Over the weekend, I met with Ibrahim, the young man who is the subject of JR’s mural for Open Source, Migrants, Ibrahim, Mingora-Philadelphia. Over coffee, Ibrahim and his friend and interpreter Faisal talked to me about life in Pakistan and Philadelphia, and Ibrahim’s dreams for the future.
Carly: What brought you to Philadelphia?
Ibrahim: I was living in Pakistan, but there is not a lot of opportunity. Swat Valley, where I lived, is a beautiful place, but it is not safe there now, and it is not always safe to leave the house. My cousin lives in Philadelphia, and so I came here to try and make a better life. And it is better. There are a lot of nice people here, and there is a lot of freedom to say and do what I want.
Carly: So what do you do now that you’re here?
Ibrahim: I work! I work six days a week from 4:30 am to 7:30 pm on a food truck that’s parked near 15th and Market St. I clean the truck in the morning and the night, and I make all kinds of food for breakfast and lunch. I take Saturdays off to do laundry and get some sleep.
Carly: And JR met you at the food truck?
Ibrahim: Yes, he came to my truck and asked to take my picture. I was worried when he started talking to me, because I’d lost my green card that morning and I thought I was in trouble. But then, he told me he wanted to put my picture on a mural. I said, sure, ok, I don’t mind. I thought it was going to be a small picture on a wall somewhere. I was so surprised when I saw how big the mural is, on this big building in the middle of the city. I called all my friends and told them they had to come see how tall I am now!
Carly: Do people recognize you from the mural?
Ibrahim: Sometimes. People will stop and stare at me, like I look familiar but they can’t place me just yet. And some people have come to my food truck and when they see me, they ask if I’m the one on the building.
Carly: What has it meant to you to be up on such a huge wall in Center City?
Ibrahim: I think a lot about how I’m just an ordinary guy, and now, I’m on a building, so high that everyone in the city can see. It means a lot to have been chosen for the mural, but it also means a lot that the artist chose an immigrant. He’s showing people that we are here in the city, and he’s made immigrants important by showing that we are the people here too. It gives me hope. It means that anyone can be important, no matter where they are from. Anyone can dream about how big they might be.
Carly: And so what’s next for you, Ibrahim?
Ibrahim: I’m saving money so I can go home and marry my fiance, who’s back in Pakistan and who I miss very much. Once we get married, I’m going to come back here and keep working at the food truck so that I have enough money to get her a green card and bring her to America, and then I have to get enough money to rent a house for us. And after that, I’m not sure. I’d like to work in advertising or modeling one day, and maybe make a movie about my life, to show people that you can be in a hopeless place, but that things can become better.
Carly: Thanks so much, Ibrahim. Good luck with everything.