Time and time again I am reminded of a very simple concept I learned from a professor at UC Santa Cruz (go slugs, y’all). It goes like this: Social support is one of the biggest predictors of mental and physical wellness.
This may not be news to some of you, but more than twice upon a time clients seek out therapy because they are lacking a foundational sense of belonging. This may be because they aren’t “______ enough.”
You know what I mean, right? Have you ever been told that you aren’t “______ enough?” Not black enough, not really Persian, or maybe you’ve gotten some form of “There’s no way you’re Korean because you’re horrible at math!”?
Individuals in such positions may actually have internalized racism and brushed off the comment with some ambiguous pride. I recall a young Lill being happy that she wasn’t considered really Persian because, at the time I associated that with certain stereotypes that were far different from dominant cultural norms (including wearing Ed Hardy in the early 2000’s...good riddance, Ed). And I’m not sure if you realize this but as a youth, fitting in with your friends is as important developmentally as your parents were to you when you were a wee lil bebe.
All of that to say, if you are someone who identifies as biracial, mixed, or feel like somewhat of an “other” among your community because you don’t subscribe to certain cultural stereotypes...well, you’re not alone. Furthermore, potential distress rooted in this place is completely justified. Community can feel like home. Like a breath of fresh air. The ultimate safe space.
It may be known that you won’t feel this tranquility amongst all family; Let’s face it, challenge keeps us on our toes and some of our family members may be the only ones to give us the honest truth, “out of love,” they say. However, I believe the need for a validating environment is essential for our mental health.
Here’s another therapist gem for you: consistently invalidating spaces can exacerbate our sensitivities. A validating community to someone that has grown up without unconditional love can feel like a much needed vacation liKE WHERE WERE YOU 12 YEARS AGO WHEN I NEEDED U HOMIE?
For these reasons and more, my friend Nora and I decided to take things into our own hands and host a doreh. Now, I don’t blame you for not knowing what that word means even if you are Farsi-speaking because I had no clue until Nora schooled me: A doreh is a series of regular gatherings among friends. We were excited to create an event with like-minded individuals which also felt in line with our cultural upbringing.
Let me make something clear, as a 27 year old and unwed Persian young woman like myself, without wee lil bebes of my own, I’ve never had an inclination to host anything “Persian,” in nature. So the morning of the doreh, I was off to the Persian market for noon-e sangak, mohst-e moussir, shirini (including keshmeshi, nokhodhchi, zolubia, and bamiaeh), and bastani. After feeling a sense of connectedness through schmoozing with the storekeepers in Farsi, getting free shirini by virtue of schmoozing in Farsi, and getting home to put everything together, I felt a sense of pride that I had never quite felt before. By co-hosting this doreh with very loving and like-minded individuals, I was embracing pieces of my identity that felt somewhat dormant. It was an active way of expressing myself differently and authentically. I can’t think of another time in which I’ve set a playlist full of songs in Farsi at my own home, simply because it’s never happened.
We spoke on many topics (I can’t spill all the juice, ok?) including what the various intersections of our identities mean to us and how they impact the way in which we are perceived in the world. With the help of our guests and that nostalgic “oooh I love this song,” sentiment that would interrupt us on occasion, the doreh inspired a “home away from home,” sort of comfort. There was an air of validation over certain microaggressions that we all regularly experience.
Don’t get me wrong, I love my community and I’m blessed to have it. Even still, my light is a different sort of bright when I don’t feel barraged by comments urging me to get married to a Jewish-Iranian doctor, get my eyebrows done yesterday, and put on some lipstick all at the same time.
In all, I think it’s an invaluable piece of our growth to have a safe space among people we can just *be* with.