Justine's Personal Statement

“I want aab, bitte.” I want water, please.

Early on, everything I said came in threes. Mom taught me German, Dad taught me Farsi, and my environment taught me English. Trips to the park had me in tears, as my secret language could never reach the other toddlers. Slowly but surely, I learned I had to separate the three. To fit in, I had to abandon Farglishman.

At school, my classmates molded me into carbon copies of themselves. I had to time my exits from the carpool lane so my friends wouldn’t hear the Persian music my Dad blasted. During playdates, the battery-operated Barbie Dreamhouse, with a working elevator, consumed our game room, overpowering the beige colors of the Persian family rug. My friends were fascinated with the fact that I was German, but had no interest in me being Persian. When my friends’ parents asked where my olive skin and dark hair came from, I would pretend not to know. As I embraced my German-American identity, my Persian culture withered.

My young mind understood that many people held strong views against my father’s homeland. Hiding on the stairs, I heard impassioned speeches covering the Middle East. Despite my limited understanding of the situation, I began to feel the need to hide my Persian side, whitewashing myself in the process. Bringing one of my friends to a Persian house party, she commented on the food, the “ugly” gold furniture, and the “annoyingly” loud music. I felt embarrassed. It seemed that everyone I encountered rejected this side of my upbringing. I started to act out against my Persian culture. I covered my middle name on all my school forms, I refused to eat rice and kabobs for dinner, and I stopped participating in Persian New Year.

Before I finished 5th grade, my parents decided to move me to an international charter school. The school uniform was an adjustment. It muted self-expression, yet acted as a catalyst for students to express their culture. Girls would perform cultural dances at talent shows, lunch was marked by native cuisines, and conversations were filled with religious banter. I saw my peers accept cultures other than their own, something that felt strange. Beyond my school, I watched the same woman who danced to Beyonce for her Let’s Move Campaign, dance to Persian music during the White House Persian New Year. The First Lady invited Persian-Americans from across the country, welcoming the culture amidst political tensions. I had always looked up to Michelle Obama, and witnessing her embrace the same tradition that I used to find shame in helped reinforce my newfound relationship with my background. Maybe the world wasn’t so against Persians as I once believed.

My sentiment today is very different from the girl who once lied about where her Dad was from. I understood that I needed to start accepting myself for who I was. While the struggle to find my identity is a lifelong pursuit, I seem to have more clarity. Reminiscing on my childhood, I realize my Persian heritage played an equal role in my upbringing.

I fill many roles in my life. I am a daughter, sister, friend, American, German, and now Persian. Each role offers me a new lens through which I can examine the world around me. My culture is not simply my identity, it is my way of life. I can learn Farsi but not wear a hijab, I can enjoy a hamburger but not buy into American consumerism, I can go to Oktoberfest but not adopt rigid religious practices. I do not need to support every decision that Iran’s political regime makes in order to celebrate their rich culture. I am now able to embrace the layered beauty of the subtlety of Persian carpets. After years of rejecting Farglishman, I return to my beloved way of life.

“I want avaz, bitte.” I want to change, please.