Attending the CrossLines event felt like I had received an invitation to a family reunion that I didn’t know I was a part of.
On Memorial Day weekend, the Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Center debuted “CrossLines: A Culture Lab on Intersectionality” at the historic Smithsonian Arts & Industries Building in Washington, D.C. This creative convening of art installations, performances, and dialogues explored the theme of intersectionality through artistic, cultural and history encounters across race, class, gender, sexuality and more. I had the privilege of attending this event representing the Sons & Brothers Campaign as a Fellow supporting the installation of our “People’s Portrait Gallery.” The Sons & Brothers portrait series aims to honor our local (s)heroes that have fought and continue to fight the injustices faced by communities of color, especially young people working to create a more vibrant future with health and justice for all.
What I didn’t know, is that in attending this event I would also be connecting to my culture in a way that I had never done before.
I am the daughter of a Persian man that immigrated to the U.S. in his early 20’s alone and a Black woman that immigrated from the Jim Crow south to Oakland, CA at the age of 9 with her 8 siblings and mother. One of my parents was born in a country that treated her like a 2nd (maybe even 3rd or 4th) class citizen and the other came to a country that, still to this day, hardly acknowledges his homeland’s rich history and beautiful culture.
When my father first came here as a student, there were not many Persians in America. He came just before the revolution, which would later force many Persians to flee their country to safety and freedom to build a new community here in the States. But before that happened, my dad was here alone, without any family or people that looked like family. He would eventually meet my mom and dive deep into our Black family culture. I hear stories about my dad attempting to play basketball with my uncles on the courts in West Oakland. But, I’ve never seen such a sight. My parents divorced when I was four and my dad got remarried to a Persian woman pretty soon after.
I was mostly raised by my mother, her mother and all of our extended family. Growing up in Oakland where the history of Black power and pride is strong, I’ve always had a deep connection to my identity as a Black person. Even when choosing where and what to study in college my Black identity played a big role. Would I study Psychology at a HBCU (Historically Black College/University) or study Black Psychology within the first Black Studies department that ever existed at San Francisco State University? I, chose the latter.
Needless to say, I was very Black and proud.
For many reasons, I did not see my dad a lot growing up. I never learned and can’t even remember being spoken to in Farsi. I didn’t identify with my Persian heritage whatsoever. The only thing Persian about me was my name and even then I ignored that as much as possible. It was not until my older sister began to attend UC Berkeley majoring in Middle East Studies did we learn of our culture’s rich history and traditions. I celebrated my first Nowruz (Persian New Year) at the age of 21 and soon we began reaching out to our dad more. For the last few years, my relationship with my dad has grown stronger, but still, my connection to my larger Persian/SWANA (South West Asian North African) Community has been lacking. This began to shift over the weekend at the CrossLines event.
At CrossLines, I saw my identity as a Black & Persian/SWANA woman not only be acknowledged but included and celebrated. I witnessed the telling of true stories of immigration, pain, love, resilience, and joy through every piece. One installation that stood out to me the most was one of Tracy Keza entitled, “Hijabs & Hoodies” which was a photo installation, but also an interactive studio that explored the stereotypes of Black and Muslim people in America. Keza, invited self-identifying Muslim women in Hijab and Black men in hoodies to sit for a photo or video portrait and asked the public to participate and contribute to an ongoing dialogue about race, violence, and racial-profiling. This collection gave me space to really dive into my own identity and community. I saw connections that exist within me and divisions I am responsible to address. The CrossLines event created a space for our voices to be collectively heard beyond our communities.
The Sons & Brothers Fellowship has provided me with many innovative opportunities; my professional development & capacity within the field of digital media has expanded but also my self-awareness has a renewed place on my priority list. As Father’s Day approaches I am reminded to celebrate and share my new experiences with my dad as we continue to build our relationship up.