On ‘Mo’ & ‘Ramy’’s Representation of Palestinian Americans


At some point in my childhood in suburban Kansas City, my parents, the children of Palestinian refugees who had immigrated to the United States from Syria, fitted some kind of antenna to access access channels from countries they have left behind. I miss the drama of my favorite shows, the music and the Arabic dialogue. I remember eagerly waiting for my father to come pick me up from afar every night. For them, it’s a taste of family. For me, it was one of the few opportunities I could get a glimpse of a culture to which I felt both deeply attached and aloof.

Years passed between visits to Syria, the first country their families sought refuge in and the land many of them still remained, and in those intervals I felt I’m so retarded. It sounds cliché, but for Arabs, Muslims, and especially Palestinians, this country feels confusing, overwhelming, controversial and largely alone. And it doesn’t help that my first generation specific experience is rarely depicted in popular culture – not on Disney Channel, not on MTV, not even on the beloved Arabic satellite channels. my parents’ likes.

I didn’t know how much I needed to see a version of myself on screen until I watched Mo Amer’s freshman Netflix series, Mo, this summer and then watched the third installment of Ramy Youssef’s semi-autobiographical comedy series Ramy on Hulu.

Every episode of Mo digging into old emotional wounds that I didn’t know still ache; scenes like Mo asking his father, “Why don’t we go together?” when his family was forced to part when they fled Kuwait after fleeing Palestine, or Mo, unable to return to Palestine, woke up from a dream where he visited his grandmother at home, talk to grandma over tea and knafeh. In those moments, I saw my broken family, forced to scatter across countries from generation to generation, skipping graduations and weddings, birthdays, and a lifetime of nothing. together. I see my grandparents, standing on the balcony waving goodbye as we drive away in the taxi, wondering how many years will pass before I see them waving. It was a wound that I thought had healed and scabbed over.


When watching Amer’s humorous description of his life as a Palestinian living in Texas (ranchers assumed he was from Palestine, Texas; a grocery store employee mistook hummus for Mexican food. rather than Palestinian; and more tragically, Mo and his family desperately applied for asylum for 22 consecutive years), I see my lineage as Palestinian refugees, constantly having to migrate. move. But when I watch my generational trauma, a trauma stemming from my grandparents’ deportation from Palestine in 1948 in Nakba, broadcast on Netflix, one of the largest streaming platforms in the world, I feel feel pain and relief. It’s like looking in a mirror – and I’m staring at a shaggy, bigger version of my hair.

Mo is not a program for the general public; it’s a show for Palestinian Americans, caught between two cultures. It’s a program for Palestinian refugees who feel a little guilty calling themselves asylum seekers as they grow up far from the suffering experienced by those still living in their homeland. experience. And it’s a program that serves as a reminder of the collective resilience of Palestinians in the face of adversity, when life is inherently too calm.

There is so much guilt to be carried and shared and passed through with the Palestinian community – some 5 million refugees have left Palestine and have been forced to disperse to places like Houston, New York and Kansas City. There was a lingering survivor’s guilt that was heavy and low and took away many of my ties to my culture. Why don’t I live in Gaza? Why don’t I stick with my homeland, so that my land and history and people are not wiped out, forgotten and buried? To see the above characters Mo seeking to approach their culture, through food, music and conversation, and celebrate it all in the present, has had a profound effect on me and other Palestinian friends who have watched it, while sending our selfies back and forth and crying every episode. The family dynamic we saw on screen on this show fueled an ocean of emotions that I didn’t know how to identify. It was the first time I had the privilege of feeling them.

More than a month later Mo premiered, I noticed the Palestinians returned to the forefront of the media in the third season of Ramy. In the series, co-written by Amer with Youssef, our flawed protagonist takes a trip to occupied Palestine. He shows us more than I’ve ever seen on American programming outside of the news: We see the wall separating the Palestinians from their former homeland; Ramy’s Palestinian uncle, permanently unable to visit his homeland due to nationality, was chased away by military officials, only to be returned to the United States; and Palestinians herding livestock like cattle in literal cages, crossing government checkpoints, as many do every day to get to work, family and friends. We see a group of Palestinian children being dragged from their homes, beaten and arrested. We also heard a Palestinian figure living in East Jerusalem say, “It’s not about religion, it’s about government. They don’t care about our existence.” It is difficult to watch, and equally difficult to decide whether these scenes, written from an American perspective and incorporated into a show called comedy, trivialize the Palestinian struggle or just describes the truth of what our people have to endure in a half-hearted way. Ramy‘S large international audience.

Photo: Marcus Price / HULU

For me, it’s the latter. It felt like an outlet for the despair I felt for my colleagues and non-Arabs to understand what was happening in Palestine. To see Palestine. Put simply “Palestine.” It feels human.

There is a running joke in the Middle Eastern community at large that a Palestinian will never let you forget they are Palestinian. But what other choice do we have? Our mere existence has been so heavily politicized that it has become the primary means by which we ensure our history will not be forgotten.

Mo reveals the joy of sharing the truth about Palestinian culture: Yes, we are now an oppressed people from a war-torn land, but there is no shortage of culture begging to be shared. We see it in the mismatched decor of his mother’s house, an attempt to mix domestic Palestinian influence with suburban American influence. We see it in the bottle of olive oil Mo carries with him, in the Mo family dialect speaking between them and their community, in Mo’s desire to continue to put his own needs first. aside and put the needs of the family before his own. We see it every time Mo calls his brother “habibi,” and every time Yusra, the matriarch of the family, offers olive oil (yes, more olive oil) as a cure. We especially saw that when Yusra told Mo, “We are Palestinians. We continue to. “


A few years ago, I wasn’t sure what Palestinian really meant. Now, I don’t just feel it – I see it reflected back at me in shows on the two major streaming platforms like Netflix and Hulu. I see beauty and flaws in people with whom I have common ancestry, and it’s all equally important because that’s the truth and that’s the honesty and that’s who I am. I see us all in an American media, in a country where the government rarely acknowledges our existence and does little, if any, to preserve Palestinian culture.

It may seem cliché or silly to hang your hat on a avatar on some streaming platform, but to me, it feels very epic. While I know watching television is not equivalent to social justice, it feels like the tide has turned. It feels like we can finally stop creeping around what it means to be Palestinian and dive into the truth of it all. Finally, we can celebrate our culture and heritage publicly without fear of reprisal. We may finally have a small piece of digital land in the media platform to call home.

https://www.thecut.com/2022/10/mo-ramy-netflix-hulu-tv-palestine-representation.html On ‘Mo’ & ‘Ramy’’s Representation of Palestinian Americans

Russell Falcon

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