Competing with cousins
They speak Persian, I don't
By Parisa Zangeneh
August 28, 2001
Most of my father's nieces and nephews speak perfect Farsi, the language
of our Persian ancestors. I, however, understand the basic terms "You"
and "Come to Daddy". During our pre-school days, I enviously watched
them speak rapid Farsi with their parents, both being Iranian.
Unlike our purebred relations, my brother and I stem from Persian-Danish-English
roots. While this may seem like an interesting combination, it was torturous
to my young conformist mind. I desperately yearned to be like my young kinfolk,
who were able to respond smartly to the questions of the old Persian ladies
that drifted around the Iranian social scene.
My young family members would walk around smugly, ready to fulfill the
wishes of the chronically thirsty by getting whomever a glass of water,
or complete any other small favors for the grownups.
While they were off winning the affections of the old and fervently Iranian,
my brother and I often sat around next to our parents, occasionally pointing
to a dish or object we knew the name of and delivering the bit of information.
The adults would usually smile indulgently, call one of us Aziz-am
(darling), and then proceed with whatever they were doing. Life was difficult.
Though I was often covetous of my Persian cousins' knowledge, I had a
great time impressing my mother's family with what I did know. Nestled in
the Ozarks, their lives revolved around family, farming, and fun, three
things I adored.
Knowing what my dad meant when he asked me to bring him aub (water) or
sheer (milk) restored much of my self-esteem, though I knew my other cousins
would scoff at such mediocre feats. I was in my element, being surrounded
by people who would watch awe-stricken as I filled my daddy's cup with water.
However, these cousins also knew much more than I did. They could swim,
catch crawfish, and ride horses. Fortunately, learning these skills
did not require massive amounts of memorization, and I could pick them up
before I had to go home.
Although visits to my dad's family were often delightful, some were antagonizing,
seeing that there was no way my relatives could magically impart their language
skills to me. On the other hand, jaunts with mom's family often resulted
in getting marvelously dirty, finding a hidden chicken egg, or jumping madly
on my grandma's trampoline.
I adored both sets of relatives, but I enjoyed our trips to the Ozarks
much more. When we stayed with my father's family, I was immersed in an
environment where I didn't understand everything. Being accustomed to comprehending
most of my world, I was often irritated under such circumstances.
Over time I learned more Persian words and phrases, which made me much
more comfortable in the company of older Iranians. As a result, I no longer
harbor envious sentiments toward my cousins, nor do I hesitate to participate
in purely Iranian functions.
I'm still far from fluent, but I can at least say hello to those old