My sister My sidekick: Shima and Mehrsa

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Really excited about another feature in our My Sister My Sidekick series today! This time we’re interviewing two of my childhood friends, Mehrsa and Shima who I grew up with in New York. Their family has an amazing story: their mother was a political activist in Iran that was imprisoned for years during the revolution until their family were all able to immigrate to America when they were 6 and 8. They learned how to speak English and fit into the American culture together, and still rely on each other for support in their personal and professional lives, both being law professors.
Keep reading to hear about one of their favorite childhood memories stuck in a German airport during immigration, why they both ended up studying law, and what they fought most about growing up…

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Mehrsa Baradaran is a law professor at UGA Law School with a book about banking that just came out last week! She has three little brown-haired girls whom she loves to dance in the kitchen with. If she’s not reading something good, she’s not totally fulfilled. She’s a self labeled outgoing introvert–she gets excited to talk to her friends, but loves going to her office and shutting the door for the entire day. She likes most things about her job–especially teaching and writing, but hates meetings and dreads the grading. Mehrsa’s favorite part of the day is when she gets to read the newspaper every morning as she eats breakfast (after her kids are at school). She never anticipated how much she would adore her girls and how lucky she would feel to still be in love with her husband after 15 years!
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Shima Baradaran Baughman just got married a month ago and lives in Salt Lake City with her two boys and husband, Ryan. She teaches criminal law at the University of Utah and researches on how to cut U.S. Prison rates. Shima thinks a good Saturday involves a hike. She loves dancing to good music and good conversations with close friends about relationships and life.  She loves singing in the car with her boys, playing volleyball, pilates but not yoga, and eating good treats.  Her favorites are probably tiramisu, hot chocolate chip cookies and ice cream and Belgian waffles with cream and berries.  Shima is energized by time with her family, loves watching her boys play soccer and playing with them, and is crazy in love with her (new) husband Ryan, who is the male version of her.
Shima, what kinds of things did you like doing together when you were growing up?
We immigrated to the U.S. when I was seven and we didn’t have a lot of toys.  We liked watching TV because of the variety in cartoons and shows. In Iran there were just 30 minutes of cartoons once a day, and if you missed it, you had to wait until the next day. We loved watching the Smurfs growing up and maybe because we were still learning English or because we had a black and white TV, but I didn’t realize they were blue until I was an adult. 
Mehrsa, what kinds of things do you like doing together now?
We like to take long walks on the beach at sunset. No seriously. That’s our favorite thing to do. We also like to talk, eat, shop, and dance. How’s that for cliche?
Shima, were you close growing up? Are you closer now or then?
We were very close growing up.  We had a love-hate relationship like a lot of sisters do.  We would fight and 10 minutes later were best friends. We are a lot closer now because our lives have taken similar paths–we have the same careers (law professors) and kids that are similar ages. She’s my best friend.  I run every big decision (and most small decisions) by her.

Mehrsa, what is one of your favorite childhood memories together?
We had a pretty crazy childhood–war in Iran, the revolution, my mom was a political prisoner for many years, my dad was a surgeon working a lot, and then we immigrated to America when I was 8 and she was 6. And then we learned English together and tried to survive elementary and middle school. We didn’t really have a typical childhood (riding bikes, playing outside, etc), but we were always playing something or other. For example, when we were immigrating to America, we were stuck in a German airport for a day or two and Shima and I went around the airport finding luggage carts and sticking them into the receptacle and getting change. We were so excited–it felt like a game. We got all these coins and bought cool toys in the gift shop and that’s probably one of my favorite memories of the whole immigration ordeal.

hima, what did you and Mehrsa fight about growing up?
Clothes mostly.  Clothes were a scarce commodity growing up and my mom was a firm believer in sharing clothes and in homemade clothes (mostly because we didn’t have a lot of money until my dad established his medical practice in the U.S.). We would fight over who would get to wear the new outfit and who would have to wear the Persian homemade special.  (Liz: my mom’s DIY stuff was NOTHING like the amazing stuff you make, seriously, I would have killed for any of your cute kids clothes back then)

Mehrsa, what’s one thing that used to drive you crazy about Shima when you were growing up? 
She loved to scream until she got her way. That was kind of annoying. And she wouldn’t let me borrow her clothes as much as I wanted to. Also, she loved to tell on me when I would watch Jem and the Holograms (which we weren’t allowed to watch).
Shima, what’s one thing that used to drive you crazy about Mehrsa when you were growing up?
She got away with everything I wanted to get away with.  My parents were really strict and didn’t like us to go to parties or school dances.  I would always ask on a Tuesday if I could go to a party on a Friday. And somehow my mom would understand that it was a big deal to me and would say I couldn’t go.  Somehow Mehrsa would wander in to the kitchen at 7pm on a Friday and would ask to go out and would always be allowed. I should have learned a thing or two back then. Hopefully my kids have inherited my inability to get away with anything as they approach the teen years.

