WHAT YOU KNOW: Interview with Shevah Vahdatpour

by Laila Iravani, RUOKAY.com

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

So my name is Shevah. I'm from Florida... [Laughs] Let me start over.


My name is Shevah. My parent's names are Mansour and Roberta. Originally from Florida. My dad came to the U.S. when he was 17. Where I grew up in Florida, I didn't really know any other Iranian kids. My grandma would come once every couple of years for a few months at a time and I would try to learn as much as I could. It was always kind of like me reaching out to something, you know? 

My mom tried as hard as she could to make sure that I knew where my dad was from because my mom was born and raised in Florida, blonde, and super American. After 9/11, I used to do gymnastics, and during my competition my mom made me change—I go by my middle name—she made me change it to my first name, which is a super white name and she did it because she didn't want anybody to judge my gymnastics skills in a certain way. I do think that it did affect me when... It would make me mad when I would notice people were being rude towards my dad—because that did happen a lot. 

You know, when I was growing up and people would say stupid stuff, I did my Well Actually thing and stuff like that. It was because I just wanted people to know. And if I could at least educate one person on something, while they're unthreatened by me and my paleness, then at least I changed one person's mind, or at least I'll tell one person something.

I always tell people I'm Persian first, because when people ask me "Where are you from?" they're not expecting me to be like, "I'm from Florida," you know what I mean, even though that's what I say. Then I'll be like, "My dad's Iranian," and they're like, "Ohh, ok." [Laughs]

Most situations I try to realize that I'm just my own person. And that's been a struggle for me, always. You know, as a teenager, that's what you do—you try to find your identity. I wish that I would have realized at the time that I didn't have to do that, but that's just a part of life. 

Being Iranian in America, I feel like a lot of people don't necessarily even know that we exist. It's crazy to me that we learn about so many different cultures in your history class, but Persian culture is never mentioned; it was one of the biggest empires ever—but they don't even talk about it! It's kind of hard for people to step in if they don't really understand that there is a problem because they don't see it. That's generalizing: I think that there are plenty of people who do know. I think one of the biggest things is that once you understand a group of people, it's really hard to hate them.

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.