Student explores hijabi stories through art

From the outside, Sara Filali looks like a normal college student – but once she breaks out her pad and pencil, everything changes.

At 20 years old, Filali is already a self-taught artist and successful businesswoman. Her self-owned business, Filali Studios, gives her a platform to sell her art in various forms such as prints, stickers and phone cases. She also accepts requests for commissioned art, which has included being a live painter at a friend’s wedding.

Filali makes art because she enjoys it. Selling it is only a perk, she says.

“I like doing it,” says Filali. “This is something that me, a broke college kid, can do in my spare time. Which combines what I really like doing and also what I really need – which is money.”

At the beginning of her business journey, Filali was afraid.

“I had to put a value on the art that I was originally just making for myself,” said Filali. “I was afraid that the person I was offering my price to would reject it, and therefore reject the value that I was putting in my own art.”

Hailing from Morocco, Filali feels a deep connection to her ethnicity, which she shows in her art. Various symbols that are prevalent throughout Morocco’s history show up in her pieces. Although she didn’t grow up there, her drawings take on the aspects of a culture she was raised in, inspired by the stories told to her by her parents and grandmother.

“Growing up, my culture has always been a big part of my identity – it’s a part of who I am, my language, my roots.”

Some of her pieces are illustrations of stories she grew up hearing. Others embody the strong features of Moroccan women.

“I value my roots being seen – especially living in the USA, where Moroccan culture is not very prominent,” said Filali. “You don’t see a lot of art that reflects the other side without using orientalism.”

Beyond showcasing her culture, Filali is very passionate about representation in her works. A lot of her pieces depict women like herself who wear a hijab, which is a religious headscarf. She says this is not only to represent hijabis in her art, but also because she wants to explore different mediums with hijabis as the subject.

Sara Filali with one of her paintings featuring a woman wearing a hijab. Photo by Rayan Alnajar.

“I thought, ‘What if I were to mix pop art with hijab?’ Or, ‘What if I were to mix expressionism with hijab, or collage art?’” said Filali. “The hijabi woman is not a huge subject of art or analysis, it’s always something that’s feared or othered and not very celebrated within the world of art.”

In an effort to change that, Filali has created art featuring hijabis. She has helped solidify her place in cultural art by portraying underrepresented women.

“It’s not so much doing art that I think other people would find cool, it’s more so me, as the individual, what kind of art do I want to see?” Filali says.

To view her pieces, follow her Instagram @sara_filali . To buy her pieces, visit her website

Women’s March organizers speak to students about activism

Women’s March discussion at USF speakers and organizers. Photo by Faisal Latif.

Jan. 20, 2017, marked Donald Trump’s inauguration as president of the United States. And thus, a movement was ignited.

On Jan. 21, hundreds of thousands of people, mostly women, marched on Washington in protest of Trump’s election and the issues he ran on. Spinoff marches took place in many cities around the country and the globe, making the Women’s March the largest single-day protest in U.S. history.

On Wednesday evening, three of the Women’s March organizers spoke with students at the University of South Florida on activism and other issues in an event hosted by USF Divest.

In attendance at the event were Women’s March Co-President Tamika Mallory, Treasurer Carmen Perez and Assistant Treasurer Linda Sarsour.

Mallory is a social justice activist, as well as a leader in a community-based effort to end gun violence in New York City. Her past work includes collaborating with the Obama administration as an advocate for civil rights issues.

Perez is a Latina woman who has spent the past two decades advocating for civil rights issues, highlighting the violence and mass incarceration crisis in America in an effort to solve them. She also served as executive director of the Gathering for Justice, travelling the world to find alternatives to incarceration.

Sarsour is an activist for racial justice and civil rights. She is an outspoken individual who seeks to educate people on intersectional activism. Sarsour prides herself as an unapologetic Palestinian-American Muslim.

The panel also consisted of local activist and USF alumnus Ahmad Saadaldin as well as journalist Ali Al-Arian, who served as the mediator of the discussion.

Saadaldin is a filmmaker, organizer and small-business owner. Saadaldin founded Peace House University and regularly speaks to high school students about the importance of activism. He is currently running in the Florida District 58 Special Election for State House.

Al-Arian is an award-winning journalist with Al Jazeera English. He was part of the team that launched Palestine Remix, which used interactive tools to tell the story of Palestine. His latest project is a documentary about the boycott, divest and sanctions movement against Israel.

The panelists spoke about the importance of intersectional activism, getting involved and how they organized the Women’s March.

