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The actors want to break down prejudices

Preparations for the regional theater's big project "Älskade Araby" (Loved Araby), which is a documentary performing arts show where the residents of Araby are given the power to tell their own story, is in full swing. Together with director Andreas Dahl, the Araby residents and actors Maria Lopéz, Iman Hussein and Ellie Stjärna are rehearsing to shatter the prejudices that exist about Araby.
Växjö • Publicerad 27 november 2019
Foto: Nadia Hagberg

– Did I really say such a strange thing? Can I change the text a little?, asks Maria Lopéz.

Ellie Stjärna and Maria Lopéz have just received their script. They sit and flip through their papers, takes away words and rewrite sentences.


– You are allowed to change. It's okay. When you talk about things, you sometimes interrupt yourself and start over, says Andreas Dahl.

In the fall, the creation of Älskade Araby, a documentary theater performance, is ongoing, and the scripts that Ellie Stjärna and Maria Lopéz have just received consist of their own stories.

– I've played theater before but then you go into a special character and feeling. It's not like that now. This time, I'll be myself. How are you convincing as yourself?, says Ellie Stjärna.

The show premieres in February. In the fall, Ellie Stjärna, Maria Lopéz, and Iman Hussein, who rush in to rehearsal a little later than the others, will make shorter appearances during the Regional Theater's Scen Torsdag (Stage Thursday).

– I've never been performing on stage in a similar context before. I'm most afraid of messing up or forgetting what to say. Or maybe start crying. It is ominous to tell your own story, says Iman Hussein.

Älskade Araby will be all about Araby. A neighborhood that the police have chosen to call a "particularly vulnerable area" and which is sometimes described in the media through articles on crime and exclusion. In the show, the women on stage will raise several issues. Among other things, about identity, stigma and prejudice.

– The image of Arab is based on prejudice. Obviously there are problems, but it's problems everywhere. You have to work preventively with those who are growing up there now so that things that happened before do not happen again. And I love Araby. I was born and raised there and it really is home to me. I couldn't see myself growing up anywhere else and I love to see my little siblings grow up there as well, says Iman Hussein.

Maria Lopéz has lived in Araby for almost 40 years. She came from Chile in 1976 and has since lived at several addresses in the district.

– It's an unfair picture. We live and work in Araby, and we do not feel that the image of the district is right. It feels safe and it's a good area. And it is not just immigrants who live there even though people seem to believe that, says Maria Lopéz.

Ellie Stjärna has lived in Araby for a couple of years. She says that there is a big difference between living in Araby compared to Hovmantorp, where she has grown up. It became especially clear when, as part of the performance, she went back to Hovmantorp and knocked on her former neighbors.


– There is a big difference in how the relationship with the neighbors are in Araby compared to Hovmantorp. In Hovmantorp you are not with your neighbors at all. When I knocked on doors and talked to my former neighbors it was the first time ever. And yet we have been neighbors for twenty years. It was a bit like when you were a kid selling Christmas magazines. Terrible to stand outside and knock on doors but once you got in it is easier.

Foto: Nadia Hagberg

How is the relationship between the neighbors in Araby?

– You can be who you are. Nothing is strange. In Hovmantorp everything is strange. In Araby there is much more tolerance. If someone went down to the shop in a bathrobe, no one would care. And when I moved there, people came forward to greet and ask if they could help. It felt unfamiliar at first and I didn't really understand what was happening. It's a completely different feeling.

Iman Hussein is a well known name in Araby. She has been involved in the area for many years and has worked mainly with girls and women there. But she has also notices the prejudices that exist around people living in Araby.

– It is a pity for the children that there is a negative image of Araby. It is not good to grow up in a stigmatized area. I myself know what it is like. When I started at Katedralskolan, other students and teachers had prejudices about me just because I lived in Araby. Sometimes it feels like others don't think we are human. But we are ordinary people who live in very ordinary apartments and have very ordinary lives.

In addition to the stories that the women will perform, Andreas Dahl, who directs the show, along with several others at the Regional Theater have been on site in Araby to talk to the residents, record material for the films that will be shown on stage, and helped to summarize all stories that have emerged.

– People let us in and talk about their lives. No one has said "no, I don't want to tell you". I really take that with me. We were met by an incredible warmth and generous ways. They care and take care of each other. It feels like I will carry all meetings with me forever. The making of this show changes lives, says Andreas Dahl.

The show is about breaking prejudice. Did you have any prejudices about Araby?

– My siblings have lived in Araby and when they moved there my picture changed. And before that I had a negative image. Or, I'd rather hear negative about the area. Now when we do the show it is obviously about the area but mainly about the people who live there. They give perspective on what freedom, will and struggle are.

On the question of who should see the show, Ellie Stjärna, Iman Hussein and Maria Lopéz agree.


– If I had the choice, I would have liked to see those living in the residential districts in Växjö in the audience. I know some people think that young people are throwing stones at the police, but it is not like that anymore. The bad things that happens become bigger than they are. Araby has always had a bad reputation and I think it is because people from different countries have into Araby there in different rounds. In the beginning you make mistakes. For example, our children could bring home toys from playgrounds without realizing that they were someone else's. We didn't know better and it is the same for those who come now. They do not know better and will make mistakes before they learn. We can not become Swedes directly. And when we all live in the same area, we get noticed a lot. But when we learn Swedish and can communicate, we do not have to smile, nod and say yes even though we do not understand, says Maria Lopéz.

– There are people who have not been to Araby who have the strongest opinions. We live in a society that is characterized by racism and Araby has become a place where "the others live". It becomes dangerous when we blame everything bad on people living in a certain place. However, I am concerned that those who have already decided that it is dangerous in the area do not want to listen. It's provocative, says Ellie Stjärna.

– I hope for a mix of different Växjö residents. I am happy that my friends from Araby are coming, but I would like people from other areas to come and see that Araby is a nice place, says Iman Hussein.

The big show is set for February and the next Scen Torsdag will be on November 28.

Nadia HagbergSkicka e-post
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