I Am My Homeland

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Jandali in Syria. On front, Syrian children and mother in Aleppo 2013 after air strikes. Photo by Anadolu Agency/Getty

This week, the war in Syria reached the grim milestone of four million refugees even as one of them - Syrian-American composer, activist and "musician of the revolution" Malek Jandali - was celebrated for serving as an eloquent bridge "between the people there and the people here." In the first video of a new multimedia project on immigration and American identity, Jandali describes the refugee's painful struggle to honor a heritage and homeland he's been driven from and realizing, in his case, "All I have is music" - though that, too, has come at a price.

Jandali's story is one of several told this week in the inaugural “Newest Americans: Stories From the Global City,” a multimedia storytelling project combining documentary film, journalism, photography and other art forms. It's a collaboration between Talking Eyes Media, VII photo agency, and Rutgers University-Newark, the country's most diverse university population in a city that's been dubbed "a crucible for the construction of new American identities.” Seeking to tie new immigrant journeys to "the foundational story of American identity born of migration and transformation,” this week's launch includes a story about an undocumented law student, audio essays by Nigerian and Egyptian students, and a graphic novel by an Asian-American student.

Its first video is Notes From My Homeland, featuring Jandali's music and story. A Syrian-born, classically trained composer now  living in Atlanta, Jandali has been diligently working here both as a classical musician - he had his Carnegie Hall Debut last year, performing his Syrian Symphony -  and as an activist, particularly on behalf of the war's most undeserving victims, its children. He has visited refugee camps, protested, done fundraising for humanitarian aid, held benefit concerts, and spoken and written about a dictatorship whose sole purpose, he declares, is "to destroy the human spirit."


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Mostly, he has written music - most memorably, what has become the anthem Watani Ana (I Am My Homeland), inspired by the killing of children in Dara’a. Told not to perform it at a Washington protest, he did anyway; afterwards, his parents, still in Syria, were severely beaten by government thugs. Like other refugees suffering what one calls "vicarious PTSD" from wars that drove them away, Jandali has struggled with how to claim "my identity as a Syrian from an American perspective." Ultimately, he realized, "I am my homeland, and my homeland is me." He also came to accept that his most effective tool of resistance was his art, which "gave me the power to have a voice." Visiting Syria, he describes learning he had to get permission for a project. With palpable fury, he recalls, "I had to get the green light from the dictator (whom he will not name) for...." Here, he turns to the keyboard, plays a few mournful notes, looks up in righteous wrath... "Music." Then he plays on.

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Photo posted by Jandali with, "The art of resistance in my beloved Syria."

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