The story behind the immigration of an Iranian Arab singer By M. Raza
Originally from the southwestern regions of Iran, Mina Deris is a talented and acclaimed artist, famous in Europe and the U.S. as well but this creates problems in Iran. She fondly paints a portrait of her homeland as a “kingdom of four seasons”, adorned with an astonishing tapestry of cultures and languages, a place of profound beauty. Her hometown, located near the desert landscapes of Yazd and Kerman, has an enchanting charm, especially under the night canopy of stars, which, looking at it, one cannot help but feel like an integral part of the boundless universe. In this land of the “One Thousand and One Nights”, the southern coasts reveal a unique spectacle, boasting no less than 70 different shades of sand along its beaches: an unparalleled phenomenon that fascinates many. This could be one of the reasons why many Arabs love the pink sand of Sardinia.
Yet, within the north of Iran lie lush forests and highlands, underscoring the extraordinary nature of a nation steeped in ancient, illustrious civilization. A heritage that rivals even that of ancient Rome. And it is still a place where many different ethnic groups such as Turks, Kurds, Arabs, Lurs , Baloch, Gilak and others coexist peacefully side by side. Mina is an extremely gifted artist with performing, singing and dancing skills. After taking part in the Female Voices of Iran Festival competition in Berlin in 2018, her path took a decisive turn. This participation created difficulties in her territory but subsequently she had the possibility to move to the United States, where she currently lives and works. Her stories as an Iranian Arab singer have inevitably been shaped by an uneasy web of social, political and cultural pressures and occasions. These include the strain of lifestyle, religious beliefs, and ingrained patriarchal attitudes that have overwhelmed women’s desires for more than forty years, just taking a look at the issues experienced by female singers. At the same time, her Arab identification within Iran has subjected her to injustices and discrimination stemming from historic border tensions and the grueling Iran-Iraq struggle that lasted eight to twelve months. Her mother was pregnant with her when she was forced to flee from Abadan, Khuzestan rovince, in southwest of Iran, to the capital: Tehran, along with her entire family and other locals.. Despite their state’s wealth, stemming from oil reserves and a strategically vital geopolitical function, multitudes of Iranians continue to wrestle with conflict to gain admission to even the most basic requirements of life.
Mina has worked hard as an artist to convert her life experiences into a concrete focal point for a deeper understanding of the struggles faced by women in her native country. Her creative style combines songwriting, overall dramatic performance, and storytelling to offer an immediate mode of expression. You probably have read about her in the article we published last summer regarding Voices Unveiled, a composition written and composed by Ehsan Matoori, a work that extends the voice of Iranian women and girls globally, transcending the limits of time , area and even mortality. Voices Unveiled is an impressive work that tells stories and details that, tragically, still happen today in Persian land. When Mina arrived in the United States she immediately began to pursue other creative tasks and collaborate with various musicians. In 2022, she joined forces with Witness Matlou, a jazz pianist, and Payam Yousef, a kamancheh player, delivering a stunning jazz performance sponsored by Boston College. In her musical approach authenticity reigns supreme. She strongly believes that music, as a conventional language, knows no bounds having the splendid ability to convey human feelings on a worldwide scale. It is no doubt disheartening to witness this world filled with tragedy, especially in the tumultuous times when complicated politics make life unbearable in many corners of the globe. Although Mina now calls Los Angeles home, her heart crosses the vast ocean day after day, trying to raise the voice of these unsustainable and enduring lifestyles in Iran – a poignant reminder that there are people who, no longer just girls, remain voiceless, unable to speak or influence change in difficult situations.
Can you briefly tell your story behind your immigration in United States of America?
M.D.: “For years, music and singing have been a part of my life’s tapestry, and throughout all these years, I was denied the opportunity to perform independently as a singer on stage. In reality, women are only allowed to be on stage if accompanied by a male voice, even if the male singer’s abilities are lesser. Moreover, there were instances when my microphone was abruptly silenced during performances. In recent years, due to presenting my solo vocals at festivals outside of Iran, I have been permanently labeled as a forbidden singer in my own country. Recognizing my commitment to continue my artistic journey, after enduring societal pressures and suppression for twenty years, I made the decision to leave Iran”
What were your expectations when you first moved in U.S.A?
M.D.: “Upon initially arriving in America, I was delighted by the social freedom I observed. After a period of time, I came to understand that if one has dreams and puts in effort, they will undoubtedly achieve positive outcomes in America. This is exactly what I had expected from the country to which I immigrated.”
Is there a precise reason why you choose to come to U.S.A. instead of moving somewhere else?
M.D.: “I hold a strong belief in fate, and I’m of the opinion that everything that unfolds in our lives is aimed at leading us toward our desires. Originally, I possessed a Canadian visa and had intentions to migrate to Canada. However, it happened quite coincidentally that my dear friend Maliheh Moradi, who is also an immensely talented singer, informed me of her plans to immigrate to the United States. This notion piqued my interest, and with greater determination, I carried out the immigration procedures. Both of us arrived in the United States for our respective performances, and we made the decision to remain here, continuing our artistic journey.”
