Ideas for our future
Keeping Persian culture alive
April 5, 2006
Did you have a great Norooz? Wishing you a Happy and Healthy Persian New Year!
As we were celebrating the arrival of Spring and the beginning of Norooz (Persian New Year) last month, I called many friends to wish them a happy new year. There was one friend who made a comment that made me think.
He said, “Norooz in America is just not like the way it is back home in Iran (Hal-o-Havaye Iran-ro Nadare)”. I knew exactly what he was saying; After all, March 20th or 21st is just another workday in America: offices and schools are open, and many of us are simply working or busy with our daily routines in America. But in Iran, a month before Norooz, there is a huge level of energy and activity: house cleaning, shopping for new clothes, often a two-week school holiday, usually a week off from work, and, of course, the unending visits and revisits (deed-o-bazdeed). In summary, as they say, “Norooz is in the air”.
After almost 30 years of living in America, I have learned there are many things we could do and should do to keep our Persian cultural heritage alive here in this great land of “melting pots.” After all, the Irish have their St. Patrick’s Day, the Germans have their Oktoberfest, and who can forget the great Mexican celebration of Cinco de Mayo or Chinese New Year? The key is how to best retain our Persian culture, while still adapting to American way of life. So, you may ask, what is it in our culture that we need to maintain? I would say everything that has to do with our identity as Iranians; from our food, art, and language, to the great history and tradition that we grew up with. Having raised two kids in America (Ages 14 and 12), here are few practical suggestions I could offer you as you deal with young ones being raised here:
- First and foremost is the language; whether you call it Farsi or Persian, we need to keep it alive by speaking it and teaching it to our children at home. The rule in my house is simple: “at home we speak Farsi.” I know it is not always easy, but believe me it is possible. Fortunately, in Southern California, there are many resources for learning Farsi. Check out Khayam Persian School Foundation (www.persianschool.com) or others in your local area. For young adults there are Persian Classes at many colleges including UCLA, Cal State Fullerton, UC Irvine, and Saddleback Community college. Be careful how far you push them when it comes to Farsi. After all, this is their second language. We are not after raising great Persian poets; we simply want them to speak and hopefully also read and write the language. The best we could hope is for them to speak what we call “Finglish.”
- If you can travel to Iran, by all means do it. It is worth the cost, the hassle, and the hustle. For many of us adults, our roots are there. For young ones it is the best way to get first hand experience of their parents’ homeland, visit relatives and, yes, the love and affection they receive from their cousins, aunts, and other relatives are simply priceless. I know many older teens who have recently visited Iran and have truly enjoyed traveling the country and connecting with their relatives, history, and culture. In fact, in some cases, they have seen more of Iran than many of us have in our lifetime.
- If you want to maintain your culture, practice it. For example, I always take Norooz off and do not go to work. I also inform the school about Norooz and keep the kids at home. This has many great side benefits. Many coworkers ask about our new year and I explain it to them. The same goes for schools. When teachers and other kids are curious, we go there and explain our tradition. Fortunately, there are many Iranian moms who go to the school and set “Sofre Haft-Seen.” This is the best opportunity to explain our great New Year tradition to non-Iranians. Ask any Iranian kid and they will proudly tell you how much “Eidee” they have received!
- Get involved in the Iranian community. I have often wondered at the lack of interest in community work by some Iranians themselves. How do we overcome this unfortunate lack of commitment to our community? Show a little interest! I am not suggesting that we all drop our busy schedules and head for the association meeting right this minute, or go to every Persian activity that’s out there. I am merely suggesting that we look beyond our immediate circle of friends and loved ones and get into some activities that are good for the community at large. There are many great organizations in Southern California that are formed to promote and preserve our cultural heritage. Without your support and involvement they will not grow and prosper. Do your own research and join one or, better yet, volunteer to help them. These organizations plan Norooz events, Shab-e-Yalda, Mehregan, etc. There are many Iranian magazines and newspapers here in America. Why not distribute them more widely, make them available to people besides those with a Persian background? Knowledge is the key to reducing prejudice and apathy with regards to any culture present here today. Don't you think it's time that more people took an interest in what Persian culture actually is?
These are but just a few ideas. I am sure there are many many better ones out there. I would love to hear from you.
So what is the future of our Persian Culture here in America? Well, as the saying goes, “The only way to predict our future is to create it.” So I say the future is up to us, every single one of us. As a “TEAM”, Together Every One Achieves More! If we fail, we have no one but ourselves to blame.