No use hiding
By Sasan (Mohammad Hossein) Seifikar
April 29, 2004
Since the attacks on September 11, life has become more difficult
for those of us whose origins go back to the Middle Eastern regions
and its vicinity. There is a sense that we are now all suspects.
Encouraged by the President's rhetoric of "us and them" and
his characterization of America's enemies as being against freedom,
democracy, and American values, popular media often portrays
us as violent, aggressive, and misogynistic. Many people raise
questions about our religion and beliefs, our allegiances, our
patriotism, and our mixed identity.
In response to these pressures,
some of us who are Iranian-American find ourselves down playing
and even hiding our Iranian identity. We certainly have good
reasons to emphasize the American part of our identity because
the United States has been very good to many of us. We have
been able to live our lives as we wish here and to pursue whatever
goals or aspirations we may have without interference from
state or religious authorities. I however want to argue that
in the long run it may also be in our interest to recognize
and acknowledge the Iranian part of our identity and learn to take
pride in it.
It is certainly not easy for our youth to fight
the social pressures to cast away and conceal the Iranian part
they often lack the resources to resist these pressures. But
as adults in order to have peace with ourselves and to be
ourselves, we may need to seriously come to terms with all
aspects of our identity and learn to acknowledge ourselves fully.
a sense if we want to have a robust, stable and sound sense
and our worth, if we want to have a healthy dose of self
confidence and self security, then we must be able to appreciate
of our identity and learn to affirm ourselves fully. If on
the other hand we try to hide the Iranian part of our identity
treat it as if it is unworthy, then inevitably we may come
to feel somehow impure, incomplete, and less worthy than others.
Some Iranian-Americans seem reluctant to acknowledge
the Iranian part of themselves because they accept the popular
of Iranians and fail to see anything worthy in their Iranian
identity or in Iranian culture. Other Iranian-Americans
reject the Iranian
part of their identity because they assume that accepting
and cherishing it entails affirming or identifying with a narrow
set of beliefs
and values, namely, those beliefs and values that are held
by the anti-democratic and fundamentalist forces that
But these assumptions are false. Cultures are not
but they are always very complex and multi-layered. They
are also nourishing. The Iranian culture is no different.
very old and very diverse. Iran has a rich history and
many rich literary, music, and artistic traditions. Iran, like
all the world's ancient cultures, has always been a patchwork of
different ethnic groups, languages,
Besides the dominate Persians, Iran is home to
a large number of
Turks and Kurds. There are also many Balochis, Luries,
Gilakis, Turkmen, Ghashghais, Bakhtiaris and Arabs
living in Iran.
The most common spoken language is Farsi. But Turkish,
Arabic, and Armenian are also spoken in Iran.
of Iran is
2500 years old. It is mostly made of the rise and
fall of the various dynasties that ruled Iran, the civil
different local rulers for the control of the country,
and the various foreign wars that Iran fought with
it was invading or being invaded by.
Each of the successive
dynasties that ruled Iran had their own unique influences
and styles. Each
often celebrated and promoted some particular styles
of architecture, literature, poetry, and music over others.
all have left their own stamp on Iran and add to its
The cultures of those nations and people who at one
time or another overran and occupied Iran, such as Greeks,
and the cultures of those nations and people who were
invaded and occupied by Iran, such as those of many of its neighbors,
left their marks on the Iranian culture and contributed
to its making.
All these various variables and influences not only
make evident the richness and the complexity of the
they also point to the fact that if one appreciates
folklore, architecture, or art, then Iranian culture
has a lot to offer such a person.
Each of these various
art and cultural expressions reflect a wide variety
of different perspectives on life and ways of looking at
the world. In
this way, they have the power to enrich our lives
and broaden our
horizons by providing those who seek it with bits
of wisdom, beauty, inspiration
and a wide variety of values and ways of being a
These cultural treasures however do not just
fall into our
laps in virtue
of our connections to the Iranian culture and the
fact that Iranian culture is part of our inheritance. Accessing
we learn about them, it requires work and sometimes
a lot of work.
Iranian culture, like the American culture, has
both good and bad values, customs, and practices. Not all
aspect of the American culture. The United States
Constitution is based on values such as personal freedom and
civic equality. But as the debates surrounding issues such
as gay marriage
and abortion rights show, clearly many Americans
extend these values to everyone.
Most states carry
out capital punishment,
but there are many Americans who oppose the death
penalty. Moreover, there are many Americans who dislike football
or pop music. These
people however do not cease to be Americans,
because there are many ways of being American. In other
of the American culture and tradition, does not
mean allegiance to some narrow set of beliefs and values.
This sort of
logic also applies to embracing the Iranian culture,
cherishing the Iranian culture does not entail
affirming or identifying with the values and beliefs of the
currently hold power in Iran. There are many
Iranians who believe in the
separation of religion and state.
There are also
many Iranians who are opposed to polygamy. Because of the
of living under oppression, many young Iranians
are in some
passionate about personal freedom, political
participation, and feminism
than their Western counterparts. Moreover,
there are many Iranians who
enjoy pop music, dancing, and going to parties.
It is perhaps important to remind ourselves that
the United States of America is and has always
been a land
is in fact hardly many places left in the world
which are not home
to many people of a variety of different backgrounds
Multiculturalism and multiple
identity are not
about to go
away. It is no use hiding the Iranian part
of our identity. Even if
we have never lived in Iran and think of
ourselves as basically Americans,
we often cannot escape our connections with
Iran because others will remind us of it. Moreover,
one or both
our parents are
mostly shaped by Iran and we ourselves often
look darker and have thicker
In other words, we are confronted
with our connections, when we visit our parents and
see ourselves in
the mirror. It is worth pointing out that
if we know something about Iran,
its history and culture, and we are able
to respond and correct
people's misconceptions when they say something
mean and completely false about our culture
would be not only
speaking out for our culture and people
but also for ourselves and our dignity.
Sasan (Mohammad Hossein) Seifikar is a freelance writer.
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