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City of Refugees by Kirtan Patel

Posted by on Friday, November 20, 2015 in News.

As I sat down in Neely Auditorium on November 13th, 2015 to watch City of Songs, an original play put on by Vanderbilt University Theatre, I prepared myself to enter another reality in both representation and relevance. After the conclusion of the production, I left the auditorium and opened up the CNN news application on my phone. It was then I realized that the world depicted in the production was one in the same to the world in which more than 128 human beings had been killed and that an overwhelming fear of refugees started to take hold in Western thought (Almasy). It is in this turmoil and misguided thought that we can look to City of Songs as a symbolic representation of how narrow-minded man can be and more importantly, remind us of the duty human beings have to each other.

Fatos Firari, magnificently played by Harrison Kenum, demonstrates how amidst one’s own personal situation, human beings become selfish in thought and action. Fatos struggles to control the situation of losing his family business to a capitalist thinking man named Hammersmith, brilliantly depicted by Akash Majumdar. Amidst this, Fatos’ actions towards those in need become misguided because the ones in need begin to represent a threat to his own personal security. For example, he takes in Kasim and Yara Fakhoury, played by Akash Majumdar and Courtland Sutton, in order to answer their plea for help. However, as a consequence of the things that occur in Fatos life such as the flooding of the Burger Bomb or the waning hope of keeping his family business, the Fakhoury family begins to represent a burden or threat to Fatos well-being. Furthermore, Fatos unintentionally alienates Reynaldo, a loyal Cuban cook at Burger Bomb. Fatos becomes caught up with his own life that he fails to acknowledge or understand the life of someone integral to Burger Bomb. Through ignorance of Reynaldo’s own struggles of losing his family when they were fleeing Cuba and the ongoing mental issues his mother is facing, Fatos ultimately becomes the force that makes Reynaldo quit his job at Burger Bomb.

In a similar light, the Paris bombings and certain U.S. governors’ response reflects the selfishness that pervades our nation. Approximately 31 state governors publicly announced that they would refuse Syrian refugees into their respective states (Fantz). This decision is not out of ignorance of the Syrian refugee crisis but rather a decision to place one’s own personal safety above that of others because the others present a potential threat. Additionally, the Paris bombings drew so much attention of the Western world because it was an attack that felt closer to home. Due to this reaction, places that are facing similar threats such as Beirut feel alienated. Just as Fatos unintentionally failed to acknowledge Reynaldo’s story, Western countries are guilty of putting aside the struggles of place like Beirut.

Amidst all of this negativity, there is a different interpretation of what Fatos represents. In the solemn seconds where Fatos initially turns Yara & Kasim away, the entire auditorium emotionally gravitated towards the edge of their seats, pleading for Fatos to realize his human duty. The tension in the auditorium is broken when Fatos answers their call for help and lets the Fakhoury family take shelter. Although this creates more personal obstacles along Fatos’ journey, he is able to find a place of content at the end of the play. In short, his character reminds us that we as human beings have basic duty to help those in need even if it may cause us further suffering. Whether it be Syrian refugees or Guatemalan migrants, extending a helping hand will communally benefit our society more than it will do harm.

Many of the initial migrants to the continental United States came here to escape persecution in Great Britain and Europe. For the majority of our history, we have kept our doors open for those who sought refuge. The Syrian refugee crisis has brought our nation of refugees to a crossroad. Do we choose to emulate the negative interpretation of Fatos and concern ourselves with solely our own well being? Or do we break the tension in the stage that is the world and fulfill our basic moral duty to help those in need?


