Mitra Sumara: What does it mean to be Iranian?


I love every single interview we get to do. But with each one, I’ve walked in with some sort of background on ‘who’ and listened to the story of ‘how.’ With Yvette Perez, the founding member of Mitra Sumara, I didn’t know ‘who’ ‘how’ or ‘why’, and by the end of the interview, I felt like I had taken so much away from the experience that I forgot why I had even asked questions in the first place. Her answers brought to mind so many more questions about culture, identity and the idea of “being.”  What does it mean to be Iranian? And how do you decide who gets to “claim it”?

There’s so much to take in with Yvette’s story, and her relationship to Music and Iran. 

She is a bit of everything, but I’d love for her to claim her Iranian culture– because she is doing greater things with it than you can even imagine!



MITRA SUMARA in action

MITRA SUMARA in action

– So I have to say, when I saw your name -Yvette Perez- I was a bit confused. Tell me about yourself:

I’m half-Iranian, my other half is a mix of North European, American Indian. I was adopted by American parents, who divorced when I was 2. My mother remarried a Mexican, so she gave me his name– and so I grew up with the Spanish surname.

– And where’d you grow up?

I grew up in Carson, a suburb of LA. It was kinda odd growing up there… large Chicano, Black, and Filipino population. My neighborhood was predominantly first-generation, so ethnicity was important. And I really felt like an outsider… My hair was frizzy and I didn’t look like anybody else at school.

– Many of us with cultural conflicts experience some sort of ‘identity crisis.’  How do you think yours was similar/different?

Well it was peculiar being in school when the Revolution happened, kids would taunt me, and my mother at home would tell me “don’t tell anyone you’re Iranian.” And I’d think– but that’s what I am?

So, while I knew I was Iranian, I didn’t really know what that meant.


My mother did not explore the culture much. I had discovered these old Persian records from the library, and I remember the one time I brought them home, she danced around the house, making fun of it. It was mortifying!

I found my birth mother when I was in college, and she gave me my father’s name (who is from Tehran). I found him a few years ago and we’ve built a strong relationship since then. I have found that my father and I are alike in spirit and some personality characteristics despite that fact that I didn’t grow up with him. Whenever we are together and notice these synchronicities –  it’s amazing. A true testament to the strength of one’s roots and genetic background.

In terms of my ethnic background; I feel that I’m in disguise. If I didn’t grow up with the culture, how can I claim it as mine?

So, when I’m at a Doctor’s office, and the man next to me asks me where I’m from, and he’s Iranian too– that moment is exciting for me! I think ‘they found me. They’re going to claim me as one of theirs!’ I traveled to Yerevan, Armenia in 2007 and it was a very powerful experience for me — I look like everybody else and everybody else liked me. I felt very at home.

So it’s tough to find what is mine, and claim it as my own. But in America, we all are a little bit of everything.

– When’d you make the move to NY?

MID 90s, I wanted to be a musician… started playing a lot of bands: rock bands, avant garde bands… couple of bands where I wrote music and sang.

– Tell me about the band, Mitra Sumara, and how you came up with it?

The name — I made it up one day, password for online credit cards. I wanted something Persian, and something accessible for Non-Persians. Most of the bands I’ve played in other ensembles with before so I’ve known them for many years.

I’ve been studying farsi for many years, and with, I was introduced to the Iranian music of the 60s and 70s. I heard this record, Pomegranate, and I thought maybe I should put a band together and cover this album. And soon, Mitra Sumara grew from that.

– Are there any other Iranians in the band?

I’m the only one that’s half persian. A few band members have ties to the culture but it is people from different musical backgrounds.

The band is very New York inspired and very American inspired. To bridge the gap, the music itself is very interesting… a lot of the old Iranian songs are really complicated, and that’s what keeps good musicians engaged, if its fun and if its hard. There are a lot of Latin influences in Iranian pop music, and African beats, and even a bit of Italian pop.

and this way I get to really work on my farsi!

– What inspires you and keeps the band going?

People come and sing along. It’s really tremendous. When anybody comes and has fun, I feel like I’ve done a good job!

I want to participate in the diaspora somehow, and this is my way.

– Would you ever want to play in Iran?

Are you kidding? Yes!

– Are there any Iranian goodies that you love?

Gaz. I love Iranian food, I can cook some of it. and of course, Fessenjoon!

– What is a goal you have for Mitra Sumara?

To perform some American songs from the same era, translated into Farsi. It’s a little tricky but if we can pull it off, it would be awesome! Oh, and to play in Istanbul and Dubai.

– Despite not growing up in a traditional Iranian household, do you think you have some innately Irooni qualities?

I run on Irooni time, and I’m late for everything. Oh, and I’ve always loved to play Backgammon…

– Have you ever dated an Iranian guy?

I am now, a musician, and we bond on that a tremendous amount.

– What was your first job ever?

How about my first favorite job? It was at the liquorice pizza shop/record store in Torrance. In California only.


– 3 Things you value most in life?


– One Night stands?

Are only best in the dark.

– How do you like your fessenjoon?

Sweet and steamy.

MITRA SUMARA is playing at the Persian Arts Festival in NEW YORK CITY on March 30th — Make sure you all check out this one-of-a-kind band (click here).






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