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Miss Mexico U.S. returns to SCV with a new role

Setareh Khatibi tells her story of success, letdowns and life in SCV

Posted: May 7, 2014 2:00 a.m.
Updated: May 7, 2014 2:00 a.m.
Setareh Khatibi, 2013 Miss Mexico U.S., poses with her crown. The 28-year-old is starring in the Santa Clarita Performing Arts Center’s production of “Rent,” which opens Friday. Signal photo by Dan Watson. Setareh Khatibi, 2013 Miss Mexico U.S., poses with her crown. The 28-year-old is starring in the Santa Clarita Performing Arts Center’s production of “Rent,” which opens Friday. Signal photo by Dan Watson.
Setareh Khatibi, 2013 Miss Mexico U.S., poses with her crown. The 28-year-old is starring in the Santa Clarita Performing Arts Center’s production of “Rent,” which opens Friday. Signal photo by Dan Watson.

Standing inside a bathroom stall, 7-year-old Setareh Khatibi bathes herself in a bucket of tap water. She’s used to the cold water on her skin and doesn’t even grimace.

Then she grabs her little blue backpack adorned with white stars, pre-packed with basic essentials: a toothbrush, a fresh change of clothes and her favorite yellow teddy bear.

Aware of the time passing, the 7-year-old hastens to brush the knots out of her dark brown hair.

There’s little time left, she knows, for her family to sneak out of the clinic where her mother works — they can’t be caught by her mother’s co-workers.

Raised by a mother who was a victim of domestic violence, moving around the Santa Clarita Valley frequently and at times going homeless, Khatibi grew up with little but the sustaining love of her mother.

A dreamer who would come to find herself on the stage, the girl of Persian-Mexican heritage seemed an unlikely candidate to become a well-known public figure in the Hispanic entertainment industry.

“The real magic stems in your heart,” said Khatibi, who appeared for a year and a half on Univision’s long-running “Sabado Gigante” TV variety show.

“When you believe in yourself and have faith in your abilities, everything you’ve ever hoped for comes to you.”

Theatrical insights

Setareh lived a painful and traumatic childhood in the Santa Clarita Valley. Before she was 17 years old, she had lived in more than 25 different locations.

Her mother would often move her entire family to escape the mental and physical abuse she was suffering from her husband.

“We would sneak into the clinics where my mother was working after hours and sneak back out before the workers showed up the next morning,” she said.

“We would bathe ourselves with a bucket in the bathroom stalls before going to school,” Khatibi said. “I was so ashamed and embarrassed of my past that I hid it from everyone for a very long time.”

Despite her family’s economic challenges and constant moving, Khatibi’s mother worked hard to ensure she enjoyed opportunities. 

She enrolled Khatibi in theater, ballet, art and signing. Around the year 2000, at age 14, she won Miss Teen Valencia.

“My mom did everything she could to pay for these extracurricular activities,” she said. “The moment I got involved in theater, I discovered my love for comedy and being in front of the stage.”

“For the first time in my life, I learned to laugh at myself and at the situation I was going through behind closed doors,” Khatibi said. “I learned to perceive things in a whole new way.”

Stable career

After graduating from Hart High School, Khatibi enrolled at College of the Canyons. Determined to seek a stable career for herself, she stopped performing on stage and tackled several career paths.

“I was all over the place,” she said. “I studied real estate, fire fighting, women’s history — you name it. I did it all.

“I just wanted a stable career so I can provide for my family. But I wasn’t happy. I just knew in my heart that I was born to be in front of the stage.

“I dove back into acting and let go of any fear or doubt.”

In 2011, at about 25 years old, Khatibi auditioned for Univision’s “Nuestra Belleza Latina,” a televised beauty pageant and reality show where 12 young women compete to become Univision’s next TV personality.

A panel of judges screens contestants and the winner is determined by public vote. Nearly 8 million viewers tune in to watch “Nuestra Belleza Latina” every year.

“I went to the audition and they rejected me,” Khatibi said. “The judges said horrible things and ripped me apart from head to toe.

“The door had never been shut that hard in my face.”

But today, Khatibi said, she’s grateful for that rejection.

“It forced me to see things from a different light. It also helped me overcome a negative situation and grow from it as a competitor.”

Swimsuit winner

The following year, Khatibi participated in the Miss California USA pageant, representing Newhall, and won Best in Swim Suit out of 300 contestants.

“I donated 20 percent of everything I made during the pageant to the Domestic Violence Center in Santa Clarita,” she said. “They helped me and my family during tough times.”

The victory gave her confidence to audition again for “Nuestra Belleza Latina.” Her compelling story and multiple talents helped her defeat thousands of competitors and win first runner-up in the public vote in 2012. 

“It was such a surreal experience,” Khatibi said. “I couldn’t believe how far I got in the competition and the number of doors that opened afterwards.”

A week later, Khatibi landed the job on “Sabado Gigante,” the longest-running television variety series in the world. She served as host, model and actress for the show’s comedy sketches.

It was “everything I’ve ever dreamed of,” she said.

Back in the SCV

Now 28 years old, Khatibi says it’s immensely important to share her success with her family and loved ones. After a year and a half on “Sabado Gigante,” filmed in Miami, she returned to Santa Clarita.

Last December she was crowned Miss Mexico U.S. and will compete for the title of Miss Globe International, representing Mexico, in June.

And, Khatibi says, “I’m playing the role of my life.”

She will play the character of Maureen in the Tony Award-winning musical “Rent” when it opens Friday at the Santa Clarita Performing Arts Center.

“I’ve had the door shut so many times,” Khatibi said. “But I wouldn’t trade it for anything in the world.

“Just because one door is shut, it doesn’t mean you’re not good enough. It takes hard work, faith and patience to wait for the right one to open.”


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