A short time ago, Vancouver-based composer, arranger and sound engineer Hooman Depars submitted the following biographical story to us. It came unsolicited, sent after reading several features in FYI that gave him the courage to tender his very personal account as an immigrant who arrived in Canada after a successful career in Germany by way of India after being sent there from Iran to avoid the 1979 revolution and the eight-year war with Iraq that immediately followed. He was 13 when his father sent him to live alone to India as a preventative measure.
As a young boy in a big country, alone, he encountered fear ... and faith. Faith in others. He eventually moved on to become a success in his own right as a producer, sound engineer and songwriter in Germany but left for love and married a childhood sweetheart who had emigrated from Iran to Canada and the two are now settled in Vancouver where he operates his own studio and music production firm.
Along the way, he has worked with The Scorpions' Dieter Dirks, composed Komposition des Jahres that took Best Composition of the year in the Eurovision Song contest, released 18 singles and 3 albums with BMG, EMI Electrola, Universal, Polydor, Zyx and Zomba Records, and toured the world with Persian superstar Dariush. His life journey and visa rejection by US authorities inspired his song, Politician Wonderland, that can be played below. Hooman Depars can be contacted through his website or directly by writing firstname.lastname@example.org. And here's the link to his Spotify page.
Here is a short summary of my story (I will try to keep it short and if you are interested, we can go into details) and how I encountered racism and how I found a solution for myself to deal with it avoiding violence:
(I am not a writer so please excuse my bad English)
I was born in 1971 in Tehran, Iran.
I have wonderful childhood memories from my time in Iran. A loving big family and tons of wonderful memories, especially with my dad who was a physician and a big music lover with amazing vocal skills. He used to sing and get together with great musicians in our house and have Jam-Sessions regularly and that is how I got introduced to music. I used to sit with them and try to sing along with my dad!
As I turned 7, The big Iran Revolution happened followed by the Iran-Iraq war in 1980. I am not going to go into detail because it is off-topic, but you can imagine how my life changed during those times.
In 1983. just before I turned 13, my dad decided to send me out of Iran because he didn’t want me to be sent to war.
First, we tried to apply for a US visa because we have a lot of relatives there and I could have stayed with them.
Since the US embassy in Iran was closed, we had to travel to Turkey and Germany to apply for the visa. Unfortunately, our applications were denied and we had to quickly make a decision.
One of our relatives, who had a son my age, contacted my dad and told him that the only country that he could “buy” a student visa for was India.
So, my dad contacted the “agent” who would sell Student a visa for India. I know it sounds absurd but desperate times, desperate measures, I guess.
Long story short, we bought the student visa and travelled to Bangalore, India. My dad stayed for a couple of weeks to find a place for me to stay and registered me in a school.
I was 13 years old and had to leave my loving family and live on my own in a new country. I was staying at a “Paying-guest” meaning, I was living with an Indo-Christian family and had to pay them monthly. My dad couldn’t send me money because you were not able to transfer funds out of Iran during the war, so he used to send me almonds and pistachios to sell and pay the rent!
This was how I got to India and here is how I encountered racism:
As you can imagine, I was a complete alien! I had no friends, no family and did not even speak proper English, trying to get through school.
One day my English teacher (Caucasian, mid-40s from the UK) asked me to stay for a talk after class. After all the kids were gone, he came to me and said: “Why don’t you go back to where you came from? This is no place for people like you and if you don’t leave you will feel the pain!”
I went home and was very scared and confused! I had no one, I did not want to call my dad because what could he do? Come all the way from Iran and do what?
I didn’t sleep that night and was trying to figure out what to do! I decided to go to school because I had nowhere else to go and I knew that I had to solve the problem by myself. I didn’t really know how, but quitting was not an option.
I attended the English class and the teacher didn’t say anything, just gave me a very scary look as I was leaving the class.
On my way back I realised that there were 4 kids following me and that didn’t feel right. (In my school we had a mix of some Caucasian British or American, Black American and Indian kids).
I was scared so I started to go faster, but then they started running after me and one of them threw himself at me and the other ones started kicking me. I remember them shouting at me, saying ‘go back to where you came from or we will kill you....’
To be honest, until then I did not even know what racism is. I didn’t know how to handle it.
I went home, covered in blood, and all the family that I was staying with had to say was: “Go and wash, you look terrible!”
I was so angry and helpless at the same time. I tried to think of someone I could share my pain with and seek guidance from since I could not call my dad.
The only person who came to mind was the choir teacher (Black American mid-50s) who always had a very friendly smile. I have never talked to him before because he was leading the gospel choir in our little school-chapel and me being a Muslim by birth (by choice I don’t have a religion, I just believe in doing good and helping fellow humans and personally respect all religions), I thought I can not enter the chapel.
He was the only person around me that I thought I can talk to, so I decided to go to the chapel the next morning before school.
I entered the chapel and walked right to him as a total stranger and I just broke into tears and told him what has happened to me, and asked if I could just stay with him till school starts.
He walked to me, hugged me and said: What is your name? Do you like music?
These were the nicest words I heard since I went to India. Yes, I love music, I replied.
He said, ‘well you can join the choir if you like, we have a rehearsal in 20 minutes.’ I almost jumped for joy and said I would love to.
I started rehearsing with the choir and after the rehearsal, Emanuel (Black African), Sandeep (Indian) and Sam (Caucasian American) came to me and started talking to me.
We planned to meet after school to play and do homework.
I finally found some friends and people I could talk to!
The kids who beat me up didn’t show up again, I guess because they knew I have some friends now!
Long story short, I went to the chapel EVERY SINGLE DAY, singing Gospel and because I loved the vibe and the music, I was singing and practicing many hours a day.
A couple of months later our choir teacher told me that he is so impressed with how much I have improved and he gave me the lead vocal parts of 3 songs.
At the end of the school year, there was always something like the local Schools competition including Sports and Music and I had the honour to represent my school as the lead vocalist of the choir.
What was strange is that my English teacher and the kids who beat me didn’t bother me anymore. Maybe my choir teacher had a word with him but honestly, I did not care.
That year, I had to grow up and become an adult to survive and understand how it feels to be racially abused and how much of a better place world would be without racism.
Many years have passed and the day I saw the clip of what happened to George Floyd, it took me back in time and reminded me how much I hate racism and some politicians who initiate it.
That’s why I wrote “Politician Wonderland”.
I hope I did not bore you with my story. I just wanted to share it as a fellow human being who has experienced racism (without being black) who was helped by different races showing not everyone is born a racist, some just choose to be one.
The least I can do is to raise awareness with my music.