How did your family’s experiences affect your relationship as sisters?
Shima is the only person in the universe who understand what my life was like. We slept with gas masks together, went to prison with my mom, learned English together (the only two words we knew when we came to America were yes and no and we would pretend to have long conversations just saying yes and no), we moved around all over the country in very uncertain and difficult circumstances, we learned how to be American together (mostly by watching a LOT of TV), we learned how to ask our parents permission to do stuff, we both suffered some serious culture shock at our mostly white college and now we basically have the same career. We even got married the same exact summer 14 years ago. I mean seriously. How can we not be close?
Shima:We came to a new country (at age 7 and 9) speaking not a word of English (literally we knew how to say “yes” and “no” when we moved to the U.S. and would confuse the two often) and had to rely on each other more than anyone else. Growing up and assimilating was something Mehrsa and I did together and it really bonded us. I remember Mehrsa sitting down giving me lessons on how to be cool and fit in.  I learned a lot from my savvy older sister.

and Mehrsa, you are both laywers, do you feel like this has affected your relationship as sisters? And if so, in what way?
Mehrsa: We talk about work all the time. We went to different law schools, but we both worked at big NYC law firms and then we both taught at the same school and now we teach at different schools, but basically have the same job. So we can talk about stuff that happens at work without explaining the background or politics or anything. We can talk about students and faculty meetings and other academics and just understand where the other is coming from. We also get mistaken for each other all the time. I often get credit for articles she has written and vice versa. I usually just say thank you.
Shima: Law school was an amazing experience. I am so grateful I had the experience and that Mehrsa decided to go to law school too. We both practiced in different capacities for a few years and now teach law.  It is great to be in the same field and understand what each other is going through in publishing and teaching and trying to make an impact in our fields (I do criminal law and she does banking law).  We generally see the world in the same way and maybe part of it is our legal education.

What (or who) inspired you to be law professors?
Mehrsa: I just lucked into this job. I never really thought it was a possibility for me. I didn’t know anyone that was a law professor. I really like to teach and I love to read and to write so I feel really grateful to have the job. Once I was in law school, the law professor that I admired most was Bryan Stevenson who is a death penalty attorney as well as a professor and has given his life to serve the less fortunate. While I have not done that, I continue to be inspired by those who do and try to emulate their work in much smaller ways in what I do.
Shima: I became a law professor because I wanted to make a difference. My parents sacrificed so much for us to live in America, and my mother was a political activist, that I felt an obligation to do my best to help improve the criminal justice system in America. I have always loved teaching and writing as well.
 Mehrsa, describe Shima in three words. 
Brave, Determined, Generous.
Shima, describe Mehrsa in three words.
Loyal, funny, disciplined
Mehrsa, what’s a quality or skill Shima has that you really admire?
She just doesn’t give a crap. Seriously. She doesn’t care what people think about her. In high school, she would go into a thrift store and just put together the most random outfits. Even now, she just can’t be bothered to worry about what anyone thinks about her. I respect that a lot.

Shima, what’s a quality or skill Mehrsa has that you really admire?
Mehrsa is great to talk to.  She is so insightful, real, and interesting.  I love talking to her about anything and everything.  And everyone else does too.

Mehrsa, what is your favorite piece of clothing that Shima owns that you might steal if you get the chance?
We have pretty different taste in clothes (and I buy a whole lot more than she does). In high school, we both walked in to gap and there was this awesome dress that came in light blue and brown. She got to the blue one first and I really wanted the blue, but we couldn’t have the same color so I was stuck with the brown. I still mourn that blue dress. I coveted it every time she wore it and kept trying to convince her to trade, which she wouldn’t.

Shima, what is your favorite piece of clothing that Mehrsa owns that you might steal if you get the chance?
Mehrsa has the best wardrobe.  But I think I would take her jewelry collection first. She has the best necklace collection I’ve ever seen. 

Tell us one way that you two are a lot a like and one thing that is totally different about you two?
Mehrsa: Alike–we both work really hard and are quick to make fun of ourselves and eachother. We don’t take anything too seriously. Differences: she likes desserts, I never eat them. I’m all about consistency and predictability and she’s about adventure and trying new things. I love to stay home and read and she loves to go out and meet new people. She reads the Atlantic and I read the New Yorker.
Shima: We are both really goal driven.  Mehrsa is more of a homebody.  She’s happy in her Lululemon “homeclothes” watching a good show.  Her ideal age is 40–and has been claiming she’s 40–even though she’s only 37. A scavenger hunt or card game or boating are her worst nightmares. Those some of my favorite things.

Mehrsa, how would you describe Shima‘s style?
I would describe Shima as a total nonconformist. She wears what makes her feel and look good period. She’s adventurous and fun and her clothes really reveal that about her. She can find things she loves anywhere and doesn’t worry too much about sticking within a single genre or style. 
Shima, how would you describe Mehrsa‘s style?
Mehrsa has a very particular style. I can go into a store and pick out the exact shirt or dress that she would pick out, without fail. She loves boxy dresses and shirts. She loves paisley and red. And gold.  Who doesn’t love gold though?
What is one thing your sister has taught you?
Mehrsa: It’s hard to even think of something she hasn’t taught me. We shaped our identities together through some seriously difficult circumstances. If life teaches you through experiences, there isn’t much I’ve learned without Shima being right there. Also, she taught me how to make a mean quesadilla.
Mehrsa has taught me the meaning of friendship and sisterly love. In the times that have been most difficult in my life, she has been there for me and taken great care of me. She is the definition of a protective older sister and best friend.
Photography by Ashley Thalman. Produced by Ashley Aikele.


Thank you SO MUCH for featuring women of color! As a woman of color myself, it is so amazing to see this. Kudos.

what an insight into a family that survived Tormoil to become published. Very inspiring

I love these girls! They are passionate, elegant, and brilliant. I met them during our undergrad days at BYU and there was immediate intrigue. These girls make you want to cultivate sisterhood and build family ties that can truly improve justice and expand mercy and utlimately change the world. Brava!

Woah, amazing family story! I’m sure going through what they did made them super strong. I’d love to hear more about their mother

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