Kii boodiim? Kii hastam?
On being half-Persian
By Cyrus J. Farivar
November 13, 2003
Tara Bahrampour's article "Persia
on the Pacific" is not only another fantastic article
New Yorker, it's an article that I feel like I really
I am the son of an American mother and an Iranian
father. I grew up not learning Farsi, but being around it, hearing
entirely on the periphery of it. I knew the joys of bastani,
qormeh sabzi, and Nowruz, but I couldn't
speak the language, I had never been to Tehran, I was somehow
in a stasis, not quite Persian, but yet, Persian by birth.
up knowing my grandparents, my mother's parents, to whom I am
grateful for many things. I am proud (via their side of
the family), to be the fourth consecutive (non-linear) generation
to attend UC Berkeley. I grew up, going to Christmas gatherings
in Northern California and getting to know them.
Meanwhile, a whole side of my family is somehow
separated from me. My grandfather, Abbas "Babajoun" Farivar,
passed away in Montreal in 1998. My grandmother, Zari "Zarijoun" Farivar,
still lives in Tehran, often with her mother, an elusive woman
who is only known by the respectful title of Khanoum (Madame).
Babajoun, a kind and gentle man, is someone whom
I never was able to understand or communicate very easily with.
As I grew
older and began to show increased interest in one side of my
family that I didn't know, his health declined further. He also
was deaf, as I remember him, and understood much of, while being
unable to speak much English. This only compounded things.
One of the most powerful memories I have of
Babajoun is one time when he and Zarijoun were visiting our home
(they only come
once every 3-5 years, and their journey takes six months, given
that they have five children on three continents). We were all
sitting at the table, waiting for Zarijoun, who was continually
futzing with something in the kitchen.
Babajoun called to her, with a slight impatient,
but understanding tone in his voice: "Zarijoun, biyaa, beshin!" (Zarijoun,
come, sit down!)
At the time (and up until the time that I took
my first Farsi class at UC Berkeley), my Farsi vocabulary was
limited to about
ten words and phrases. I knew simple commands, a few words for
food, "baleh" (yes), "nah" (no), "salaam" (hello), "khoda
hafez" (goodbye) and "mersi" (thank you).
But, the amazing thing is, that those words were
among the two that were part of my vocabulary. As far as I can
the only time that Babajoun said something in Farsi that I actually
When I was in middle school and high school, I
asked my parents to pay for me to have Farsi lessons, but they
I don't know if they didn't take me seriously or what, but it
As I entered Berkeley, the cryptic language of
curved lines and dots actually started to make some sense. And
with the help of
my Persian roommate, and good friend,
Sina Mohammadi, I was able to make slow, but assured progress.
Along with learning the language, came a fountain
of interest about my culture that I knew little about. I started
and learning everything I could get my hands on. Sure, I had
interest before that, I wrote a paper for my IAS 45 (World History)
class on the Iranian Revolution, and dedicated it to Babajoun,
whom my Dad told me served as chief of staff for Dr. Mohammad
Mossadeq, the CIA-overthrown, democratically-elected Prime Minister
of Iran in 1953.
I started reading books about Iran. Literature.
History. I purchased a Canadian-made map of Iran from the Rand
MacNally store in San
Francisco and pinned it to my wall. I devoured Andre Dubus's
House of Sand and Fog, and
Elaine Scioliano's Persian Mirrors.
I savored the films
of Majid Majidi, hoping that with each film that my Farsi comprehension
would increase incrementally. I downloaded
the music of Iranian pop star Sandy, and felt a discrete rush
when he sang a word that I understood.
A few months ago, like
the Parshaw, the boy in the Bahrampour's article, I too, have
purchased a Shah-era Iranian flag and have
it proudly hung on my wall.
I've experimented actually trying to emulate some
of the Persian dishes that I have enjoyed over the years growing
up in close
proximity to Irangeles and "Vestvood" Blvd. I've joined
and become fascinated with Persian blogs like Hossein Derakhshan's
hoder.com and Pedram Moallemian's
one hand, when our Persian class lets out everyday, and the "Persian" kids
get together and talk about this or that, easily and fluidly
speaking Fargilisi, I am left to
laugh and smile, only understanding some of the time. But on
the other hand, when Dr. Pirnazar explains an Iranian concept
like taarof for the sake of the non-Persians
in the room, I feel like I really am Persian, and I feel somewhat
like part of an elite because I know this tradition, I've experienced
-- and this something that cannot be taught in a classroom, it
is something that you grow up with.
And I know that when I go to Iran this summer,
or whenever, I won't be fully Persian. I won't speak the language
and my writing looks like that of an elementary school kid. But
am I a "Child of the Revolution", one who has no
memory of the Shah, one that identifies with the Iran of my grandparents,
as Parshaw does? Am I Iran's youth, even though I have never
glared down a driver in downtown Tehran, touched the fabrics
for sale at the bazaar of Isfahan, or explored what used to be
our ancestral home at Arak, now in the news for being a nuclear
site? Even if I could speak Farsi like any Tehrooni,
what would that make me?
I've often said that I would trade my fluent French,
and mediocre Italian and Wolof skills to be able to speak Farsi
in a heartbeat.
And I would. Would that complete this other half that has been
What is to become of me?
What is to become of the "Farivar" family,
who will likely lose their authentic Iranian identity after my
Out of the six grandchildren that were produced by the offspring
of Babajoun and Zarijoun, only one, my cousin Babak can speak
Farsi. In fact, more of us can speak French (four of six) than
I, Cyrus Farivar, who speaks French fluently,
a language that neither of his parents speak, the product of
a Muslim man and
a Christian woman, the grandson of a Presbyterian minister, a
descendent of the prophet Mohammad, who is dating a wonderful
Jewish girl and have lived in four nations on four continents
-- am I the ultimate mix of my ancestors, a conglomeration of
ideas, religions, philosophies, with blue eyes and dark hair
and lots of body hair?
Kii boodiim? Kii hastam?
Who were we? Who am I?
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