2 Comments on “City of Refugees by Kirtan Patel”

I agree that Fatos’ willingness to take in the Fakhoury family was an impressive showing of humanity considering everything that was going on in Fatos’ life at the time. Fatos most certainly was a sympathetic and symbolic character. Representing immigrants in Nashville, he exemplified the extraordinary work ethic it takes to be successful in the ultra competitive restaurant industry. This partially explains why Fatos’ was unable to acknowledge the value his head cook Reynaldo was bringing to the table. Fatos’ was pushed to the brink in terms of finances and was realizing it was unlikely that his family restaurant would be able to continue to operate in Nashville because of the rising cost of rent. This blinded Fatos’ to his most valuable asset, Reynaldo. Through ignorance of Reynaldo’s own struggles of losing his family when they were fleeing Cuba and the ongoing mental issues his mother was facing, Fatos ultimately became the force that made Reynaldo quit his job at Burger Bomb. Amongst all this, Fatos’ still accepts the Fakhoury’s into his home. I think this shows that there are certain human crises, such as the Syrian Refugee Crisis, that can’t be ignored. Further, it is likely that Fatos’ felt sympathy to the plight of the immigrants because he himself was an immigrant as well. Fatos’ definitely is not a perfect character, for he mistreats many of the people in his life who love him the most; however, he is able to open his heart and ultimately this is the only thing that gives him any happiness by the end of the play.

Like Kirtan mentioned, I too agree that City of Song is a subtle critique of the capitalist society in which we live. All of the problems caused in the play are a result of Hammerstein, the landlord, raising rent prices, which puts stressful financial strains on Fatos and his family. Hammerstein is purely after the extra income he can make by reselling his real estate to wealthier buyers. This increase in real-estate value is caused by the rising prominence of Nashville as businesses relocate their corporate headquarters to the city. In this kind of capitalist society in which we live, Fatos greatly suffers when the market value of his restaurant goes up. Further, this kind of society breeds a human being that overvalues accumulating monies for him or herself. This greediness is the result of a society that rewards excess and promotes superficiality.

Overall, I think Kirtan’s response to City of Song was right on the money. Kirtan did a great job connecting the themes of the play with current events such as the Paris bombings and the Syrian Refugee crisis. He also did a great job of identifying the central theme of the play, which to me was the extent human beings will go to in order to gain wealth for themselves.

Connor Smith on December 4th, 2015 at 6:02 pm

KP’s decision to relate the play’s themes to current events really resonated with me. At church one recent Sunday, a member of the Church of Christ on one of the Greek islands came to speak about the work being done there, and talked of one aspect of the struggle that the country is facing with migrants coming in: they do not always know if the refugees are Syrian and actually trying to escape, or if they are members of ISIS who are trying to infiltrate. (The islands in the Aegean Sea are a gateway/ port of entry for a lot of immigrants coming from Syria and the Middle East, trying to get to Europe). This larger issue of sometimes not being able to tell the difference between those genuinely in need of help and those looking to take advantage of the situation, is a very real concern. It gained a lot of attention recently in the Paris attacks when a Syrian passport was found on, or near the body of one of the suicide bombers. It was later revealed that the passport was a fake, but the situation still led to increased caution. Poland, for example, used the news as a reason to back out of its agreement to take in several thousand Syrians as part of the EU’s system for sharing refugees [1].

I hear people condemning this entire religion based on the actions of some, and while I understand their fear, it saddens me. Growing up on the island of Trinidad, I lived with people of many ethnic origins, and who observe various religions. Through my experiences, I earned the important concepts of love and respect for diversity. There were rarely, if ever, any issues with persons observing the more radical beliefs of Islam, and so I know that it cannot be a fact of the religion.

As an international student, I have been on the other side of immigration law, and while I am not a refugee seeking asylum, I can relate to the difficulty of the process associated with being allowed to stay within a foreign country while hoping to make a better life for yourself. I acknowledge that this situation must be a dilemma for law makers and governing bodies, as they are tasked with doing what is necessary to ensure the well-being of their citizens. My inclination is to say that doing something to help a large number of people is worth whatever potential risk is involved. However, as I have learned in my ethics class, ethics and different moral views do not always have much of a say in final legislation. I am glad that the world is paying more attention to the situation now though, and I do hope that those who can will continue to help.

1. http://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/nov/14/paris-attacks-european-leaders-link-terror-threats-to-immigration

Ruisa Hinds on December 6th, 2015 at 1:15 pm

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