Get To Know: Sayran Barzani
My Diaspora Reality
I was born and raised in the United States. For almost the first twenty years of my life I grew up in a culture, my American culture, that barely knew who the Kurds were and where the Kurds were from. I will never forget when I was in the fifth grade, someone asked me where I was from and I said Kurdistan. The person who asked me naturally replied with, “Where is that” and as I began to describe geographically where that was what came out was, “it’s in northern Iraq”. “Oh so you are Iraqi, is Saddam Hussein your uncle” followed by laughter from a kid who didn’t know any better. I remember feeling both angry and almost ashamed because it was the first time I sort of questioned my identity and what my parents had always raised me to be proud of. When I went home that day I remember telling my dad what had happened and I vaguely remember the bulk of the conversation but I do recall how adamant he was in saying, “You are not Iraqi and next time someone says that you tell them proudly I am Kurdish” adding that regardless of what someone might think or not think, would never diminish who we were and where we came from. As a kid in the diaspora, it was a struggle to find what identity made me feel the most “at home” when in retrospect you don’t need to feel at home in any specific physical place. I looked at the kids around me and back in the 90s and early 2000s, we didn’t talk about our backgrounds much amongst our peers so there was no empathy that made us feel like we weren’t alone in our challenges. There also wasn’t the internet or social media in the way that people have it today. You were on your own unless you had siblings who obviously could relate in the same way, but even then, putting into words how you felt about being Kurdish AND American was a conversation that never happened in my youth, even with my siblings.
This summer I went back to Kurdistan, not for the first time, I have been there a handful of times in the past decade or so, but this particular experience was completely different from the rest. It was as if my soul finally understood who I was. Growing up, it was hard to be American and Kurdish. I never completely fit in. I’m sure most Middle Eastern girls can relate when I say that I was almost on lockdown throughout most of my childhood and teen years. Hanging out with friends, sleepovers, class trips, going to the mall without mom, those things were either impossible or a full-blown argument. As a kid, you naturally felt left out and thought how unfair it was. Looking back, I’m grateful for the way I was raised but it definitely was difficult and it made me question my identity, especially as a teenager who was trying to pave her way in the world. Internally I debated with myself, “Why was I born Kurdish”. This summer was almost like a coming of age where all the pieces finally clicked and it all made sense in a way it never has before and not for anything in the world would I ever change or alter my identity as a Kurd.
The last few months, especially weeks have been a crazy time in Kurdish history! We recently voted in a democratic referendum for independence from Iraq. Surreal to say the least because of the blood lost for the moment we are standing in front of today… and despite the reactions of those around us, this has been and continues to be an extraordinary moment for all Kurds, one that was not easy to get to.
Right now, I live in Los Angeles and am a self-made jewelry designer. I design and hand make custom pieces that are a mix between being American and being Kurdish. My first collection was heavily inspired by the legend of the evil eye. The symbolism behind the eye has been something I’ve been familiar with since I can remember, growing up with an eye of protection in almost every room of our family home. To me, the eye is a form of protection from what your own two eyes may not see on their own; and above all else, the eye is a positive reminder to trust yourself, to always have faith in your intuition and to let your higher self-guide you towards your destiny. I’m the kind of person who believes that everything intertwines and nothing in life is merely a coincidence. I’m grateful more than ever for being able to be both Kurdish and American. Culture is one of the most beautiful things we have and so much more beautiful when it collides with a different one. It is the potential for something completely brand new to bloom and way for the world to continue to evolve. So on that note, peace, love, and light to all.