About a year ago, I was taking a best friends quiz with my friends where you had to answer questions about your friends and see how much you know about them. On my quiz, I asked the question “Where am I from?”, which I thought would be very obvious. I’m from Iran, and I assumed my friends would know that. Actually, none of my friends got the question right. It was incredibly eye-opening and honestly, a bit hurftul. I thought, How can these people be my friends and not know the country I am from? I’ll tell you why: I never talk about it.
Why don’t I talk about where I’m from? Because I feel like people don’t care, or that they won’t want to hear it. It’s because I grew up in a predominantly white, Christian-based state: Utah. Growing up ethnic in Utah is a whole ‘nother beast. Utah is its own little bubble that is very obviously lacking in diversity. This lack of diversity was very chilling to me. There aren’t a lot of ethnic people here, so Utahns aren’t very used to diversity.
I know this because when I lived in D.C. for a semester, I was incredibly shocked at how diverse people were. I never thought that there were that many different types of people in the world until I moved away for a while. This is important to understanding why people in Utah aren’t as sensitive to issues regarding people from different countries. Since I grew up with mostly white people, all of my friends were white people. It’s something I never thought twice about until very recently. I thought that I was always on the same level as my friends, that my experiences and interactions with others were the same. It didn’t click until one day I looked at my friends and realized that I was their token diverse person. I’m sure they never intended for that to happen, but to the outside world, that is what I look like. They’re all white and fit very well into the image of the average Utahn. I don’t. So what does this mean? What makes me different from my friends?
I may have been the only diverse person in my friend group, but honestly, I never acted like it. I didn’t take it upon myself as the only ethnic person to open the eyes of my friends to the world around us. I didn’t feel like it was my responsibility to teach them about things that they should be looking up themselves. I never talked about my culture, and my friends never asked. I didn’t even think twice about it. I assumed they wouldn’t care, or wouldn’t understand. I didn’t know how wrong that way of thinking was. There was so much about me and my experiences that my friends didn’t know. Take dating for an example. Dating for me is very different than what it would be for my friends. They are all conventionally pretty and fit the Utah standard of white and “normal”. I on the other hand have olive skin, black hair, and very prominent Iranian features. This isn’t what a lot of Utahns are used to, so that affected whether or not guys would be into me or my friends. This isn’t something that my friends ever had to think about, but it’s something I have to think about every day.
Growing up as the only diverse person in a friend group became sort of isolating at times. I would be the only one celebrating certain holidays, and I would be the only one experiencing certain things. Every Iranian New Years I was hurt because none of my friends would wish me a Happy New Years. Shouldn’t they know that this was something that was really important to my culture? No, they didn’t, because I never told them. I never told them about Iranian traditions or holidays or history. Every time I would travel to Iran, I would give them few snippets about my travels, but nothing more. They never knew more than I told them. Sure, they could have been a bit more proactive and asked a few more questions about it, but I am not without fault. I never invited my friends to Persian gatherings, or holidays, or even really just sat down and had a conversation about my culture with them. If they learned anything about Iran from me, it was very little.
My friends have an experience with one culture. They grew up in America, and that is what they know. They don’t know what life is like in Egypt or Taiwan. I on the other hand, was forced to experience two very different cultures: Iranian, and American. I grew up completely entertwined in both cultures, whereas if I was just from America, I would never have had the insight to learn about Iranian culture. I think this is very important because a lot of people have that mindset. Sure, they can research different cultures if they feel like it, but they are never forced. I had to be faced with living in two different cultures, and it was something I faced every single day. For me it wasn’t an option. My friends can do a report on a country, but they may never stop and think about what their life would be like if they lived somewhere else. I think that is something that needs to start happening, because focusing on your own little bubble is so isolating. It was something I certainly could be better about with my friends as well. I could teach them more about Iranian culture, and make them share this huge part of me. If you are going to be my friend, you need to understand where I am coming from.
So what should you do if you’re the only diverse person in your friend group? Should you be constantly thinking about that and how you need to be teaching your friends? No. You should be yourself, but you should know that your friends do not automatically understand your experiences. Even if you think that they don’t care, make them care. This is who you are, and your friends lives will be better off by experiencing something new. This is your life that you have to live every single day, so why not give other people a taste?
Many people don’t want to face things that don’t have to do with them. I struggle with this, too. I am from two different places, but how often do I go and research different cultures just to learn about them? Not often. I learn about different people and cultures by interacting with people from those places. Meeting different types of people than what you are used to is how you grow. The world is huge and has so many different beautiful cultures. Staying in your comfort zone is just no place to live. So if you are a white person, and you’re friends with someone diverse, try and put yourself into their shoes. Ask them about their experiences, I promise you they will be more than happy to share that with you. Don’t wait for your diverse friends to share their culture with you, it makes them feel like you don’t care. Insert yourself into it. Care about it, and most importantly, always remember that your reality isn’t always someone else’s reality.