The human need for validity, recognition, and belonging is universal. Zahra Sultani describes the feeling of having one’s identity ‘divided’ as a result of moving across cultures and boundaries, as she shares her journey from being an Afghan refugee in Iran, eventually settling in North America. This story was recorded in partnership with MALA and StoryCorps.
“My name is Zahra Sultani I was born in Tehran. My parents moved to Iran from Kabul, Afghanistan to escape the war and everything else that came with war. I was born and raised in Tehran. I never really felt like I was part of that society. Maybe mainly because there were those different kinds of discrimination against Afghans in Iran. So I, from a very young age, I knew that I’m different and that people don’t like me here. I always wondered why does it matter that I’m different. I looked the same as my classmates.My identity as like a refugee immigrant from a very young age, just first grade, I was six or seven years old. I was 15 when we moved out of Iran.
But then moving to Canada, it got even more complicated. Because then, you know, you move from one place that you didn’t really feel like you belonged to that place, yet, you know, when you’re moved on, when you’ve moved to a place, you start realizing how much that was part of you. So in Canada then, that whole division of identity, that identity crisis, some people might call it, I was divided into three, in a way.
It’s like I have my parents, my motherland, Afghanistan and there is the place that I was raised in Iran and I some good friends there and I wrote poetry in Farsi. I was involved in some cultural groups. I went to festivals. I tried to be involved with that society and now, leaving all that behind and coming to Canada where you have to sort of start from scratch: learn a new language, build new relationships, make new friends and sometimes in order to do that, I had to try and forget about the things that I left behind. Because at one point, I realized that I’m doing a lot of comparison, a lot of thinking about the two backgrounds and what the life was like there and the life here. Sometimes I think about that, you know, going back to that identity, I ask myself is it because I’m Afghan and they’re Afghan and I want to help out? Is it because I’m Muslim and they’re Muslim and I want to help out? And I came to realize that it’s not about being Afghan; it’s not about being from that culture. I just see a lot of those kids that were in the same place as I was. Maybe a lot of other kids around the world that might be in same position I was when I was a kid. And I just want to give back.”