Mallory acknowledged that the Women’s March wasn’t always an intersectional movement. In the beginning stages of its organization, Mallory said, it was very problematic. The original name of the protest, “The Million Women March,” was the name of a protest march organized by black women in 1997. The organizers called Mallory and Perez, looking to include women of color in their planning process in order to rectify such knowledge gaps. The ladies weren’t going to take that offer at face value.

“We immediately said from the beginning that we’re not going to plan a march, we’re not event planners,” said Mallory. “If we’re going to come and meet with you, it was about us being in leadership and helping shape the agenda of the march.”

She decided that she would help them make it intersectional and bring her voice to the table.

“There was no table [for us]. We actually built the table, we stood on the top of the table and made sure that the agenda represented all of women’s issues.”

In an effort to make sure all women and their issues were included in the march, they reached out to multiple individuals who were all experts in their separate fields and asked them to come together to form a list of what they were working on. These points of unity helped to generate a policy platform for the Women’s March.

“It was the most radical policy platform in the history of any march,” she said. “For us, it was making sure that people felt included in the process,” said Perez, adding that although there was a lot of criticism “at the end of the day, a lot of people felt that they saw themselves in this march and that was what we were trying to accomplish.”

Perez also insisted that the march wasn’t targeting Trump alone.

“Trump is only one of the symptoms of what’s happening at a larger scale in this country,” said Perez. “We were fighting systemic racism and oppression.”

Sarsour expressed her surprise at the amount of people who showed up. Having planned for a quarter of a million people, they were not expecting hundreds of thousands of people to show up in Washington. She also was taken aback by the magnitude of the march, in terms of how many spin-off marches resulted around the country and even around the world.

“We are so grateful to look back at that day and know that people stood up in every corner of the country, for women’s rights, for equality and for justice,” said Sarsour.

The women proceeded to explain to the students the importance of activism and the importance of supporting the identities of other people.

Saadaldin, who was instrumental in the divestment movement on campus, discussed how the movement was an intersectional movement.

USF Divest is a diverse coalition made up of students, faculty, and staff on campus with the purpose of raising awareness of USF’s investment policy. They have collected over 10,000 signatures of support in one year.

The peak of their efforts was this past spring, when 89 percent of those  who participated in the student body election voted in favor of USF creating a group to oversee the investments of the university. The group is currently in the process of establishing a large student membership on campus.

Although divest originally was founded on Palestinian rights, the leaders realized that their issues were systemic and took shape in different forms in other communities.

“We decided to expand our movement and invite people to join us, calling for private prison divestment and fossil fuel divestment,” said Saadaldin.

Mallory also explained that intersectionality doesn’t mean the tokenization of other identities for the purpose of diversity.

“It’s not transactional,” Mallory said, describing it as being able to look at an issue and caring about it even though it doesn’t directly affect your community.

Panel speaks on activism at the Women’s March event, hosted by USF Divest.

“Intersectionality looks like you being able to step outside of yourself and say, ‘This may not necessarily impact me…but it impacts us as a greater community and if you aren’t free…how can I be free?’ ” Mallory said.

Sarsour elaborated on Mallory’s point about the non-transactional aspect of intersectionality. She doesn’t ask organizations if they support her causes before she decided to work with them and care about their cause, rather she shows up and gives her support.

“This is how solidarity works,” said Sarsour. “You don’t come into a space and impose your issue on other people. You don’t come into a space and be upset because somebody doesn’t want to talk about your issue. The first question people are going to ask is you is, ‘where have you been? What have you done for our community?’”

Sarsour also encouraged people to realize their own privilege when working with an organization.

“Intersectionality also means the intersections of oppression,” she said. “When people who have been at the receiving end of oppression [are talking], you need to listen to their pain and frustration and not take it personally.”

Following the panel’s discussion, there was a Q&A in which attendees lined up to ask questions. The questions were diverse and covered a lot of aspects on activism. One 12-year-old girl, with her mother by her side, asked how young people can be more involved with activism, to which the organizers applauded her for being interested at such a young age and gave her suggestions.

However, there were a few hecklers who came with the intent to disrupt the organizers.

Some attempted to condemn Sarsour and Islam as a whole but were shut down by the panel. Sarsour said that she developed thick skin to people who used Islam to attack her because they didn’t have a proper understanding of what Islam is.

The event ended peacefully with the last words of Sarsour inviting people to be organized and involved.

“Don’t be ambitious, don’t try to change the world,” she said. “Take baby steps and baby steps.”

