• Loch

Utica and back, 47 times — What have we learned?

Updated: May 30, 2019

Last night we drove home from our 47th trip to Utica. Zach came too, so the core four of us were up there, he, Dave, Adam and I. We’ve all been working on the film for over 2 years now. I’m glad Zach came because he stood in for me as drone spotter and for once we didn’t crash it. More important though, what’s nice for him to see is that people know us now. Pretty cool for a documentary crew to be greeted by smiles, invasive as we are.

It wasn’t our most productive trip but we did close it out covering a citizenship ceremony at the courthouse. Zach and I were waved in with all the gear, without having it checked. Cruising through on our own recognizance I guess. Or Dave’s really. Sweet. The venerable judge, David N. Hurd, a moral authority if I’ve ever seen one, smiles when he sees us. This is the third ceremony we’ve shot and they’ve all been great experiences, some tech glitches on our part notwithstanding. But this one, this was a special day. One of our favorite characters, Hassan Abbas Ahmed Fawzi (we will have to discuss his lower third) became an American citizen.

I’ll admit it, I was a little intimidated by Hassan at first. He’s got the chiseled look of a motorcycle gang leader in a movie who doesn’t have to do much but nod to make a lot happen. A Palestinian who was born and lived in Iraq, he would never be allowed to become a citizen there. His escape story qualifies him as a badass like your average Satan’s Rider wished he would. But I was wrong on the whole. Hassan is kind to a fault. He’s been here nine years and spent a good part of that time welcoming other refugees as a resettlement staffer at the Refugee Center. We’ve driven around Utica with him as he set up apartments for newcomers, saw one of his dreams literally come to life, and have the distinct feeling that his 2 kids are going to remodel what it means to be model citizens. To see him get something that means so much to him made me feel guilty for taking my own citizenship for granted. It’s the sort of marker that makes following a story over time like this worthwhile in a way you couldn’t foresee.

If that weren’t enough, Anwar Abdeen was also there. Anwar, a refugee from Burma, works at 2M Garage, owned and run by fellow refugee Muhamed Karajic from Bosnia. They’re a great example of cross-cultural cooperation. Muhamed imagines that one day Anwar will take over the garage. Anwar gave me what had to be the seventh big smile of my day and told me he was there to get his citizenship as well. He and Hassan both registered to vote immediately after getting their citizenship. I have no doubt that my country just got a little better.

Judge Hurd closes each of his citizenship ceremonies with a quote from Bobby Kennedy. It’s a long quote that talks about how the way we measure our economic health (GDP) doesn’t take into account a lot of what really matters. Looking around the room at all the people taking the workday off to celebrate, it was easy to see one thing that matters: community. Anwar had two buddies with him. A bunch of staffers from the Refugee Center were there to see Hassan get his citizenship. Family members from 27 countries were there to see their loved ones become Americans. I may sometimes forget the value of my citizenship, but I will never forget the sense of community these new Americans are bringing to us. That’s what we are seeing in Utica.

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