A Matter of Honor: Issues of Immigration

Professor Julie Allen discusses how different cultural influences in the lives of immigrant children can have harsh effects on their familial relationships.

PROVO, Utah (October 24, 2018)—Immigration is a popular issue that is constantly discussed on television, in magazines, and on the internet. This issue is not exclusive to the United States, however; people all over the world move to different countries with the hopes of securing better lives for their families. As part of International Cinema’s lecture series, Professor Julie Allen from the Department of Comparative Arts and Letters examined immigrants in Scandinavia, and what the influence of two different cultures can mean for the children of immigrant families.

Many of the immigrants to Scandinavia come from the Middle East, leaving countries like Pakistan and Iraq for Norway and Denmark. Having grown up with both the influence of their parents’ culture and the culture of their new environments, immigrant children often feel torn between two worlds. This can become heartbreaking and even dangerous in situations where these children are forced to choose between the two influences.

Professor Allen told the audience of several instances where these types of conflicts led to violence, severed relationships, and created severe trauma for these children. Such was the case for the director of What Will People Say, Iram Haq. Allen told of Haq’s own personal experience as the daughter of Pakistani immigrants living in Norway. When she was only fourteen years old, Haq was kidnapped by her own parents and forced to go to Pakistan against her will after her family found a boy in her room. Allen explained how Haq has recalled the trauma this caused her; she was, by all accounts, Norwegian, and had little to no idea how things were in Pakistan. The experiences she had in her teenage years led to Iram Haq becoming one of the leading activists pushing for awareness of the human cost of parents giving in to the social pressures of preserving their families’ honor.

Although not a complete account of Haq’s experiences, her film What Will People Say shares many parallels with her own life story. The film’s main character, Nisha, is forced to move to Pakistan against her will after her father finds her boyfriend in her room one night. Although the audience knows Nisha has not done anything with the boyfriend, her father sees her as having dishonored the family. The film shows Nisha’s struggle to uphold her parents’ Pakistani values while still staying true to her identity as a Norwegian.

Allen concluded with her thoughts on media as the platform to discuss these and other issues. She named several people who, like Iram Haq, have been using media as a way to tell another side of the immigration stories seen on the news every day. “By working through the media,” Allen said, “Iram Haq and people like her are trying to change the conversation.” Rather than playing off stereotypical views of immigration, Haq and her contemporaries are challenging them. By sharing their personal experiences, they reject a black-and-white view of immigration and introduce the more real, more nuanced grays of their situations. Now it is up to their audiences to choose whether or not they will listen.

—Jensyn Eubank (English, ’20)