Gilda Hariri immigrated to the US with her parents when she was just babe. Against the odds her parents left Iran to give their daughter a life where she could have more opportunity. Now she is a California girl who spends her days surfing, working and studying architecture. Gilda's family story, her drive, her surfing abilities, her grace and her passion to follow her dreams truly inspire us!
Women's Heritage: Please tell us a little of your family's story…
Gilda Hariri: My parents are originally from Iran, and I grew up in Los Angeles. My family came to the United States shortly after I was born. It was hard to get out of Iran at the time - the borders to get in and out of the country were practically closed. They left Iran for many different reasons but mainly because women were essentially second-hand citizens and they decided it was best for my future and theirs to settle in the US. I can’t image what my life would be like if I grew up in Iran.
WH: What was it like for your parents to start a whole new life here in the US?
GH: Hard, but they’re workaholics and very resilient people. They came to the states with nothing and started their lives all over again. Each of us faced different challenges, but they were eager to be here and to adapt. The majority of my father's family lived here in California when they arrived, so they weren’t necessarily homesick, but adapting to a new culture and way of life is far more difficult than just traveling through a country. Now the stigma of being an immigrant has amplified and much darker than it was before. One of the great attributes about being an immigrant is the drive you have - you have a great appreciation for opportunity and compassion for failure.
WH: What challenges have you faced being Iranian in the US?
GH: I’ve dealt with it all.
As a kid I encountered racism at an early age, mean girls and parents in elementary school. Being a woman you feel it more in the work environment. People make assumptions about you based on your ethnicity. I worry less about what people think of me and try to show more of who I am and what I offer to society.
WH: You are in Arizona attending Taliesin West?
GH: Yes, I’m at Taliesin West doing an architecture workshop. Taliesin West is Frank Lloyd Wright's school of architecture and Wright's winter camp. The school has gone through many transitions since Wright's death. The school is less about Frank Lloyd Wright's "Organic architecture” and mimicking his design, and more progressive than other architecture programs. Today the school is being run by renowned architecture critic and curator, Aaron Betsky. He’s transforming the school and bringing talent from afar to begin a very exciting chapter here. Taliesin still maintains the tradition of building a shelter in the desert, while helping your fellow classmates build theirs, the ethos of learn by doing still lives. It's been a very exciting time to be here at Taliesin. I begin my three year surf sabbatical in August, when I start grad school full time.
WH: I know you're a woman of many talents. What are some of your hobbies?
GH: I have a lot of hobbies including surfing, horseback riding, drawing, and gardening. I dabble in it all.
WHS: When did you start surfing?
GH: I started surfing at 19. I took my first wave at 3rd point Malibu the summer before I started at UCSB. I truly learned the art of surfing while living in Santa Barbara. I was lucky to have a boyfriend at the time who taught me a lot about the sport from the get go, and UCSB offered a history class on surfing. It was great! I’d surf all day and then stumble into class to learn about the history of surfing. As my mother would say “getting better waves than grades."
WHS: What is it about surfing that challenges you and keeps you motivated?
GH: It’s always exciting being in the water. I think the different waves and equipment are the elements that make it challenging and motivating. Just recently I nearly drowned while surfing up north. The experience humbled me and reminded me how much harder I need to work. I’m very much spoiled by the endless point breaks in Southern California; It’s good to get out of my comfort zone and surf other, non-perfect waves. I find beach breaks to be really challenging and un-motivating, but after a week of surfing them, I’m a better and faster surfer at the points. One of the bigger challenges I face in and out of the water is the fact that i don’t fit the mould. I don’t think many surfers have seen a Persian girl surf, and I constantly have to battle that image.
WHS: So... when you're not surfing?
GH: Working! I work for a small interior and architecture firm called Part Office as well as contribute content to Herewith Magazine. I'm currently working on a photo project that blends architecture and surfing together.
WHS: What are some of your favorite skills you’ve learned from other women?
GH: I’ve learned a few heritage skills, and each have a different connection to the land and community. I've learned to weave from artist Hannah Vainstein, I’ve learned how to handle and milk goats from Megan Hooker, Lei making from Crystal Thronberg, and preserving/ jamming from Elizabeth Poett.
WHS: Nice! Any other skills you’d like to learn?
GH: Herding cows, bone broth soups, and woodworking.
WHS: Are there any skills you’d like to share?
GH: I’m a jack of all trades and a master of none. One of the strangest skills I have to offer are face massages. It helps me deal with stress and sinus congestion. Face massages are also a really great way to connect with friends and strangers. Humans have multiple pressure points on their face, each causing different reactions, releasing pressure in the sinuses and neck. Face massages also act as a natural facelift. All you need is your favorite face oil and rose water to start! I usually start with the Skin Food Face Lotion as a base for the face massage. You can add a drop of any essential oil like lavender or frankincense or tea tree to the face, then a toner like rose water to hydrate and secure the skin. I try to keep scents pretty light a little drop goes a long way.