Opinion | What it’s like to be ‘white (including Middle Eastern origin)’

Jasmin Sani, managing editor

When I applied to colleges in 2016, I found myself looking forward to sitting down, sifting through various application questions and trying to share my life story in prompts that wouldn’t let me write more than 700 words. But one thing that struck me as odd was the fact that very few universities displayed a Middle Eastern category in their demographic questions.

All I wanted was a little box to check off to say, “Yes, I identify as Middle Eastern.” But instead, I stared blankly at my cursor as it hovered over the “white (including Middle Eastern origin)” option. I hesitantly clicked.

I’m not white. I’m not Caucasian. And I’m certainly not a parenthetical. And yet, throughout much of my life – tracing back to first grade, when I took my first state exam in Texas – I’ve always questioned why I have to be identified as such.

I am proud of my culture and of my heritage. My parents left Iran in 1979 to come to the U.S. as the revolution unfolded, carrying with them decades of our family’s Persian legacy. I will not let my people’s representation die out because the U.S. Census Bureau refuses to make “Middle Eastern” a category in 2020, according to NPR.

Why is my ethnic background hidden behind “white?” Why is my community being left out? Why, when there are millions of Middle Easterners in America, don’t we have our own checkbox?

It’s not asking much to add an extra column. It seems obvious. But this upsetting reality also translates to my experience Chapman.

I am so thankful to be studying at this university, but I can’t help but feel defeated every time I walk pass the Global Citizens Plaza and don’t see the Iranian flag flying high among the other 64 countries represented.

During my freshman year, my current roommates and I realized there was little to no Persian representation on campus, whether that be in the Global Citizens Plaza or in the Cross-Cultural Center. So we took matters into our own hands and created the Iranian Student Cultural Organization (ISCO) at Chapman. We were thrilled to find that more than 100 students are also Persian or are interested in our learning about our culture.

We’ve put on “Chai and Chill” meetings; we’ve planned visits to the beach and Persian restaurants; we’ve hosted mehmoonies (also known as parties) and events like Norouz, which marks the Persian New Year. At each of these gatherings we’re met with joyful, fascinating and inspiring individuals, some of whom are international students from Iran, excited to be involved in a community that accepts and understands who they are.

This is one of the most influential times of our lives. We want to make the most out of it – and we usually do whenever the DJ drops the sweet, sweet sound of Bandari music while we’re on the dance floor. In our cultural organization, we laugh about silly Persian jokes and we have a good time, surrounded by people who understand our ethnic background.

But just having a standard club isn’t enough. We want representation on campus, and with just one look at the flags in the Global Citizens Plaza or a quick visit to the student profile ethnicity breakdown on Chapman’s website, it’s clear to see we don’t have that.