Epcot celebrates 35 years by highlighting cast members

On Sunday, Oct. 1, Epcot invited guests to celebrate its 35th anniversary with an array of special events and exclusive merchandise, while also recognizing the hard work of the park’s cast members.

Epcot, originally known as EPCOT Center, opened on Oct. 1, 1982, as the second park within Walt Disney World, following Magic Kingdom. The theme park focuses heavily on innovations in technology and various cultures from around the world. Epcot is also known for employing representatives from each country represented in World Showcase, a major section of the park.

“Walt had it right when he said, ‘It takes people to make the dream a reality,'” said Epcot Vice President, Melissa Valiquette. “From the time you arrive at Epcot, until the time you leave, it is our invaluable cast members who deliver a rich and unique experience to each and every one of our guests. Our cast members take great pride in bringing the wonders of Epcot to life each day.”

Employees from any of the various Disney resorts around the world are referred to as cast members. In particular, Epcot’s cast members were mentioned upward of 10 times during the Fountain View stage celebration that was held at 10:01 a.m. on Sunday.

“We know that these last 35 years at Epcot would not have been possible without the amazing help of our cast members,” said Walt Disney World Resort Ambassador, Brandon Peters.

The ceremony included presentations by two Epcot performance groups, Mariachi Cobre and Voices of Liberty, a cast member processional, speeches by Valiquette, Peters and Walt Disney World Resort President, George A. Kalogridis.

“As a child, I’d been glued to the TV watching Walt Disney, with his message of a fascinating future and a belief in the goodness of people worldwide,” said Kalogridis. “Now, we stand at a park that embodies those ideals. This is a place for family, a place for fun and a place for faith in our vision as a people.”

For the 35th anniversary, guests were able to purchase exclusive “I Was There” merchandise that would only be available until park closure. Retro-inspired merchandise commemorating the anniversary was also sold during the event and will continue to be available.

A 35th anniversary guide map and pin were handed to guests upon entering the park. Specialty cupcakes themed after the Norway pavilion in World Showcase, The Land pavilion and the center attraction, Spaceship Earth, were also sold throughout various locations in Epcot.

Aside from acknowledging the role of cast members, the ceremony’s speakers continuously noted that 35 years was only the beginning for Epcot, referring to upcoming attractions and restaurants.

“It has been a great 35 years, and let me tell you, we have some wonderful additions on the horizon,” said Kalogridis.”I was thrilled that we were able to announce what amounts to nothing less than an ‘Epcot renaissance’ last July at the D23 Expo in Anaheim. As our chairman Bob Chapek said, ‘This work here will be centered around a few guiding principles: We want to keep true to the original vision of Epcot, while making it more Disney, more timeless, more relevant and more family.'”

Kalogridis continued on to mention new attractions based on the movies “Ratatouille” and “Guardians of the Galaxy” that will be added to the France pavilion in World Showcase and to Future World, respectively.

The 35th anniversary of Epcot falls on the same day as the 46th anniversary of Magic Kingdom, another park within the Walt Disney World Resort.

“Epcot has always been and will always be an optimistic celebration of the real world brought to life through the magic of Disney,” said Kalogridis. “I promise you, the exciting plans we have on the horizon, will honor Epcot’s rich legacy of creativity, innovation, while continuing to exceed the expectations of our guests for decades to come.”

Taste of Spain captivates Tampa

TAMPA – On N. Tampa St., Toma Spain offers savory Mediterranean dishes and is host to live Flamenco shows, a culture which Fred Castro and his family helped bring to the community 37 years ago.

“We are one of the older Spanish restaurants here in Downtown Tampa,” Castro said. “We like to push the independence because if you spend your money in an independent restaurant, it stays within the community.”

Among the members of Flamenco shows are dancer and choreographer Carolina Esparza, who has known the Castro family for many years.

“They have similar experiences where they’ve always traveled to Spain because of their family,” Esparza said. “The food here is amazing, the entertainment that they get is amazing and yet it’s still a night out so to speak.”

The motivation for the workers of Toma Spain is simple: provide an atmosphere reminiscent of southern traditional Spanish culture.

The Flamenco show on March 25th was met with a grandiose round of applause due in large part to the performance of Flamenco guitarist Javier Hinojosa.

“Our musician [Hinojosa] is in my opinion one of the best Flamenco guitarists around,” Castro said. “We kind of traveled Spain ourselves and seen a lot of Flamenco shows and he compares with the best.”

The customers left the restaurant following the show with smiles and cheerful conversation amongst one another.


Institute on Black Life Celebrates 30th Year

The University of South Florida’s Institute on Black Life celebrated their 30th Anniversary Symposium on Feb. 9 at the Alumni Center.

