How Marjan Naderi Tells the Stories of Muslim Americans Through Slam Poetry | NowThis


– Growing up, I’ve never seen
a Muslim speaking on stage, or a hijabi, or even like, Afghan women. Don’t you know they don’t put
people like me on the news? Don’t you know people
like me can’t be victim? Only villain. I write because I know
the narrative that I hold, and I’m aware of how often the
narrative of an Afghan woman, as a Muslim woman, is kind of shoved to
the back of the closet. There’s that idea of my
mother always saying, “You’re fulfilling my dreams. You’re becoming the woman
that I wish I was now because you have those opportunities.” I am… every single woman back home. My name is Marjan Naderi. I am a spoken-word artist
and teaching artist. Do you raise them up? Oh my God, I can’t
memorize this poem today. It’s ruining it! I don’t know what told
me to sit down and write. My first poem that I had competed with the worst thing I have written, I look back, and I’m like I can’t believe I did that to myself. The second time I was like, This is better than the first one I wrote, and this actually speaks more to who I am. It was a poem about my
mother and like, her journey, growing up in Afghanistan. My mother tells me how she never learned to
spell her name as a child, how education sifted in
her throat like sandpaper, because all the teachers were male. My mother is definitely
a role model to me. She always emphasizing education, and to always be pushing
against that current. (speaks in foreign language) (laughing) When you tell people you’re Afghan, it’s like an automatic, like “Whoa!” I see this glimpse of, “That’s a threat.” Like, “Stay away from that.” (singing in foreign language) It’s like, I’m never
American enough outside because I am Afghan,
because I am a Muslim, because I choose to wear my hijab, and then there’s the, “Oh,
you’re not Afghan enough because you didn’t grow up in Afghanistan. You don’t speak it perfectly.” Nonetheless, I’m very proud
to be an Afghan-American. I love this country, though sometimes I feel like
it doesn’t love me back. He taught me to white out my
name in the Farsi dictionary Reminded me for a family
tree to stop growing You gotta rip it from its cultural roots. Only those who obtain that paradise will be able to go to Jannah. Take a couple of minutes
and write about reliance. I think that all of my
processes to writing something very vulnerable is very similar. I have this habit that when something does happen to me my mind likes to completely forget it, or black it out completely. And I wrote my first piece about something that had happened. I wrote it about sexual assault. At the time that I was assaulted, I was twelve and thirteen, and the first time I
had spoken about it was I was fifteen. Screaming to the desert Browbeat and silent And so he grabs open my heart and pours his potion of hatred and steals the only purity I knew of. For so many girls under
the age of seventeen, to come up and be like, “Hey, like you just spoke my truth.” I’m still… Like I’m a poet that’s
speechless, like … It was more like a wound
that had not been closed and I just poured salt on it. But if it were not for
me speaking my truth I don’t think I would have been able to explore that trauma. Because if I cannot breathe
through it off the stage I can’t breathe through it on the stage. When I guess I should have saw this one coming, After all Like father, like daughter, Right? Personally, for me, why
I ever got into slam, It was because I was
given a platform to speak. It was I was given a
platform to read poetry. (cheering and applause) Even when I went to
the International Slam, it was like, “No hijabis.” And it was like thousands of people, I was like, “What?” But yeah, it’s so really dope for the Library of Congress’
National Book Festival I placed first there. Being known as the first one to do so, or one of like the first Muslim-Americans to touch that stage and then to also win it, so that was super dope. That was really awesome. What was I supposed to do when you asked who Baba is? What would I do then? Would I tell you the only time I saw him he reeked of cigarette
buds lit out by moonshine? If people don’t see
representation in the spaces that they would like to go in they need to create that for themselves. So tonight is really exciting. It’s basically the top ten poets
of D.C., Maryland, Virginia and we all go and we compete and we slam. Last year, I won second place. It doesn’t matter where I am. If it’s in front of two
people, I am nervous, but I kind of use that to my advantage and I shift that nervousness into power and into emotion. – Give it up right now,
for your next poet, Marjan! (cheering and applause) – And then my heart just goes into it, and I perform and it goes… To the boy who claimed my faith is the reason his people are being murdered. Can’t you see I am America? I am the fearless. I’ve become the symbol to bravery. I’ve learned to embrace the bigot and have my hijab waved
to the rhythm of hatred. Have my echo salute justice as my jihad because every voice
that protests for change speaks in harmony for the rest of liberty’s people. Now tell me, Boy, What is more American? (cheering) And in the moment that it’s done I see the very last line and I’m walking towards that stage and even if it’s a really heavy poem, I cannot help but smile sometimes because it’s like, “You did it again!” Like, “You didn’t think you could do it, but you did it again!” And I feel like that’s something
that’s never gonna go away. In sixth place we have, Marjan! – As I go on, I just see more of my identity coming to light. There’s that idea of my
mother always saying, “You’re fulfilling my dreams. You’re becoming the woman
that I wish I was now because you have those opportunities.” I am… every single woman back home. I hold pieces of them. For me, maybe my purpose is
just to pave that path enough for the next Afghan-American, for the next young Muslim that’s
growing up in this country. For the next woman who’s in my position growing up in this country, they can hopefully further
on that path and grow it so that more people can go down and it will be almost like a smoother transition
for everyone else.

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