Fatimah Lóren (ACG ’10) was featured in a special section of the Bangalore Mirror. The article focuses on her work as an activist and musician, growing up in New Jersey, her recent trip to Asia, as well as the festival she is producing, Miracles on 52nd Street, for which she received a March 2010 Art and Change Grant.
“Just a question of unconditional love”
Written by Mahalakshmi.Prabhakaran@timesgroup.com
Posted On Saturday, July 03, 2010 at 09:17:31 PM
Gays who come out in the open get beaten up in the US too, says the 26-year-old African-American jazz singer and gay activist Fatimah Loren, who has been on an international panel for global change on an invitation from former President Bill Clinton.
A person who grew up in the ‘hood’ aka `the ghetto’, for someone whose father left the family when she was a kid and for someone who along with her mother and brother struggled and worked hard to get where they are today, Fatimah Loren’s is a success story that can well be made into a Hollywood movie.
Yet, while her life might seem dramatic, the warm, bright smile that lights up Fatimah’s face when she talks to you belies it all. There’s no animosity or grief or questioning life’s-unfairness . Fatimah Loren, 26, is an American soul singer.
QUEERS ARE THE SAME
Fatimah is also an activist focussing on the issues of coloured queer women. A bisexual herself, we wonder if life for the LGBTs (Lesbian, Gays, Bisexuals and Transgenders) is easier in the West. She says, “I will be honest with you, I can’t compare because I’ve never lived here. But then it is just like in India.” She says, “Gay people even get killed in some places if you come out with the truth.” Citing the tragic story of 21-year-old Mathew Shepard who was beaten to death because he was gay in ‘98, Fatimah, paints an unknown facet of America: “In some places, even if a boy acts funny, kids can beat him.”
There are more sorry facts she divulges to us. “In the US,” she goes on, “families disown you if you come out. So, there are many homeless young queer kids.”
“There is an LGBT movement that is looking at creating LGBT schools so that kids can grow in a proper environment, where they will be taken care of, have support and have a place to live,” she informs. “It is the queers from ethnic minorities, however, who have a tougher time.”
Fatimah feels that a “lot about coming out also depends on the families”. Citing her own case she says, “When I came out to my mother, she was OK. Then now, she says, I want grand kids! So I go, mum I thought we had gone through this and it was settled but she goes, give me grand kids.”
Shrugging it off good-humoredly, Fatimah says how its especially difficult for queers in the African -American community. “Due to slavery, African-American families have always been pulled apart. So, for blacks today, families are very important. In such a situation, it’s tougher for a black to come out because he or she would be held responsible for tearing the family apart.”
TRIP TO INDIA
“The culture is fabulous,” she gushes and talks of her childhood growing up in New Jersey, a place that has many Indians.
“The school I went to had so many Indians that I grew up eating dal,” she says excitedly and reveals the fortuitous events that led up to her visit to India. And therein lay another story, as we learnt.
“I found my father 20 years after we separated.” A happy reunion it was. “We had a family celebration and I was introduced to this whole new family, people I hadn’t met, uncles, aunts, cousins…” It was at that party that Fatimah met her aunt who “told me that she wanted to visit Asia and asked me to accompany her.” As it is always with dreams coming true, a friend of Fatimah’s who had been completely out of touch for a year, “invited me to Malaysia. He offered to sponsor the trip.” The Jazz singer adds, “I had told my aunt that no matter what, I have to visit India while we are there.”
It’s been a month long stay in India for Fatimah and even as she gets ready for the rest of the trip to Malaysia and Bangkok, she promises, “I will come back.”
ART AND ACTIVISM
As a popular singer and activist with a degree from an Ivy League college, we reckon she is in a better place to do something for the cause. “It’s tricky for me because on one hand it’s a great privilege but more importantly, I have to make sure I am not always in the spotlight.” As assistant director of an inter-cultural centre at University of Pennsylvania, Fatimah thinks it is “important that we bring people together. Art for me is a great way to talk about these issues.”
While there was a time when she prioritised activism, Fatimah today wants to “marry art and activism because I think it’s the best way to bring everyone together.” Fatimah has recently been awarded a grant to do community service —a $2500 grant by the Leeway Foundation where she will work with the 52nd Street Business Association to revive ‘Miracles on 52nd Street’, a four day intercultural community festival.
A MUSICAL LIFE
An activist, she was invited by the former President Bill Clinton to sit on a panel for global change. Was she surprised? “I was shocked!” she exclaims. “The panel brought 1,400 people from 60 countries together. We discussed innovative ideas that we NEED to change.”
ReUnion, the musical that she has written, was created after Fatimah met her father. “When I met my father, the love I felt was so much that it was unconditional. ReUnion talks about this unconditional love. It is a musical without dialogues. It has got two poets, a dancer ensemble, visual artists who portray what it takes to love. It is set in the dream world and it shows people within that world exploring ideas for love.”
OF MIRACLES AND NAMES
* An intercultural community festival, Miracles on 52nd Street is a four-day event intended to provide foreign-born and native-born residents an opportunity to share cultural performances, visual art, music, and food. The festival’s goals are to break down barriers among residents of the neighborhood, bring the diverse groups that reside in West Philadelphia together, and attract people from all areas, while providing a boost for small business owners of the 52nd Street corridor.
* Fatimah’s name is a combination of the spiritual and the sultry. So while Fatimah is the name of Prophet Mohammed’s daughter, Loren is inspired from, yes, that glamorous Italian diva, Sophia Lorén. While her full name is Fatimah Loren Muhammad she doesn’t use her last name when performing.