civil rights around the world, the specific moment at which the audience erupted in cheers was when the visuals denounced the harsh new law targeting immigrants in Arizona. In addition to inspiring creative forms of old-school activism, it looks like Arizona’s giant fiasco around the highly controversial and potentially racist anti-immigrant law, SB1070, has inspired some interesting (and appropriately ridiculous) humor. In the name of satire, the ACLU has launched a glorious new website called “The Deprofiler” which offers free “white people” masks that promise to protect against the threat of “reasonable suspicion” that Arizona’s new law places on people that are not white, and especially on the Latinos that account for 30% of Arizona’s population. Their pitch reads-

Being Brown was never easy. But now, due to SB1070, it can get you thrown in jail. Deprofiler.com allows you to print a mask of a friendly white person’s face to wear while you’re in Arizona. Now you can bask in the freedom and confidence of knowing you’ll never be harassed by the police. Get yours.

So if you’re worried, just select the mask of your choosing (they offer a selection of “whites”), print out a pdf, cut to holes in it for eyes, attach a piece of string, and you’re ready to go. Their sharing tools urge you to help keep a friend out of jail so “help a friend be white today!” Hysterical as it is, it’s more than just laughs; the final step asks users to take action and learn more about the issue by going to the Reform Immigration for America website.

A group of filmmakers who are concerned about the backward turn that lawmakers are taking when it comes to making informed decisions that respect the values of freedom and equality that this country stands for, created this PSA ridiculing Arizona’s SB1070. The video shows a police officer in Arizona chasing down a car in which the driver is obviously drinking. The officer asks him for his “papers” (including license, registration, social security card, birth certificate and work permit), but when the camera zooms out, we see that instead of questioning the drunk driver, he is questioning his sober Latino friend. Check it out for yourself-

Ridiculous as the scenario in the video is, it is not as far from the truth as it should be. Jokes apart, Arizona’s law, that makes it a crime to be undocumented and mandates that police officers stop and question someone based on how they look, seems to have unleashed a spate of state laws that aggressively threaten the equality, dignity and healthy co-existence of this country’s diverse population. Following the passage of SB1070, Gov. Jan Brewer has signed off on a bill that bans schools from teaching “ethnic studies,” classes that teach students of color about their heritage and history. The bill bans these classes based on the logic that they promote “resentment,” and encourage students to want to “overthrow” the U.S. government.

State schools chief, Tom Horne, who has been advocating for this bill (HB2281) for many years, believes that the Chicano and Mexican studies classes taught in the Tuscon school district (the first district where this bill will be implemented) teach Latino students that they are “oppressed by White people.” The Tuscon School district program offers its students, who are 56% Hispanic, courses on African-American, Mexican-American and Native-American studies that include the history and literature of specific ethnic group. According to Horne, these programs promote ethnic solidarity, “ethnic chauvinism” and racial resentment towards whites, rather than treating the students as “individuals.”

According to school district officials, the programs simply teach students the background to historical events, rather than promote resentment and hate towards other ethnic groups. This is what the Racism Review had to say about it-

An honest discussion of the history of whites’ racial oppression targeting Mexican Americans, Native Americans, African Americans, and other Americans of color in the southwest and elsewhere will be out of the question when and if this legislation goes into effect. Truth-telling about our white-racist history, and resistance to it by Americans of color, that gives people honest understandings (and/or group pride) will actually be illegal, as seen in this legislation of the folks in the Arizona legislature.

Sean Arce, director of Tuscon’s Mexican-American studies program, is disappointed that the state has decided to censor an academic program that has proved extremely successful. Judy Burns, who is on the Tuscon district’s governing board says she will refuse to comply with the law, and will not end the program that focuses on Chicano literature, history and sociology, and currently has a significant percentage of students enrolled in it. Once the law comes into effect (on December 31st, districts that do not comply with it could lose 10% of their State funding every month.

It is frightening that these legislators in Arizona believe that teaching young people about their history and cultural heritage is akin to promoting resentment between ethnic groups. Instead of encouraging a society built on freedom of thought, accessibility to knowledge and honest discussion, laws such as this one simply serve to deny the rich and diverse culture that is integral to the fabric of this country. To show your support for bringing back human rights in Arizona and protesting the spate of hateful laws, join AltoArizona for a Mass Mobilization on May 29th!

Photo courtesy of deprofiler.com

POLL: Do you approve of the new "ethnic studies" law in Arizona?

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History comes alive with Immigrant Heritage Week

What is your favorite thing about New York City? Food? Culture? The people? Its unique neighborhoods? New York may have a lot to offer but what really makes it stand out is its identity as a melting pot of cultures from around the world.

So here’s your chance to get the best out of the city’s vibrant immigrant cultures. Starting today, New Yorkers of all ages can enjoy hundreds of affordable events organized in museums, parks, restaurants, theaters and universities across the city through Immigrant Heritage Week. Begun by Mayor Bloomberg in 2004, every year the Mayor’s office for Immigrant Affairs partners with organizations across the city to host a week of general revelry across the five boroughs as a tribute to the city’s immigrants. The theme for this year is “Flavors of the World” so get your gastro-groove on and challenge your palette!

To kick off the celebrations, the Opportunity Agenda hosted a great event yesterday evening. The “Timely Conversation with Artists and Advocates” featured an incredible panel of artists and advocates who explored how integral creative expression is to celebrating diversity and highlighting a common humanity amongst people. Acclaimed director Mira Nair kicked off the event followed by Tony award winning playwright David Henry Hwang, DJ and musician Martín Perna, new media artist Favianna Rodriguez and PBS anchor Maria Hinojosa, among others.

While there are countless things on the Heritage Week calendar that are worth recommending (Dance in Sunset Park, African Folktales at NYPL, and the Cultural  Video festival in the Bronx), one of the special ones is The Maysles Institute, which is hosting  “Shall We Dance“, a program of amazing docs. In “Two Dollar Dance,” the filmmaker looks at dance clubs in Jackson Heights, Queens, where Latino immigrants meet “two-dollar ballerinas,” women who partner them for two dollars a song. One of the other featured films, “The Mist,” follows the filmmaker, Maryam Habiban, as she returns to Iran after 30-years to find that a new culture of art and ideas flourishes alongside the more fundamentalist tradition.

Check out the calendar, and get planning!

Photo courtesy of www.nyc.gov