Highlighting research and promoting knowledge of Africa and the diaspora, or removal from ones homeland, is their main purpose. They believe this research will provide students with a larger perspective on the world.

Cheryl Rodriguez, director of the USF Institute on Black Life said African culture is everywhere in the world today.

“One of the things that we really need to try to understand in terms of Africa, is that through the transatlantic slave trade, people of African descent were spread all over the world.” Rodriguez said. “Even today, we have people who come from the African continent and go to different parts of the world like Europe, Asia and Latin America. Those travels, that spreading, leads to many different remarkable outcomes.”

African folk dancers  were in attendance to help the community experience African traditions and culture.

“My grandparents came to the United States in the early part of the 20th century from Cuba, so I am a third generation American.” Rodriguez said. “I think that our stories of making a life in America are very very important.”

Uwezo E. Sudan is a griot, which is a human repository of oral knowledge and West African history.Sudan said having a craze for making a change is all you need to become involved with their cause.

“How can people become involved? I think the first thing you need to do is probably begin to have a passion for justice,” Sudan said. “And begin to understand that you can make a difference no matter where you are.”


Festa Italiana spreads Italian culture


Festa Italiana was hosted in Ybor City for the 18th year with the help of Joe Capitano Jr. The festival, celebrating Italian culture in Centennial Park, took place Thursday afternoon through Sunday afternoon.

The celebration of Italian culture allows the community to come together to share the culture and support local businesses, while raising funds for the Italian Club of Tampa.

“It brings awareness to Ybor,” Alice Mueller, the Italian Club manager said. “Sometimes there’s a negative connotation attached to Ybor City, but really it’s a great place to come.”

The Italian Club begins preparing for the event in August each year and continues working up until the event takes place in April.

Over 15 thousand people attended each day. Every day offers unique events to draw in crowds.

The annual Bocce Ball tournament takes place Saturday morning, while Sunday morning kicks off with a Catholic mass in the Italian Club.

Following mass, Centennial Park opens up to the public where over 100 food and beverage vendors line up along the street to sell their unique dishes and drinks.

“It’s really a family event,” Gilda Ferlita Capitano, President of the Italian Club, said.

Though family is near to many Italian’s hearts, food is a close second.

“Food, Italian food, a bunch of other Italians they get it,” Andrea Diaz, a festival attendee said.  “When they see loud voices, big gestures, it’s welcomed.”

Gilda Capitano couldn’t be prouder of her son Joe Capitano Jr. who works hard to ensure this event lives on.

“Seeing so many people together, it’s really just gratifying,” Gilda Capitano said.


Salsaween, the best of two worlds


Greg McBride had never been to an event quite like the Latin American Student Association’s Salsaween Halloween celebration on Wednesday evening.

McBride, a junior studying international business at USF Sarasota-Manatee, was visiting his friends at USF Tampa, and they decided to go to the event hosted in the Marshall Student Center Ballroom. He said he heard about the event from one of his friends and decided it would be a cool event to go to.

“I’m not in the club and neither are any of my friends,” McBride said. “But all of us are either from Peru or Venezuela so we know Spanish culture.”

Salsa music coming from the event in the ballroom could be heard upon entering the MSC. The lights were dim and there were Halloween decorations all around the room including a giant blow-up arch adorned with skulls in the entryway. There were balloons, tables with decorations and even food like chips and salsa and Cuban sandwiches. One of McBride’s favorite activities at the event was the photo booth.

“I went in with all my friends a bunch of times. There were a lot of props to choose from and I really liked the big crazy glasses and the hats,” McBride said. “I’ll go to any event that has a photo booth and free food.”

At one point during the evening there was a break from salsa music, and a student band came up and played a few popular songs. The dancing didn’t stop though. The crowd of about 150 people loved the music and seemed to enjoy it just as much as the Spanish music.

There was also a costume contest. Students were wearing everything from super hero costumes, to elegant dresses, to traditional salsa dancing outfits. Some students, like McBride and his friends, weren’t wearing costumes at all.

“I don’t really dress up,” he said. “I’m going to another Halloween event on Friday and I’m not wearing a costume for that either.”

Even though Salsaween was first and foremost a Halloween event, students and club members were able to come together and enjoy an evening of music, dancing, food and friends. It is one of the club’s most anticipated events each year.

“I’ve had a lot of fun here so far and I would want to go to another event hosted by the club,” McBride said. “And I loved being able to come with my friends and meet other people who appreciate Spanish culture.”