Author Archives: aishahahmed

Encountering Strangers

Field Report #2

Encountering Strangers

            Who are you? It’s a simple three worded question and yet so many people really don’t know how to go about answering it. The question is almost too aggressive—or at least that is what I realized from the reactions I received from the three strangers I encountered; it forces the questionee’ to suddenly dive deep into their view of themselves and most of the time they haven’t fully understood that view. Imagine, if I were to ask you, “Who are you?” how would you answer me? Personally, I would be speechless, at first, for I really don’t know who I am-—and I’m sure the same goes for others. Yes, while we may have a good sense of our morals, what truly identifies us?

That is exactly how one person—a middle aged woman I’d ran into at the supermarket had answered me. She was fairly young and running after her hyperactive five year old son. When I asked her who she was, she shrugged, distraught and then sighed, “I really don’t know, honestly…” and then she paused, looking down at her son and smiled “A mother?” It was hard not to smile at her comment; she didn’t have a clue who she was—or, rather, didn’t even have herself figured out yet– but she had a strong feeling her identity lied within her son.  So identity, when thinking about my encounter with this woman, had to have lied in someone’s role— or, in this case, who we live for.

The second person I encountered had a different idea; he immediately shot his view on himself because he was one hundred percent sure identity was assimilated to someone’s actions and decisions.  It was almost as if he was trying to force his view of himself to himself. This man was also young— very young, almost in his yearly twenties; and you would think he would have a similar reaction to the woman I talked to above; however, this man seemed to know exactly who he was and why this was so. “A guy just shopping for food…..” he said at first. “So that’s how you would identify yourself as?”I asked to extract a somewhat similar reaction I received from the woman.  He laughed and then immediately corrected his original statement and went about explaining that he was who he was in terms of his actions. He gave me the example of his choice of groceries in a funny manner. “Well I am I person who buys a lot of Triscuits and Pepsi, not the kind of of guy who buys a lot of, let’s say– alcohol at 5 in the afternoon” he laughed and I laughed along seeing the point of his little example. So to him, unlike the woman I’d encountered at the supermarket lies within a person’s decision—may it be a small or large decision.

So far I’d come to observe that identity came from who you live for and the decisions you make. However, the next four people I asked didn’t have a clue or just didn’t bother answering the question the correctly. I received shrugs and aggravated sighs because most of the these people didn’t wanted to think about themselves—maybe because they hadn’t figured themselves out or maybe they didn’t have the time to figure out their identities? While I was lucky enough to receive genuine answers from the first two people I interviewed I noticed that majority of the people just did not have a clue about who they are, but they really didn’t care either.  So this got me thinking: why was it that they didn’t care?

Surely, before one can even venture out of their homes and face daily life, one must have a pretty good and strong sense of who they are, right? – Maybe not, I suppose people are too preoccupied with the tasks of daily life in order to truly discover their identity. While we may have a vague sense of who we are through our actions and the people we live for we really don’t have a full grasp on ourselves partly due to the demands of daily life. Maybe we are too preoccupied in order to understand ourselves?



Negotiating Spaces

Field Report #1

Usually at 1 in the morning when the subway seems to lag a bit I seem to notice the people and general atmosphere of the train the most. Sunday, coming back from the Bedford to Jamaica it seemed like all of New York had joined me on my journey back home; there was no place to sit and for the next 10 to 13 stops I’d have to stand. No doubt, I was aggravated and tired like the rest of the riders but along one of the stops a man just too happy for this late of hour was playing a makeshift piano meets saxophone had happened to hop onto our train. Generally when there’s a homeless singer or instrument player on the train people listen but look the other way– Ignoring the person completely. However, with most of the riders angry due to the lack of seats and the time of day, we couldn’t help but notice this man. It was as if that single man had stirred up a certain tension and made me realize the particular dynamics of the people on that train.

            The subway serves as an interesting environment where the different types of people of New York City are forced onto one train, no matter status, appearance, etc—in a way it serves as an equalizer. Usually, normal behavior on the subway, thus, is to mind one’s own business, act distant and seem like you know what you’re doing in order to avoid any sort of conflict. But when that homeless man had boarded the train, it seemed like the riders had almost found a common dislike for that man and so resurfaced to realize their surroundings. One man, in particular, made it his duty to voice his dislike for the homeless man’s music and find as many riders as he could who shared his opinion.  This new reaction to the usual homeless musicians disrupted the social norms of the subway.  Many people don’t give any attention at all to these musicians but that one man’s refusal to simply ignore the man created this very awkward and uncomfortable tension within the train.

 The disturbance caused an instantaneous and very brief break of the social norms of the subway; for a moment every rider forgot about trying to keep silent and distant in order to watch the scene and somewhat relate to that one man who was voicing his opinion so strongly. This break ensued, however, an awkward tension and I’ve noticed that social norms are thusly maintained in order to avoid uncomfortable situations such as that— that social norms are certain measures and rules followed in order to avoid human embarrassment. When that man started to openly belittle the musician in hopes of also finding those who agreed with his opinion, he made the other riders uncomfortable. It made them question: do they also join in? Or do they ignore the man like they have so many times before towards other homeless panhandlers?

Social norms are set up in the first place, I suppose–from what I’ve observed, in order to avoid those awkward and tense scenarios most seem to feel very uncomfortable by. It’s out natural instinct to latch onto the norms of society in order to avoid any time of embarrassment and so the subway and this certain scenario perfectly exemplifies the social norms which are established and the consequences or, rather, the effect of breaking them.

