The documentary film Fremont, USA shows life in the small city of Fremont, California, whose approximately 200,000 inhabitants are some of the most diverse ever found in a city of that size. A wave of new immigration turns the small suburb into a haven for a variety of cultures: a rajagopuram is set up in the town, showing the large Hindu population, and temples for new Asian Buddhists are found throughout the suburb. However, despite all of this cooperation and unprecedented interfaith interaction, there are many different obstacles that this small community still has to overcome. Swastikas are graffiti-d on buildings, and after 9/11 a Muslim woman, Alia Ansari, is killed. The film follows the community's response to that event, and the possibly religious motivations for her murder.
Cultural pluralism is the primary concept that this film celebrates and discusses. Fremont, California becomes a microcosm for the country as a whole - with so many religions coexisting and inhabiting the same space, how do they relate to and interact with each other? Is there strife or cooperation? In essence, Fremont is shown to be a wonderful case study for how this kind of cooperation can work; everyone respects their space, each major faith has one or several avenues and outlets to express that faith, and everyone seems to work together to achieve major goals (like Peace Terrace, shared by both Christians and Muslims, and the Sikh-occupied Gurdwara Road). This dream of cultural pluralism is expressed greatly in this film.
However, one of the most tragic events depicted is the death of Alia Ansari, a Muslim woman killed shortly after 9/11. After that tragic national catastrophe, businesses owned by Afghanis were attacked, as were mosques. These events explore the notion that even the most amicable of relationships can be disrupted by religious fear and distrust; these other Muslims are held accountable for the extreme actions of others, and are therefore punished. The death of Ansari is the final nail in the coffin for these horrific attacks. However, the city of Fremont is shown to have an unprecedented show of support for its interfaith and intercultural initiatives, the mayor visiting the Ansari family, and extravagant and culturally sensitive memorial services being held on city land. People of all faiths came together to celebrate and mourn Alia Ansari, demonstrating a unique confluence of faiths and attitudes to create a true sense of community.
For me, the film raises the question of "can we all truly just get along?" Fremont, California seems like a bastion of community and cooperation until a tragic event happens, which ignites racially charged hatred leading up to murder. While the memorial services and the town's response in the aftermath are admirable, one wonders what specific factors led to this hateful flareup in the first place. In essence, I cannot help but wonder if a similar thing would not happen again, if national and racial tensions were to become this highly charged again. Is it possible for cultural pluralism to really happen - can we put aside our religious differences and hold people accountable for their individual actions, instead of pinning it on the religion itself? These questions, I hope, can be answered in the future by calmness, temperance and faith, both in Fremont and throughout the world.
Antell, Rachel and Elinor Pierce. Fremont, USA: A City's Encounter with Religious Diversity.
The Pluralism Project, 2009. Film.