Impact in Profile: Alana Chandler

Impact in Profile: Alana Chandler

IWitness Video Challenge winner Alana Chandler gravitated toward the subject of identity in her project because she has always grappled with her own.

Growing up Jewish and Japanese (and attending a Jewish middle school and Japanese Saturday school), Alana said she often felt torn between the two sides of her identity. At the middle school, kids joked about her Japanese heritage, and at Saturday school, kids expressed confusion about her religion.

“It was once I went to high school where I met people of diverse backgrounds when I finally became proud of both of my identities together,” Alana said.

When Matt Silvia, her teacher at Walter Payton College Preparatory High School in Chicago, suggested she enter the IWitness Video Challenge, Alana joined up with classmates Yu Jing Chen and Natalia Wang. While searching IWitness for a testimony clip to inspire their community service project, they found the testimony of Armenian Genocide survivor Haig Baronian, whose conflict over his identity touched on Alana’s own process of learning to accept who she is.

Baronian explains how he had to hide his Armenian identity and pretend to be a Turk in order to survive the genocide. After a while, even he began to believe that Armenians were inferior.

Alana, Yu Jing and Natalia thought the clip illustrated how easy it is for people to exclude each other and even commit hate crimes based on which identities are considered “in” or “out.”

“Haig shows that it is very easy for one to suppress their true identity and undermine that of others in order to fit in,” Alana said. “It is crucial that we take a stand against this and motivate people to look at diverse identities with not a xenophobic lens, but that of interest and appreciation.”

This theme also closely mirrored the stress many of their classmates feel in the current political climate, Alana said.

“Some students and close friends who are minorities were crying on the day of the [2016 presidential] election, in fear that, because of their unique identities, they could be persecuted,” she said. “In order to make our community members feel safe, we wanted to shape a more accepting environment in which identities are celebrated.”

For their IWitness Video Challenge project, Alana, Yu Jing and Natalia encouraged students to illustrate their own unique identities in what they call “identity maps.” They set up a table in the hallway with paper and markers for students to draw anything that represented their own unique identities, and displayed the art on the wall for all students to see.

Although completing the project and editing their video was challenging since all three group members are busy with classes and extracurriculars, they were motivated to help their community. Alana was proud to see students looking at the display of identity maps and contributing their own. She, and her classmates, did exactly what they set out to achieve: learn more about each other’s diverse backgrounds and interests.

The IWitness Video Challenge also taught Alana about other genocides of the world and allowed her to internalize the lessons that can be learned from genocide by listening to the voices of the survivors in their testimonies. It was truly eye-opening, she said.

Ultimately, through the IWitness Video Challenge, Alana was able to draw from her own experience to find common ground with a genocide survivor and extend a message of tolerance to other students who may be feeling the same way she did.

“For me, I hoped that this project would help a member of our community embrace their identity sooner than I did, fostering a welcoming environment rather than one in which people are misunderstood or overlooked,” she said.