Amid one of the most tumultuous presidential elections in American history, photographer Mark Bennington captured a series of portraits and interviews with young Muslim Americans in New York City, creating what he describes as “a visual translation through representation of what a dynamic American community should look like.”
Mark spoke to BuzzFeed about what this project, America 2.0, means to him:
“The idea germinated in the beginning of 2016, with all the Muslim/Trump rhetoric, so it was definitely a direct response to what I felt were politicized images of American Muslims continually being depicted as some plagued foreign diaspora.
I found this to be a crucial time to start a project that focused on the everyday of Muslim youth: What do ordinary lives and aspirations look like? Conversations on the youth have become huge during this election season, largely because of Bernie Sanders’ fervor. It made sense to start my journey of America 2.0 portraits with youth experiences in my own backyard, New York City. This is how the project unfolded.”
1. Hagar — 22 years old, health and science major at New Jersey City University.
“My dad watches the news like 24/7. He watches Al Jazeera. He’s from Egypt. I think it’s important to vote, but our options this year are … we didn’t have much choice! I’d have preferred not to vote, but I don’t think that’s a better option either. I wanted Bernie — he just seemed kind of down to earth unlike the other two.”
2. Hany — 27 years old, general manager at Cairo Dental in Queens.
“To be honest, I was for Trump. I’m excited about him. I love his passion to change the country because it needs a lot of changing. If I were him, I would let in visitors but put a tracking device on them … because so many immigrants overstay and don’t pay tax.”
3. Mosammet — 17 years old, student at Brooklyn Tech High School.
“We are a nation of immigrants. I do not accept someone who calls my fellow brothers and sisters of color ‘murderers and thieves.’ I do not accept someone who utilizes fearmongering to turn half the country against the rest. I will not stand by mother or my sisters being forced to remove their hijab and I will not stand my father and brother being called terrorists. I LOVE LIFE, but as an American citizen, I have never been so disappointed in America.”
4. Abdelrazaq — 25 years old, dental student at New York University.
“I believe my individual vote for the president doesn’t matter… New York state is a blue state and is going to Hillary no matter who I select. I’m of the opinion that voting for local positions is more important, and that the Muslim community, like any minority community, should show up and vote, not in the hopes of determining the winner, but to show our presence.”
5. Syeda — 21 years old, math and physics major at Hunter College.
“I’d love to teach. It’s been my dream for the past couple of years to open a school actually, for [young] kids. I feel there is this huge stigma towards math and physics or just math and science. Especially in math! Where a lot of kids feel like they can’t do it and they steer away from it because they don’t think they are capable of doing it. I think the older we get the more we question things, the more we need rationales to explain things. But as kids, we’re willing to just take things and run with it and let our imaginations play.”
6. Rayan — 23 years old, student at New Jersey City University.
“We went to an Islamic school here in Jersey City. We learned Arabic, we had Islamic studies, and then we had regular classes. We would always try to go against the uniform. Try to wear different shoes, anything to get us into trouble — like any other rebellious teenager.”
7. Makinoon — 17 years old, student at Brooklyn Tech High School.
“Sometimes, you kind of feel scared with all this Islamophobia going on. Like, what if my friends — not close friends, but acquaintances — turn their back on me just because I’m a Muslim? There was a time when I actually thought about not following my faith because of social pressure. But, I identify as Muslim and want to show that Islam is a beautiful religion.”
8. Jannah — 19 years old, student at Hunter Community College.
“I did wear a hijab a long time ago when I was little, but people would tell me to take it off because I was too young. Now, I’ve just have gotten used to not wearing it. But I still try to dress as modest as I can. Modest means not showing too much skin, no cleavage, not too tight … if it’s hot, though, it’s a different story. In my house, of course, I wear whatever I want.”
9. Jenan — 25 years old, brand manager at a law firm and creator of the blog MissMuslim.com.
“As a Muslim woman there were a lot of things that we were told we cannot talk about… Things that were seen as inappropriate like dating, going to college, traveling on your own, starting your own career… The stereotypical notion that you grow up, you get married, you have children, and that’s your life — you don’t have sex before marriage, etc. I appreciate my religion and it is a huge part of my identity, but, I think I have found a really good balance between my American identity and my Arab Muslim identity. Plus with this blog, I found that there are [many] girls who are at the same level of religiosity as I am and it’s so nice to connect with them.”
10. Shahid and Hanzalah — ages 18 and 20, college students (majoring in information security and Android development).
“So, we met initially back in Brooklyn Tech High School at the MIST Club (Muslim Interscholastic Tournament — a state-/national-level tournament where Muslim high school students compete in 40 different competitions ranging from debate and improv to spoken word). We were talking about software engineering and complaining about teachers, term projects, etc. At first I was thinking, Ahhh, a mini me! I’ll take him under my wing! but then the more we hung out, the more it became clear that I was usually the one who needed more help between the two of us. Nowadays, Shahid is the kind of guy I’ll message at 2 a.m. with some strange insomnia-induced epiphany and he’ll take two seconds to tell me the massively obvious hole in my logic and tell me to go to sleep. I’m amazed we’ve known each other for so many years because in many ways it still feels like we only recently met — there’s a timelessness to it, and honestly, it feels more like family.”
11. Helda — 29 years old, public health major at Rutgers University.
“So you have Muslim religion and Muslim culture. The thing with our religion and culture is that they are so intertwined. People mistake a lot of culture things to be religious and they’re not.”
12. Mohammed — 22 years old, environmental engineering major at City College of New York.
“I’m trying to push myself into doing things that I’m not really comfortable with — like getting my photo taken! I’m not really a social person, but I’m pushing myself to getting involved socially.”
13. Anika — 21 years old, student and SAT coordinator at Marymount Manhattan College.
“I believe in my religion — I pray my five prayers a day and understand my existence. So I would say, in that spectrum I’m fairly religious … If you fit with that realm of thinking in terms of whatever has been ordained for the religion — whether it’s praying five times or believing in one God, if you can except those two things, then yeah, you can consider yourself religious. But, in terms of truly believing your existence, that would be another question to ask.”
14. Ariba — 24 years old, applying for a master’s in public health.
“I remember the first time it happened… I was super new to the subway commuting to Hunter College in the city. And I saw this old man, who looks so sweet, and he said, ‘Can I sit next to you?’ And I said, ‘Sure.’ He sat down next to me — mind you, the whole train was empty. I thought, He looks so sweet, and he was old. He said, ‘Can ask you a question?’ I said, ‘Yes.’ He said, ‘Who invited you?’ I didn’t understand. I was so shocked. And then I didn’t or couldn’t say anything! It bugged me for months and months. Why didn’t I say anything? I don’t know, still…”
15. Sadaf — 17 years old, pre-med student at Hunter College, author and co-founder/CEO of media company REV 21.
“You have to have a seat at the table to make a real difference in society. We cannot expect change unless we are directly involved in making it happen. Unfortunately, regardless of America’s promise of equality, several groups of people feel cheated [of] their chance of achieving the American dream — of their chance to simply survive in America. But when you are deprived of a chance to share your voice, you have to yell louder, and not just yell louder for yourself, but for the several others who feel the same sentiments as you do.”
To see more of Mark’s work, check out his website at markbennington.com.
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