Mona Sabbouri: Respecting Individuality

Mona is an actor, an aspiring lawyer, and an Iranian-American Muslim woman, among other things, but she identifies as human above all else. She speaks to the importance of self-awareness, individuality, and respect for the lifestyles of others. Mona’s story is a reminder that, while our identities may change and intersect, self-confidence and compassion should always be the first priority. This story was recorded in partnership with StoryCorps NY and MALA.

“I grew up in Forest Hills, Queens. It was a nice, you know, environment to grow up in; it wasn’t so jam-packed up with people like in the city, like in Manhattan, but it wasn’t like super suburban. It’s interesting because a lot of people define who they are through their career, “well, I’m an actor,” or through their work, “well, I’m a lawyer,” or through their activism, “well I’m an activist”– it’s like they always describe who they are career-wise first rather that who they are as a human. Who am I? I mean, I like the color purple, believe it or not, I like the “hipster” style (laughs), I like bargain shopping, and I like lying in the sun and just baking (laughs). Those are the things I like. Yes, I’m an actor. Yes, I’m studying for the LSATs to be a lawyer, because in Middle Eastern families you’re a doctor, a lawyer, an engineer, or a disgrace to your family–and I don’t want to be the disgrace, you know? I’m a New Yorker, I’m an American, I’m an Iranian, but I’m also a human.


All the people in my life have made me who I am today. From my acting teacher, who has taught me to really be self-aware; the reason why I’m so self-aware is because of all the sense-memory exercises, of all of the questions I was asked. In order to play other characters you really have to know yourself as a person, and know the emotional toolbox that you carry that makes you different than another actor. So, I really became self-aware through my acting classes, so that’s really important for me right now as a human. But it was also, you know, my parents that raised me to be a certain way; it was just the fact that I am Iranian-American, the fact that I am Muslim. Religious leaders that have trained my mind to be, you know, compassionate, and merciful, and loving to everybody.


I think it’s important to know who you are as a person, because a lot of people go through life without knowing who they are. Especially if you’re in your twenties, you are going through life and you don’t know if, you know, I like this thing because my parents told me to like it or if it’s because I like it myself, or “why am I doing the thing that I’m doing?” Like, what do you like as a person? You know? This type of self-awareness is kind of like a luxury, because you’re so put into a place where you have to focus on other things like studying or work, where you just don’t self-reflect. So I think [self awareness] is healthy, and I think it’s needed. You cannot spew hatred onto others, and you cannot make people live the way that you want to live. I think that a lot of wars and genocides have rooted from the cause of, “Well this person is not like me, therefore they must be destroyed.” You cannot, as a human, make other humans think the way that you do, and that’s important to know.”

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