Calgary couple raises daughter to accept cultural differences, and results are emerging
When five-year-old Parisa Lorenzetti came home from school one afternoon last fall, her mother, Liza Lorenzetti, could tell she was upset.
Parisa didn’t explain what was wrong until bedtime, when it came out that a boy at her school teased another girl because of the colour of her skin.
“My daughter was very disturbed by that,” said Lorenzetti. “It just bothered her at a very deep level that anyone could be that way.”
The two of them worked out a plan for how Parisa should deal with it, but the memory of the incident kept her awake hours past her normal bedtime. Liza Lorenzetti comforted her daughter, rubbing her back until she finally fell asleep.
The next day at school, Parisa confronted the boy, told him what he had said was wrong and asked him to apologize. He did, but Parisa hasn’t been particularly fond of him since.
Photo courtesy of Liza Lorenzetti.
Part of what bothered Parisa was that she had people in her life with the same skin colour as the other girl.
“She said, ‘This person is my lovey, this person is my auntie, and so why would he say that? Why would he be so mean?’” Lorenzetti explained. “For her, the insult to that girl was an insult to her way of life.”
Parisa’s parents — Lorenzetti and Arya Boustani — have surrounded her with people from diverse backgrounds since she was born on July 31, 2008. They recognize not many parents raise their children that way, but they think Parisa is benefitting from those close connections.
“It opens up room for more interaction, acceptance and even growth,” Boustani said. “The more different perspectives you are facing, the more it adds up to your thinking. Instead of being exposed to half a dozen people, if they are exposed to 50 people, naturally the differences come out and they think about it.”
“We wanted Parisa to see the world through their eyes,” Lorenzetti added. “They will have other gifts to bring her, which we may not have, and we know we don’t have.”
For Liza and Arya, raising their daughter in this way was less a conscious choice than it was a natural extension of their previous life together. They each have their own cultural backgrounds; Lorenzetti is of Italian descent and is originally from Montreal, while Boustani was born in Iran. They were also heavily involved in various humanitarian and social justice movements that exposed them to different cultures.
“Our first date was after a rally against Pinochet when he was caught in Europe for the brutalities in Chile,” Lorenzetti recalled.
When Lorenzetti found out she was pregnant — an unexpected but welcome surprise — she had a tightly-knit and highly diverse support network already in place, and her daughter Parisa immediately became enfolded in that community. When she was just a few weeks old, Parisa attended her first protest against Neo-Nazism alongside Lorenzetti and her friends.
Photo by Madison Farkas“We didn’t see ourselves as an isolated couple,” Lorenzetti said. “We see ourselves as international people. We see ourselves as transcending the cultural constructs that even we were born in.”
As a result, Parisa has attended First Nations smudging ceremonies and Hindu temple events. She is fluent in three languages — English, French and Farsi — and will be attending Italian school on the weekends this fall. Her family celebrates Iranian New Year and Diwali, the Hindu Festival of Lights, as much as they celebrate Christmas.
“Her normal is quite varied,” Lorenzetti said.
Boustani added that part of the reason people are apprehensive about diversity is because they haven’t been exposed to people of different backgrounds, which they have tried to do with Parisa.
“If you grow up being among all these, naturally there is no question,” he said.
For Parisa, those people have included Lorenzetti’s close friend Lemlem Haile, who considers herself Parisa’s aunt. Haile is originally from Eritrea, a country on the western coast of the Red Sea that borders Sudan and Ethiopia.
“I taught her some of the Eritrean baby songs, and she used to count in Tigrinya,” Haile said, referring to a language native to the Horn of Africa. “You wouldn’t expect many five-and-a-half-year-olds to know how you even say Eritrea.”
According to Haile, Parisa is so accepting of difference that it doesn’t even register as difference.
“It’s been there in her life so much that she doesn’t think in terms of race or colour,” she said. “She sees all these people of different cultures having great relationships, so her worldview is very fluid.”
Photo courtesy of Liza Lorenzetti
But it isn’t just cultural differences that Parisa has grown to accept. One of her closest adoptive uncles, Pedram Zabeti, is gay. When he and his partner, George Xuereb, first came to stay at Lorenzetti and Boustani’s house, Parisa had no problem understanding their relationship and saw them as any other couple.
“When we told her that Uncle George is Uncle Pedram’s lovey, she just accepted it,” Bustani said.
“I always appreciate how much background work Liza and Arya have done to educate her and give high-level understanding,” Zabeti said. “No clichés, no generalizing. Her reaction was so smooth.”
“We felt so happy when there was no question,” added Lorenzetti. “That just tells us that we’re on the right track. She’s open to a lot of things, and I think that makes her a role model going into the future.”
Parisa’s mother and father can already see the results of their style of parenting in their daughter’s personality. “She’s a thoughtful person,” said Lorenzetti. “She’s concerned about others. What happens around her concerns her.”
Lorenzetti said Parisa’s reaction to the racist comments from her classmate last fall are typical of her caring, sensitive nature, which has only been compounded by her exposure to diversity.
“Not only is her world open, she’s also engaged,” added Lorenzetti. “She sees that when somebody needs something, we do it.”