Culturas Corner highlights individuals who make their community a better place through their work, business, volunteering or activism. Today we get to learn more about Dr. Shokooh Miry, a psychologist in San Francisco.
Tell us a little bit about yourself! What was your life like growing up? How did it lead you to become a psychologist?
I immigrated from Iran straight to San Francisco with my parents when I was a baby. I grew up in the Sunset District, and spent most of my time in the public library behind Jefferson Elementary and Golden Gate Park. After my father completed graduate school, our family moved to Sacramento where he started our family business. Years later, I came back to the Bay Area to attend UC Berkeley and have been here since. I actually didn’t study psychology as an undergraduate— I studied political science and was really fascinated by the intersection between mental health and political issues. I was drawn to better understanding how sexism and racism affected mental health and how public policy can be designed to improve outcomes for children from disadvantaged backgrounds.
Honestly what led me to graduate studies in psychology was volunteer work at Planned Parenthood. I was all prepared to go to law school and work in policy or politics, and then had a realization that my passion was the counseling work I was doing as a volunteer for Planned Parenthood. It changed the trajectory of my whole life. And I’m so glad!
How did you end up at the Commission on the Status of Women San Francisco and the National Iranian American Council? We’d love to hear more about what you’ve got going on.
I was appointed to the Commission on the Status of Women by Mayor London Breed in 2019 and recently elected as vice president. I have had a long career of working with women and focusing on issues of women’s mental health and how to better support girls and women by supporting their wellness and mental health. I think that my experience as a clinician on the front lines with girls and women who have survived gender-based violence, and sexual violence in particular, gives me an important voice on the commission. The Department on the Status of Women in San Francisco has this brilliant and important history. We do amazing work in partnership with community-based organizations and are a key voice for girls and women in the community.
Up until last year, I also served on the board of directors for NIAC, which is the largest grassroots organization representing Americans of Iranian descent. It was really special work for me, given my cultural heritage and the fact that I am raising children who have Muslim & immigrant ancestry at a time when there are dark forces of hate gaining more and more strength in our country. We focus on supporting political candidates who reflect the values of our community, securing equitable immigration policies and protecting the civil rights of all Americans. It’s very personally meaningful for me.
What are some ways we can raise kids to be anti-racist and respectful of diversity? We hear you’re pretty good at that as a mom.
That is a supreme compliment! I hope I’m good at it, but it’s a struggle given the political context of the world I am raising my children in. They are so young and I try to be mindful of what they are mature enough to understand. I want to illuminate important values and issues without overwhelming them. And this is hard stuff. It overwhelms the grownups at times!
I use honesty as my core principle here. My son is old enough to ask me questions— hard questions. And I answer as directly as I can, even though the answers are often painful. My daughter is too young for a lot of questions, but she understands core principles like fairness and being kind, so we talk in that language. My rule is to tell them the truth, even when I wish the truth was different, even when I wish I could protect them with less truth.
I’m also very direct with them. Being anti-racist is one of our family values. Full stop. This isn’t a political opinion or philosophical stance. It’s a core family value. Like love and compassion and kindness. It’s not enough to not be racist, they have to take anti-racist action. During the Black Lives Matter protest that shut down the Golden Gate Bridge, I took my kids. That’s where my values are; that’s where my children need to be. That’s who I am, so that’s where my children meet me and connect with me. Authentically.
This connects to the work I do with my patients. If you really know yourself, if you’re clear about your values, about who you are and what is important to you… it turns out that’s a foundation to building and living a life worth living. And that’s the ultimate mental health.
Through your work and platform, what sort of change do you hope to bring to the Bay Area communities? What sort of progress have you seen and what goals do you envision?
I want to eliminate all forms of violence against girls and women in San Francisco. That isn’t a lofty goal, it is absolutely attainable. We have gone from seeing dozens of domestic violence related murders of women in San Francisco to years with zero.
We can absolutely eradicate gender-based violence.
What is your favorite cultural memory?
I used to visit Tehran in the summers when I was a child. Upon my arrival, my paternal grandfather would set up a pot taller than I was in his front garden. He cooked rice pudding, scented with saffron and rose water and sprinkled with pistachios. He cooked all day for days, and he would divide it into hundreds and hundreds of little bowls and have them passed out at the mosque to anyone who needed to be fed. It was a token of his gratitude for my safe arrival each summer.
I have thought about that memory a lot since the 2016 election. About how these little moments of cultural memory are now part of my toolkit in helping my children develop a strong sense of identity and self-worth in the face of constant, often belligerent attacks from their president.
I think cultural memories like this form a critical part of our sense of self and sense of worth. It is a way of saying to my children, “you are not the Muslim Ban.” You are the little bowls of rice pudding or the Persian rug or the bit of poetry my grandfather would read my grandmother at breakfast.
Cultural memory is a part of how we fight racism and how we survive when we feel targeted by bigotry.
Answers have been edited for length and clarity. Know someone who should be featured on Culturas Corner? Nominate them here.