Things that make me who I am
April 24, 2001
In October of 1982, my parents, like thousands of other Persians at the
time, fled from their native country Iran and sought refuge in America.
Though I was still unborn (my mother was six months pregnant), their decision
has had the single most influential impact on my life.
Growing up Persian -- and, perhaps more importantly, Persian and female
-- in a country with little knowledge of Middle Eastern culture (short of
stereotypes) has proven a challenge. It has ingrained within me a sense
of culture and an awareness of people that I would never have had otherwise.
Though I was born in Oklahoma City and I am technically an American citizen,
pride compels me to consider myself Persian. However, various circumstances
have prevented me from ever visiting Iran -- a fact that continually amazes
Iranian adults, because I am thoroughly fluent in Farsi.
Most Persian teens speak strictly English to their parents, which I find
disappointing because preservation of culture is one of my foremost priorities.
To that effect, I hope that when I am on my own I can practice the same
traditions as I do now.
Being Persian makes me feel like I'm part of a bigger picture -- like
there's an entire community to support me, beyond my family. Each day presents
me with another opportunity to educate someone about my heritage and myself:
"Where are you from?" "Do you speak English at home?"
"What religion are you?"
When I was younger, the constant, repetitive questions bothered me; at
a time when acceptance was most important, I felt isolated and strange.
But as I've matured, I've embraced the things that make me unconventional:
wild black hair, exotic facial features, fluency in a mysterious second
I've also learned to welcome people's curiosity and use the opportunity
to give them a little insight into who I am. The number of people who don't
even know where Iran is, much less anything about the country or its people,
I've met few who haven't had a previous stereotype of Iranians -- most
connote us with terrorism, misogyny, deserts, camels and religious fanaticism.
Most are unaware of the genuine hospitality, the zest for life, the love
of good food and the strong family ties. I love the satisfaction of introducing
someone to another aspect of my culture.
Capturing the Persian spirit in words is difficult; anything short of
the full experience doesn't do it justice. Parties are always loud and festive
and involve hours of upbeat dancing. Food can only be described as gourmet.
Family takes precedence over virtually everything.
Persians are always curious, always looking to gain knowledge about humanity.
Perhaps that is the reason I am so eager to learn about others' lives and
In Iran, an educated individual is held in the highest regard, treated
with the utmost respect. Because of the number of potential students (over
half of Iran's population was born after the 1979 revolution) and the lack
of adequate resources, getting an education is a lofty goal, and those who
attain it are revered.
In the past two years, this younger generation, "children of the
revolution," began exhibiting opposition to the current oppressive
regime through organized, peaceful demonstrations and rallies. At each election,
reformists receive an overwhelming majority of votes -- Persians are nothing
if not passionate about their cause.
For all the knowledge and positive experiences that come with being Persian,
there are an equal number of challenges to face. Maintaining the delicate
balance between my Persian side and my American side is a daily struggle.
I am fiercely liberal, a trait I attribute to my father's open-mindedness.
Therein lies the conflict between my conservative Iranian background
and my freethinking American background.
Also, there are issues with my parents; despite their attempts to be
progressive, they retain many traditional values and are at times unaware
of the possibilities available to them. Consequently, I have missed some
of the American childhood experiences: I never went to camp, or joined Girl
Scouts, or took family summer vacations.
Beginning in elementary school, I was always painfully aware of the difference
between other kids and myself. I looked different, spoke differently, ate
different foods. Shifting from "school-mode" to "home-mode"
was and is a daily culture shock.
I used to be too embarrassed to bring my friends home-what if they thought
my parents' accents were weird? Or that our food was gross? Again, I gradually
learned that those differences make me unique. Incidentally, I tend to make
friends with other Asians, because we share something in being from different
As I grow older, I face other challenges. Although my parents have consented
to my dating, I still feel a certain amount of apprehension, because it's
simply not accepted in our culture. Now that I am beginning the college
process, I realize how much my mother doesn't know about the system, and
I feel like I'm on my own in making the most important decision of my life.
To keep things in perspective, I remind myself of things my parents offer
me, things that American teens rarely acknowledge the value in: appreciation
of opportunity, an ambitious Persian work ethic, rich cultural history,
value of common sense, respect for authority figures and the sanctity of
a romantic bond.
Dealing with the culture lines has made me a more perceptive, observant
individual. I feel like I value aspects of both cultures that many people
take for granted, because I have perspective from both sides. I would never
wish my experiences to be different, as they have collectively taught me
the things that make me who I am.