What are the difficulties women usually are forced to face in Iran?
M.D.: “For more than 40 years, the Islamic Republic regime has been governing Iran with a dictatorial approach, implementing strict laws for women, such as mandatory hijab and restricting women artists, singers, and dancers from artistic activities. Women lack equal rights compared to men. For example, the “diyah” (blood money) for a woman is half of what it is for a man, and women don’t have the right to divorce without their husband’s consent. Basic rights for LGBTQ+ individuals are also not respected in society. Another issue is the lack of attention and support for non-Persian ethnic groups within Iran. Unfortunately, there’s significant inequality in providing services and facilities in border cities. For instance, in Kurdistan, people resort to “kolbari” (informal cross-border trading) to make a living. In Ahvaz and Arab-populated regions, the situation is dire as well, with over 4 million palm trees drying out due to severe drought, mainly caused by unscientific dam construction to exploit oil resources easily. Even though these regions hold valuable resources like oil and gas, the Arab villages in southern Iran suffer in extreme temperatures exceeding 50 degrees Celsius, lacking access to clean drinking water and even basic healthcare and education facilities. Baloch regions, too, despite having valuable natural resources, experience poverty and a lack of opportunities. Many children are deprived of education and essential rights due to the absence of birth certificates. Add to these issues the immense economic pressure, rampant inflation, and very low wages in Iran. For instance, an educated employee might earn less than $200 per month, despite the high cost of goods due to inflation, making the country’s income disparity concerning. These issues represent only a fraction of the immense suffering endured by the honorable people of Iran. The most bitter aspect is the deprivation of joy, as for over 40 years, any excuse has been used to curtail people’s happiness. An example is cracking down on mixed-gender gatherings and private family events on the pretext that men and women celebrate together. This even robs individuals of their sense of tranquility and independence within their own homes. Of course, there are hundreds of other cases I could discuss in detail for you.”
How about your family?
M.D.: “My greatest opportunity in life has been having a very kind, supportive, and caring family. I am the eldest child in the family. My sister, Leila, is a talented artist; she’s a skilled painter and a precise and tasteful makeup artist. My younger sister, Narges, is a cheerful, positive and committed manager, and my brother, Meisam, is a skillful photographer who has broken through societal limitations in Iran and is incredibly creative. After the Iran-Iraq war, my father returned to southern Iran to rebuild the Abadan refinery. The heavy responsibility of raising me and my siblings fell on my mother’s shoulders. She is an incredibly patient woman, and when I look at her, I see an angel who never had dreams beyond our happiness. She was a skillful tailor, crafting the most beautiful clothes for us and always surprising us. My father always encouraged me on my artistic path, instilling confidence in me and reminding me that no goal is unattainable. I always remember that when I was younger, he would draw for his own heart, and I loved the moments when I would sit beside him and watch the creation unfold. He would always paint scenes of southern Iran that were imprinted in his memory since childhood, with vibrant and lively colors, beautiful palm groves, and flowing rivers. Men and women engaged in work and movement were all present in his paintings. His mother, his aunt, and all were present in the image. I am eternally grateful for having a warm, close-knit, and loving family, and I hope to express my gratitude to them in the future through my positive achievements.”
What do you miss about your hometown?
M.D.: “I find my heart pining for the familiar streets, alleys, forests, deserts, mountains, and plains of my homeland. My longing extends to my friends and even to the spontaneous smiles exchanged with strangers passing by. I yearn for the cherished memories of family journeys, the warmth of grand gatherings, and the lively discussions around tables laden with food. With hope, I await the promise of brighter days for my beloved land.”
Since you landed in U.S. you immediately got to work and started to collaborate in many projects. How about your own music?
M.D.: “I am currently busy with two projects. The first project is called “voices unveiled” which I am working on with my friend Ehsan Matoori, who is a composer, and my friend Maliheh Moradi, who is a singer. Over the past six months, we have had six performances in various states, including New York, Dallas, and California. The second project is an Arabic-language album that I am in the process of preparing, and I hope to present it with good quality.”
What’s your dream?
M.D.: “My dream is that one day, humans will believe that there are enough living resources on this beautiful planet for all of us, and there’s no need for injustice, tyranny, lies, war, exploitation, and enmity towards others. All people of the world can peacefully coexist together. My dream is to live in a world where nature and animals are safe from our harm, and humans treat each other with respect regardless of their beliefs, race, color, or religion. My dream is that no one should be in prison for expressing their beliefs, and no innocent person should be hanged. My dream is for kindness to become a daily habit, and every night when we go to sleep, we can be sure that we haven’t broken anyone’s heart or violated anyone’s rights. My dream is a grand musical celebration where people all around the world dance to the tune of love. This dream, achievable through the unity of kind-hearted humans worldwide, gradually becomes a reality. Like Rumi said : – Say not all are fighting, what use is my lone call for peace? You’re not one, but thousands; light your beacon.- “