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Iranian Immigrant Finds Creative Outlet in Hip Hop

Nilo Amiri is an immigrant from Iran who grew up in Sweden. She shares how she discovered her “first love” — hip hop — as a child and the way it speaks to her in moments of chaos and confusion. Now her love for hip hop and dance fuels her life in Oakland, CA.

Video Transcript

Nilo Amiri: I got into hip hop when I was 10.

Nilo is an immigrant from Iran. Her family fled Iran and landed in Sweden.

Nilo: Hip hop was my first love, you know? And like especially when it gets really political, and like the social commentary of it.

Now she pops in Oakland, CA.

Nilo: And then dancing, when I was 14, it’s popping mostly. It’s a mix between very hard and very soft, and to me, somehow, that felt like myself, you know?

Nilo discovered hip hop in Sweden, surrounded by a vibrant immigrant neighborhood. The music and dance spoke to her at a moment of chaos and confusion.

Nilo: Dance is a release. It’s like breathing. You’re taking a deep breath. Music and dancing, to me, brings that serene soothing feeling, especially living a life that we do out here where it’s non-stop, just trying to make it through the day half the time. Got to pay some expensive rent, and it’s a really stressful place to live in, a lot of times.

To this day, her love for hip hop fuels her life in Oakland.

Nilo: But I think we make up for that, especially in Oakland, with a lot of art and culture. To me, this is how I take care of myself.

Nilo: You know, I grew up in places where there were a lot of immigrants from all over the world. A lot of other people, their cultures, you learn words from each other’s languages, and I think that’s given me a greater understanding and empathy for people coming from different places ’cause a lot of us ended up where we did because of things like war, and poverty, whatever.

Wherever she’s lived, Nilo has blended culture and art to create her present.

Nilo: In Sweden, we call it the ‘betweenship’ because we feel foreign in Sweden, and then we feel foreign when we go back to our parents’ home countries, and it’s like you have this slice of never really fitting in completely anywhere.
You realize, well, if it wasn’t for this or this, this is where I would have grown up and I would have felt like a completely different way about myself. Being in Iran is like that’s my ancestry, you know. The next time I go, I want to travel around the country with my dad, so see the ancient ruins and stuff.

Whenever she’s been displaced, she’s built a new home.

Nilo: I think one of the things I miss is like I have a lot of friends and people that I grew up in the bay area. They have that thing of being in their closer hometown, like where they grew up. That’s something I miss a lot, you know? I can’t say this is my hometown. In that sense, like I do my best to connect to the community that I am in, and like really get involved, but like I think it’s finding your niche. I don’t know if I could really leave the bay area right now. You know, we’re in love.

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