WHAT YOU KNOW
by Laila Iravani
Khabar Keslan is proud to present “What You Know,” a documentary series by Laila Iravani born out of a desire for visibility in the Iranian American community, specifically among American children of Iranian immigrants.
I was born and raised in Long Island, New York, during the era of the “War on Terror.” Growing up, I felt the need to denounce my Iranian heritage to legitimize my American nationality. And yet as the child of immigrants, not an immigrant myself, I was always puzzled as to why I felt so othered. Why did I feel so foreign in my own home? Why defend my American-ness when I was born in the same hospital as some of my friends? What made me any less of an American than they?
The events of September 11th sparked an endless cycle of stories in the media keeping fear and confusion about Middle Easterners alive. There was, and still is, a severe lack of visibility for the Iranian-American community in the United States—but the travel ban (i.e., “Muslim Ban”) of 2017 was a breaking point. I wanted to do something that would rewrite our narrative in American media and start to put the power of storytelling in our own hands. As an educator, my mom always drove home the value of knowledge as the key to understanding others and letting them better understand you.
It inspired me to design a shirt that says “What You Know” in Farsi across the chest––reclaiming the feared and misunderstood written language of my motherland. I still felt the project was missing its voice, so I expanded the concept into a series of video interviews that I conceived, directed, shot, and edited. The interviewees and I discussed things like our parents’ assimilation, the ignorance of many of our friends and neighbors, and what they see for all of us moving forward.
The beauty of “What You Know” is that it brings forward not just what united us as the children of Iranian immigrants, but also what makes us different. It was eye-opening to hear that some of my Iranian-American peers didn’t struggle with feeling othered in their youth because they grew up in more accepting majority black and brown communities. On the other hand, some of them experienced much harsher forms of discrimination because of the social climate they were born into, like the Iran hostage crisis.
Over the course of shooting and putting the series together, I joked a lot about it being an “Iranian FUBU” project (as in “For Us By Us”). It’s a chance for Iranian-Americans to be heard, and for others to listen. I hope that “What You Know” will continue the legacy of education, and breed understanding from that knowledge.
The name RUOKAY was born my junior year of college around 2013. It was at a time when my friends and I would go full throttle on weekends and pull it together during the week in a way that made us ask “Are you okay?” It’s kind of like that person who insists they’re doing great but they’re totally falling apart inside. Smiling to keep from crying! RUOKAY is poking fun at pretending to be okay when you’re not.
Leila Nations is a Dallas born Iranian American woman living in Brooklyn. She works as a hairdresser in Williamsburg and also spends time traveling the country educating other stylists and buildings a network of artists. She is a 31-year-old Gemini with a passion for recreating her families recipes that have been passed down generationally. She loves kiwi lavashak and potato tahdig.
Arya Shahi is an actor, writer, musician, and theatre producer. He is a co-founder of PigPen Theatre Co., an award-winning folk band and theater company, as well as @inboxart, an Instagram collaboration which explores the connection between poetry and visual art. He holds a BFA in Drama from Carnegie Mellon University.
Born in 1979 in the United States to Iranian parents during the Iranian Revolution, Taravat currently lives in San Francisco and is tenure-track as the Department Chair of Painting at the San Francisco Art Institute. Paying close attention to the cultural taboos identified by distinctly different social groups, particularly those of gender, race and socioeconomic position, her work reflects the cross-pollination, or lack thereof, in our “modern” society.
Shevah Vahdatpour is a multimedia artist from Florida who currently resides in Los Angeles. Her art primarily focuses on identity and isolation, using her personal experiences in an ambiguously relatable manner.
Aria Safar joined Mayor Eric Garcetti’s Office of Economic Development in April 2018. He currently serves as the Economic Policy Manager for the technology industry. Aria received his Bachelor's from UCLA, his Masters from the London School of Economics, and his JD from UC Berkeley.
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.