A Letter to My Thirteen-Year-Old Self
Shannon Delijani’s 2017 Persian American Women’s Conference Rising Star Award Speech
Stand up straight. Breathe. Everything is going to be ok.
You probably have a lot of questions for me. What are we going to do with our life? What’s our purpose? And let me tell you, your guess is a good as mine. What I can tell you is that right now I’m an opera singer. No, I’m not kidding.
You will give your blood sweat and tears to this artform. You will spend late nights studying history and theory, you’ll immerse yourself in languages, and you will spend countless hours in a practice room banging on a keyboard in frustration. You’re going to work harder than you knew possible, there will be lots of sacrifice and failure, and there will be many days where you’ll want to give up. But you won’t. Because the first time you feel what it’s like to stand on stage under the lights, every ounce of your being from the soles of your feet to the tips of your fingers pouring into a sound that is larger that you or me or anyone else, connecting fully to an audience, it’ll knock you off of your feet. Literally. You’re going to fall on stage a number of times, but you’ll find your way back up again.
I’m not going to lie to you, Shannon, this year isn’t going to be easy. You’re going to have to start answering some difficult questions and grappling with uncomfortable truths. Thirteen will will be the year that someone first tells you that “persian girls aren’t pretty”. The first time someone says “you’re good at math for a girl”, or a close friend tells you they “like you because you’re not like other persian girls”. It’s uncomfortable to read and it’s uncomfortable to relive but ignoring it won’t make it go away because these hateful words often come disguised as flattery and are delivered by friends, not strangers. These are words that every other Iranian-American woman has had to hear.
This may come as a surprise, but you aren’t Iranian. You also aren’t American. You are Iranian-American, which is a category of its own. This means you have the responsibility and privilege of defining what this new culture will be. You’ll pick the best parts of each and blend them together into something entirely new.
One day you’ll try to research Iranian opera singers and you wont come up with much. Don't let that discourage you. You won’t just be singing to be a singer. You’ll be singing so that one day another persian girl will do the same research but instead she’ll find you, because in Iranian-American culture there are opera singers and dancers, and playwrights, and photographers, and any kind of artist you can imagine. You’ll start every program bio that you write, with “Iranian-American mezzo-soprano” because your culture is not a weakness. It’s not something to hide or shy away from. It is what gives you your unique voice. Your culture is not something you can easily explain to others but you see it in your great grandmother’s handwritten poetry, you taste it in you grandmother’s fesenjoon, you feel it in your mother’s arms, and you hear it in your own singing. It is a gift that you might get to bestow upon your own daughter one day.
Remember that no matter where you go and who you become, you will always have your family and your community behind you every step of the way. Your culture is the greatest blessing you have and with every twist and turn that your life takes, it will always be there for you.
Shannon Delijani is a Los Angeles Based, Iranian-American Mezzo-Soprano. For updates on performances you can reach her at:
Facebook: @shannondelijanimezzo Email: email@example.com