Last summer the Center for Iranian Diaspora Studies and the Iranian Alliances Across Borders partnered on a project to invite young high school students across the United States to submit their first-person essays for the first-annual Iranian Diaspora Youth Essay Contest. We wanted to give voice to the emerging generation of Iranian Americans who, in many cases, are the children of an earlier generation of Iranian immigrants and whose families and lives have been shaped by the larger historical tensions between the Iran and the US. We announced the prize winners in early December, and little would we know how the events of the last month have and will affect future generations of Iranian diaspora youth in both Canada and the US. While we are deeply concerned by the events of the past month, including the escalation of tensions by the two governments, we want to acknowledge, celebrate, and publish the work of the three prize-winning essays. We invite you to read about these young people, and read their work, here on our blog, “With a Trace.”
3rd Place Winner – Donya Hosseini
Hello My Name Is
D-o-n-y-a. 3 consonants. 2 vowels. 2 syllables. Although only 5 letters, there have been one million ways it has been pronounced. Danya, Dooonyia, Daninya, to name a few.
As a first-generation Iranian-American, the daughter of two people that immigrated to the U.S. from Iran in hopes of their children having a better life, there was always a cultural barrier growing up. Even though I was born here, adapting to American traditions was quite difficult. I found myself surrounded primarily with Americans, and trying to mimic them and their traditions. From insisting that we buy a Christmas tree in the house during the holiday season to begging my mom to sign me up for Saturday morning ballet instead of Persian school, I did what I could to assimilate.
Since the start of grade school, my very Iranian name was never pronounced correctly. As a child, I always let my teachers and peers butcher my name without ever correcting them. If they can’t pronounce it, then why try? Eventually I found myself pronouncing my own name incorrectly for the sake of simplicity.
One Saturday after forcibly coming home from Persian school with my sister, I approached the door of my house. As I got closer, I heard a catchy beat and saw shadows of my parents dancing. I opened the door to a burst of sound. Naturally, my parents were jamming to the latest hit from Radio Javan. It was a Persian song with my name in the chorus. “Donya digeh mesle to nadare,” my parents repeated. As a fluent Persian speaker, I knew this song translated to, “the world doesn’t have anyone else like you.”
My name translates to “world” in Persian, and as a child I was embarrassed by it. As I grew older, however, I understood the importance of embracing and not being afraid of my heritage, and I realized that even though the act of pronouncing someone’s name correctly may seem trivial, it is a window into their unique background and story, something that should not be taken lightly. Not only has my name become an essential aspect of my being, my identity quite literally would not be complete without it. It was then that I realized that I should celebrate my name and unique background, and that maybe, it’s not such a bad thing that there really isn’t anyone else in the world like me.
I eventually found myself beginning to take part in more activities involving other Iranian-Americans like me. From joining the Persian Dance Troupe at my Persian school, to attending a week long summer camp with many of my friends from Persian school, I couldn’t get enough. I was surrounded by people with similar traditions, struggles, and backgrounds, a new concept for me. I now find myself today fully embracing both my identities; I now find myself fully embracing both my Donyas.
Donya Hosseini is currently a senior at Walter Johnson High School in Bethesda, Maryland. She feels lucky to have been surrounded by many Iranian-Americans growing up, and has attended Persian school since a young age. Outside of school, she is an avid volleyball player, and played on a travel team for 6 years and is the captain of her school’s varsity team. She has also been a member of the Persian Dance Troupe for over ten years. She is proud to be Iranian-American, and looks forward to attending Camp Ayandeh for the first time next year!