General Reaction to Social Issues… in relation to Stop and Frisk Video

Last year during my journalism class we had come across the Stop and Frisk issue and I was appalled at how “justice” was being served in New York City. Like any other issue that that we talked about in Journalism, this issue stirred up some anger and sympathy for a while but then eventually left me frustrated and then apathetic because there wasn’t much I could have done about the situation.  Yes, while I do find it highly disturbing to think the police profile civilians in hopes of making their quotas, there isn’t much we can do about the situation. Whenever a situation like this raises, people’s usual first reaction is appall, then sudden anger and motivation to do something about the situation but when they can’t find any viable solution they grow aggravated, then apathetic and kick the problem away altogether to jump onto another social problem.  And this shouldn’t be rebutted by the common phrase “there is strength in numbers” or “one person CAN make difference” the problem actually lies in finding a solution to the situation. There can be many people protesting for a cause but unless they come up with a satisfying solution, the awareness that is being created won’t help. In my opinion that is why we have these often trending social problems—this year we had KONY 2012 for a while even when child soldiers have been a problem way before the 90s; for a while we were talking about the Fracking…. And yet only the few dedicated are still working towards the solution while majority of the public have already disregarded the problem since they’ve given up on waiting for the solution.



Walking onto the grounds of 5ptz it seemed as if I’d jumped into a magazine; every step I took the artists were trying to sell themselves to me—their style, their message and their art. There were tags everywhere—even the light poles were bombarded with tags and stickers; however, the thing was these artists weren’t posting up their art for money at all. They just wanted to be heard and be seen in their own way.  Graffiti today isn’t just a tag of a name but of images with powerful meanings and messages about them.  With new techniques such as stenciling these graffiti artists are introducing icons and pieces of pop culture how they see it. As I’d observed on my other graffiti reaction, graffiti is usually a reflection of how artists and the general public views society today; so, the artists at 5ptz, as well as, displayed society and labels as they see it today.

ASL Refection: New Life Development Center

ASL Reflection:


Throughout high school I spent a totally of 100 + hours volunteering, however my time at the Food pantry was different and far more humbling then anything I’d done before. Thus far, while I knew I was helping out the less fortunate, I never really met the people I was helping. At the food and cloth pantry I met the ones I was helping and the stories they had to share. When we go to such places to help we expect the ones we’re helping, to put it in a straightforward way, to have long faces and sad stories to tell; however, the ones I met at the pantry were quite cheery. They held smiles on their faces and they never once considered the fact that they were coming for help. Yes, of course there were a few discrete men and women who would quickly walk in for their share and quickly leave due to that sense of pride, but there were also those who didn’t care they were coming for help.  There was one old Philippine woman in particular who seemed to exude this happiness. It appeared she knew everyone at the pantry and insisted she knew me. I had obviously not been to this particular pantry ever before but I quickly understood this was only her clever and way of introducing herself to me.  She had a simple story to tell me, a story about how she always came here and was always pleased with the volunteers here.  She didn’t say much after that but her joyful gestures and her want to meet me, as well as the other students I went to volunteer with, was a very different reaction then what I was expecting. From what I took from her actions and outlook on her situation, I think the unfortunate don’t truly feel they’re unfortunate at all. In fact, I think they’re quite happy in their situations. To us, when having more then just necessities, we start to pity to the poor, but in fact when looking deeper, the poor shouldn’t be pitied at all. They are happy, they are living and from what that woman seemed to portray, they don’t want to be pitied– only valued like any other person. For, there isn’t anything wrong with asking for any help, it doesn’t lessen any one’s worth or respect at all, so why does pride seem to always argue otherwise? 

Is Graffiti Art?

Art is a representation of an era’s culture, attitude, and style.  Because it is so politically and socially charged, it becomes the voice of those who otherwise feel powerless. Art acts as a medium in which artists can convey their problems and observations on society. So it can be said that graffiti is an extension of art; it serves as an unconventional and cheap way of spreading such observations the common person wants to emphasize.   

Recently I think there has been a crucial and much needed shift in the graffiti you see today. While “Style Wars” proved that many graffiti artists tagged trains cars and buildings for notoriety, today, graffiti seems to have deeper meanings and intentions. No longer do we simply see names tagged, but provocative and sometimes even graphic images, which strike a powerful meaning at first glance, posted on walls. Artists such as Space Invader, Banksy, and Andre the Giant all have a special message to share other than their names. They have pushed the ability of mass art distribution by charging their pieces with their observations on society. For instance, in the documentary “Exit Through the Giftshop” produced by Banksy, we learn Space Invader’s whole objective is to remind or even revive the simplicity and youthfulness the 90s had through his technologically rudimentary and pixilated little aliens. He tries to convey the drastic change in the quality of life from then to now and by doing so the public is now open and aware of this change.

Space Invader is just one of the many graffiti artists who take pride in advocating their messages. No longer is it about tagging as many buildings and trains with your name, but rather to prove a point or show a problem that needs to be focused on or solved. So, to me, graffiti should be considered as another form of art. Again, like the many famous pieces of art, which represent a particular era, graffiti, as well, represents our era. The style of graffiti will always change and evolve, but I feel it will always have an emphasis on the common issues and observations people face.  It is an art form that embodies a community, an era, a decade and it’s people.