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P.D. Soros Fellowship for New Americans

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Paul and Daisy Soros Fellowships' Best of 2015

01.06.16
Nishant Batsha
This year, we decided to reach out to our 535 Fellows to find out what their favorite podcasts, books, films, apps, and TV shows (and even tweets) were in 2015. Only, there was one minor twist, we asked them to focus on work that was by or featuring New Americans. Here are a few of the highlights: 
 
 
  
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Favorite Tweet

Prabhjot Singh (2005 Fellow) let us know of his favorite tweet of 2015. Tweeted by Abdul El Sayed (2012 Fellow), Health Commissioner of the City of Detroit, he attached a picture of his work ID and wrote:

My #MuslimID, I use it to serve the City of Detroit as Health Director & promote the health of my neighbors.

Prabhjot said of the tweet, “A powerful way to speak to the disgraceful calls to publicly identify Muslims as threats by confidently owning his tradition, his public responsibility, and his position as a regional leader all at once.”

 

 
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Favorite Podcast

Chitra Aiyar (2002 Fellow) told us that her favorite 2015 podcast was Noorain Khan’s (2008 Fellow) In Theory. She wrote of the podcast:

The podcast is two smart women (Noorain Khan and Maria Sachiko Cecire) talking about pop culture, politics, and social issues and applying all kinds of sociological theory in accessible language. It is like hanging out with smart friends late at night. And it’s funny!
 
 
 

Favorite Books

Moving onto literature and books, Katherine Karmen Trujillo (2015 Fellow) nominated Colum McCann’s Thirteen Ways of Looking. About the book, Katherine wrote:

McCann's Thirteen Ways of Looking is a novella followed by three short stories that elegantly portray the lives of individuals from disparate backgrounds in ways that speak to the larger themes of human existence. This collection is powerful because it gives an intimate view into the thoughts of the protagonists, which are at times rambling and others painfully honest.

Nina Shen Rastogi (2007 Fellow) nominated the rebooted Ms. Marvel comic book series.

If Ms. Marvel had been out when I was a teenager, I would have dressed as Kamala Khan every single Halloween. Kamala is a Pakistani-American high school student from Jersey City and is dealing with the fact that she suddenly has a super-stretchy body and can grow to the size of a building. The writing is snappy, the characters well-drawn, and there's one spread in Issue 18 (September 2015), with Kamala and her hijab-wearing mom, that made me burst into tears (you'll know which one it is). There are 4 collected volumes, which makes it easy to dive in, even for non-comic-book fans.

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    A still from the film Difret, 2014. Photo courtesy of Haile/Addis Pictures.

Favorite Films

Kinga Ferguson (2001 Fellow) nominated Difret, written and directed by the Ethiopian filmmaker Zeresenay Berhane Mehari and produced by Mehret Mandefro (2001 Fellow). The drama revolves around the true story of a fourteen-year-old Ethiopian girl abducted for marriage, raped, and arrested for killing her assailant in self defense. Kinga wrote:

Difret is a beautiful film with so many merits: it deals with the important issue of child marriage, was produced in original language and filmed in Ethiopia (despite a lucrative offer from Hollywood to make it a Hollywood movie), features strong female leads, and a beautiful cinematography. This is a piece of art that has the potential to inspire real change.

Dror Ladin (2007 Fellow) nominated Fredrick Wiseman’s In Jackson Heights. Dror on the film:

This movie paints a remarkable portrait of a neighborhood composed largely of immigrants: Jackson Heights, Queens. The moments and voices it captures are funny and poignant, striving and resilient. Most of all, they are uniquely American.

Favorite Television Shows

There was one clear standout among the nominations for our Best Of list: Aziz Ansari’s Master of None. It wasn’t the only show to feature immigrants, as Jason Kim (2011 Fellow) reminded us:

2015 was a great year for immigrants on television: Fresh Off The Boat, Jane The Virgin, and Master of None all broke barriers and made me laugh and cry at the same time.

However, Ansari’s show stood out among all the rest for many of our fellows. As Dennis Tseng (2013 Fellow) noted:

Master of None almost perfectly sums up the first and second generation Asian-American experience, especially for those of us who were called to the performing arts. If Aziz Ansari and Alan Yang had been around and producing this work while I was in acting school in the early 2000s, it would have been much easier for me to see a potential pathway to be an actor, director, and producer.

Victor Roy (2012 Fellow) agreed, writing:

Watching Aziz Ansari live with humor and wit in New York opened up new avenues in understanding my own experiences coming from an Indian-American immigrant family. And at our time of struggles conceiving inclusion and identity, we need humor to cut through the fog and refresh conversations—Ansari delivers this.

Lilian Mehrel (2013 Fellow) mentioned two episodes in particular in her nomination of the show:

Episode 2, where Aziz's character Dev and his friend Brian (based on Alan Yang) take their immigrant parents to dinner (and try not to take them for granted, while painfully knowing that they often do.) It's full of beautiful mixed-up feelings when you see the sadness in everyone's eyes, from past stories to modern-day pangs, but feel the love.

I also love episode 7, "Ladies and Gentlemen,” where Aziz sheds light on the casual dismissal of the female experience (especially the subtle discrimination women face on a daily basis) through his own character's blind spots.