There was a frenzy. A roar.
Fans rushed the field at Ohio Stadium. The Ohio State Buckeyes beat Michigan in double overtime. A cameraman sprinted ahead of the crowd toward the center of the field. He didn’t have much time.
He weaved through the photographers. Now at the front of the pack, he found himself face to face with Coach Urban Meyer. He hit record. The coach pumped his fist into the air, and embraced his son who had joined him on the field. The city was celebrating.
The cameraman’s name was Syed Raza Arif.
Raza works as a full-time photographer, cinematographer and editor at Sway the Crowd LLC, a video company based in Columbus, Ohio. On production, he has a keen eye for the story, and always seems to be in the right place at the right time.
His hustle, determination and constant pursuit of self-improvement are unmatched – and you can expect to see more of him, because in December 2017, he officially became a naturalized citizen of the United States of America.
This is his immigration story.
Raza grew up in a motivated Pakistani family. His dad was in sales and marketing, managing multinational accounts for western brands. His mother was in politics and won a local election for General Councilor in the region where he grew up.
He thought about going into business or politics like his parents. However, a visit to a local music TV station – where his brother worked – sparked his interest in media.
“You can make a difference just by clicking a picture at the right time and at the right place. I don’t really have to convince thousands of people, but my work can convince thousands of people by itself.”
News and documentary storytelling caught his interest, and he was soon an in-studio headquarter-producer for Geo News, dispatching photographers to conflicts and disasters, including a regional war with the Taliban and a major flood in 2010.
He even sent out first reports of the U.S. helicopter crash at the residence in Abbottabad in 2011, which was discovered to be Osama bin Laden’s compound.
His journey to the United States began when he met his future wife Hanan.
Hanan was a United States citizen, working as a respiratory therapist in Columbus, Ohio, when she visited her cousin at a private Pakistani university. There she met Raza, who was studying film at the time. After Hanan returned to the United States, they maintained a long-distance relationship for a year before they married in September 2011.
Raza decided to apply for a U.S. visa, and began the immigration process.
While he waited, Raza honed his photography skills working as a freelancer for Voice of America, and built his own business filming weddings and private events in Pakistan. His focus, he said, has always been to bridge cultural divides and to shed light onto underreported events.
“My style is to provide a mirror to the society. People don’t want to see what they should see.”
Acts of kindness, for example. When he first arrived at an American airport on January 31, 2014, he arrived three hours before he was scheduled to. He tried to call his wife to let her know about his early arrival, but his phone was dead. As he waited, a stranger whom he had just met on the plane offered Raza his cell phone.
“That was my first experience here in the United States. That guy trusted me. Day one in the U.S. really, really opened my eyes about how the rest of my journey would be here in the U.S.”
After uniting with his wife, the next step was to find a job.
Three months of searching and applying led him to a job at Panda Express – a tough transition for a filmmaker – but the first step toward building a career in America.
“I know America is a land of dreams. ‘If you really want to pursue something you would be able to do it, but you need to give it some time.’ That’s what my wife told me and I followed her.”
About a month later, Raza found Sway the Crowd’s website, and sent us an email with a polite introduction and link to his show reel. At the time, our small production team had moved to Columbus, OH.
We were ramping up, hiring cinematographers for weddings on weekends and offering occasional freelance gigs but we weren’t hiring full time positions. Raza continued the hustle – from Panda Express, to working as a parking supervisor at John Glenn International Airport and a valet manager at OSU’s Blackwell Hotel.
Raza was hired by Sway the Crowd LLC full time in May 2016. Since then, he has traveled with our team to Texas, Washington D.C., Illinois, and throughout Ohio, producing compelling video content.
He is incredibly versatile – wearing many hats on each project – and spends his free time improving his craft, publishing a Food Vlog and various photo essays. You can tell Raza loves what he does. There is rarely a day when he isn’t smiling, ready to create media content that makes an impact.
At home, Raza and Hanan gave birth to a beautiful daughter, Minha, now one-and-a-half years old. They are looking forward to their new lives as an American family.
Q. What was your impression of American culture? Did you experience any culture shock?
A. Coming to U.S. really taught me how to survive on an individual basis. Back home we used to live in the same house. Everyone in the family, it was a joint family system. When I came here I started living on my own. It really taught me how to be a person that can survive on his own or with his own family. As compared to Pakistan where your mom would pitch in, your dad would pitch in, and all the brothers would pitch in. That’s how you run the family. When you come here, your family relies upon you, that whatever you’re going to bring to the family in terms of income, they’re going to live according to that lifestyle of how much you can earn. You’re not depending on your brothers’ income, your dad’s income at the same time. It’s just you or your wife at that time.
That really stressed me out at first, but then I really started learning things, how U.S. really shapes their economy of making people self-sustainable, and that was a turning point for me – how to sustain in a society where you cannot call your brother to come and pick you up from work. Whereas, in Pakistan, your brother would drop you off. You can just call them. They will come up. They will cook for you. It’s a whole different level in Pakistan as compared to here in the US.
Q. Did you know English before you came to the United States?
A. Our official language is English. Our whole schooling system is in English. All our coursework is in English where it is more of a British English. Yeah, we knew English before coming to US. That was an advantage for us. In Pakistan, you can use a mixture of your own language and English at the same time, but here you cannot really use your own language. You have to learn the whole language in order to communicate, which was a barrier at that time, and I’m still struggling and learning.
Q. How has the move [to the United States] changed your craft?
A. I would say I’m more technically skilled than I was, and not just technically skilled. I’m skilled personally as well. I came from a very relaxed media industry culture… If you were working for eight hours back home, I would know I would only be working for five or six hours – two hours just sitting around, talking, or taking an hour-long lunch break – but coming here meant eight hours of work. They really mean work when they talk about work. We do have fun, but at the same time you’re here to work. That really led me to become more disciplined within myself.