WHAT YOU KNOW: Adib Khorram

by Laila Iravani, RUOKAY.com

Khabar Keslan presents the fourth installment of “What You Know,” a documentary series by Laila Iravani that brings you up front and personal with first generation Iranian Americans.


Buy my book, please. Let me read off the ISBN number for you just so you can find it on Amazon. Also, leave a review on Amazon and GoodReads, please. Oh yeah, follow me on Twitter @adibkhorram; stay for the good morning tweets!

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I'm Adib Khorram. My dad's name is Zabi and he was born in Yazd. And my mom's name is Kay and she was born in Platte City, Missouri. And I was born in Kansas City, Missouri... Born and raised!

I certainly was made to feel 'othered' pretty early on as soon as I started hanging around with other kids. I think I was probably around 4 years old and still, in pre-school/daycare, one of the kids coined the nickname, "Adweeb" for me, which was terribly unoriginal but easy enough for a child to say, so it became very popular. So, I certainly felt 'othered' real quick.

Aside from my older sister Afsoneh, I was kind of the only Iranian kids we knew really well, certainly at our school. Our dad knew some other Iranians around, and we'd go to their houses, and it'd be really awkward because everyone would talk in Farsi and me and my sister didn't speak it, and our mom didn't speak it, and some of the other kids didn't really speak it—like, it was my least favorite thing to do growing up was to go be around other Iranians.

My mother definitely tried to make sure that Afsoneh and I connected with our Iranian heritage as much as we could, and as much as time allowed, and as much as our dad allowed. At the same time, she was always aware that she wasn't really part of that culture, and that she never felt very included. And she knew, from trying, that we didn't truly feel included because we didn't speak the language.

My dad was one of five. He moved to the United States to go to college, and then the revolution happened, and then his sister and her family moved to Vancouver, and then his older brother and youngest brother also ended up fleeing to Canada. And so whenever I'd see them, we'd go visit them every summer, it was very interesting to see this close, tight family dynamic that they had. Not only where they're all speaking Farsi, which Afsoneh and I still didn't speak, but also they all lived together, they were Canadian, they were around each other all the time, they would see each other every weekend, and I saw them once a year. And we would come into their orbit for a while and head back out... And it was, I don't know, it was hard... It was lovely, I loved seeing them, loved being around them, but I always felt apart from them in a lot of ways.

I would say I didn't really feel ostracized from the culture so much as I felt sort of passively ostracized by the other Iranians I was around. And not having language made me have to find other ways into the culture, which thankfully we also have a lot of food, and I love food, so for a long time growing up, my complete understanding of Iranian culture was going to Celo Kabaab restaurants, and that was it.

Growing up, I definitely downplayed my Iranian identity, and probably all through high-school. 9/11 happened, and it was a weird, rough time to be Middle Eastern, Iranian... But when I was in college, we found this little Iranian restaurant in downtown St. Louis, and there was actually an Iranian grocery store down the street, and we'd start getting treats—and these were all white kids. They liked the treats, they enjoyed hanging out with me, and they were actually kind of curious at times about being Iranian and that made me get in touch with it a little more. And, I don't know, it suddenly felt a little more like interesting about me that I could share with people instead of something to just not bother mentioning. And then certainly writing a book about Iran made me get in touch with things more. And I think I'm probably going to grow up as an old Iranian grandfather with a garden—which is terrible because I have a black thumb and kill every plant I've ever touched.

Laila Iravani: So, old Iranian grandfather with dead plants…?

[Laughs] With a dead garden—it'll be all plastic plants is what's going to happen! That's my plan.


ADIB KHORRAM is the author of DARIUS THE GREAT IS NOT OKAY. If he's not writing (or at his day job as a graphic designer), you can probably find him trying to get his 100-yard Freestyle under a minute, learning to do a Lutz Jump, or steeping a cup of oolong. He lives in Kansas City, Missouri, where people don't usually talk about themselves in the third person. You can find him on Twitter (@adibkhorram), Instagram (@adibkhorram), or on the web at adibkhorram.com