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Iranian with an American accent
Not "authentic" enough?

 

December 15, 2005
iranian.com

I'm delirious with sleep. This semester has really kicked my ass; I'm going to need to sleep for one week solid to recover. Finals start on Monday and as soon as I lay my head down on the pillow thoughts of marginal external cost and production functions make me heart pound a hundred miles an hour. As much as I am dreading my economics test that is not the only thing keeping me awake. I am, as always, contemplating what the hell I'm doing with my life. Sometimes I wish I could be one of those people who didn't think about anything, I wish I could just have fun, go out and get drunk and not worry about what happened yesterday, what will happen tomorrow, and what it all means.

It seems like yesterday I was thinking about all the possibilities of the fall and all the new people I would meet. I was especially looking forward to meet all the Iranians at SIPA (School of International and Public Affairs at Columbia University in New York). I thought to myself, finally I am at a university with a whole bunch of Iranians, yay! I wanted to be friends with all of them, be able to talk about Iranian culture, music, make Iranian jokes... There is just something about being with people from your own culture, it is indescribable. I've never really had the chance to experience that, because I went to a really small undergraduate school in the South.

The semester plan didn't quite pan out the way I had hoped. Toward the middle of the fall term I went to my first little Iranian gathering and experienced what I have experienced many times before: the feeling of not really fitting in anywhere. So, I walked into this gathering and started chatting with some people. Of course as soon as I open up my mouth someone makes a comment about my accent. I don't know why that makes me feel like I have to defend my "Iranian-ness" but I begin to explain that I have an accent because I grew up in the U.S. but I was born in Iran, and I have been back to Iran many times.

The other more "authentic" Iranians who have only been here for a couple of years don't accept my explanation and this one guy actually said jokingly, "oh, you're not a real Iranian." I know he didn't mean anything by it, he wasn't trying to hurt my feelings, but his comment felt like a shot to the heart. I thought I am Iranian! Alas, I'm not Iranian enough for the FOB's and I'm definitely not American like the people who were born in the U.S. to Iranian parents but who can't even pronounce their own last names correctly. I guess this is just a common problem of the diaspora, but where does that leave me? I'm stuck in this in-between of the first and the second generations and I can't find my place among the people who I really want to be with -- Iranians!

Maybe this wasn't very nice, but at the end of the gathering the same guy who said I wasn't a "real Iranian" said that he would be planning other events and it would be great if people would help out with organizational tasks. I said: "Well, if you don't mind the presence of fake Iranians, I would be happy to help."

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Arezou Raeisghasem, Masters of Public Administration, Columbia University School of International and Public Affairs.

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