Column: The Yalda Theory


By Yalda Khodadad, Print Managing Editor

I walk a fine line in between being “White” or “Middle Eastern.” My AP tests tell me that they’re the same thing—two ethnicities with different histories under the same checkbox that urges me to say, “White, including Middle Eastern origin.”

Let me clarify. I have light brown hair, pale skin and I speak perfect English. I was born in Stanford hospital, and I lived here my whole life. The last time I went to my home country, I was three. My Farsi sounds like stumbling over thick vowels like the “kh” in my last name. It’s Khodadad, by the way. I don’t know if I’m allowed to refer to myself as a person of color because I don’t think I am one.

But when I embrace this narrative, I feel neglectful. I’m a first generation citizen of a country starkly different to my family’s. My house smells like rosewater and saffron and my grandma only refers to me as “jigool.” My full name, Yalda Mostashiri Khodadad, represents a facet of my being that I don’t think I properly represent.

I think it’s always been easier for my sister. Sometimes I wonder if when my parents had her, they used up all of the Persian genes on her black hair and winged eyebrows, deep skin and thick eyelashes. When my time came, all they were left with was white. She doesn’t have to question if she fits into her name, Keana fully represents her.

In the same vein, this hypothetical Yalda has olive skin. Yalda has thick black hair that curls effortlessly. Yalda can speak Farsi without an accent. Yalda doesn’t question whether or not she has the right to check “Other” and write in “Iranian-American.” I am not Yalda.

But even then, I can’t deny that being “White, including Middle Eastern origin” doesn’t irk me. In the name of fair play, wouldn’t it be beneficial for census gatherers to give the Middle East and North Africa its own category? A lot of these questions I am asking right now would be solved. I wouldn’t have to ask myself which side of that comma I am on.

Until then though, I will question. I’ll hover in between uncertainty and complacency. I’ll go to SoulCycle and then eat ghorme sabze for lunch. I’ll voice my scathing opinion towards the Islamic Republic in history class and then root for Iran in the World Cup. And through it all, I’ll exist in a theory of Yalda. What I think she’d be like, who she’d be like, if she was me.