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Identity

Smack in the middle
It is good to, for a change, leave the pride aside and imagine ourselves in the other person's shoes

December 8, 2003
The Iranian

There I was, thinking I had written my article for iranian.com and it's time to move on to the other publications who have been good enough to extend my deadline. But, wham! Here's Cas Anvar on the front page, bringing up a subject too close to my heart to let go. [See: Simply human nature]

I read, and reread, both sides and find myself smack in the middle. As a born and raised Iranian I am on Kambiz's side [See: Garden variety]. But as a mother, who has raised three Iranian-Americans, I feel for Cas.

I call him Cas, because I think that's who he is. Not that he does no appreciate his Iranian name, but because he was raised as more of a "Cas" than "Kasra". For years I fought being called "Zoe," but the truth is, if that makes some people's lives easier, I no longer mind it. I continue to introduce myself as Zohreh, but when they struggle between Zora, Zorba and Zebra, I comfort them by saying they can call me Zoe, if that makes it easier. In most cases I hear a sigh of relief and the next time we meet, they remember my name. That, never happens to "Zohreh". After all, I tell myself, isn't that why we have names? To be remembered and addressed?

Someone once said, the world peace depends on one word: Tolerance. My problem with this heated--and justified--discussion is that though I see both sides, I can see no sign of that tolerance. I have lived in the West for over thirty years and have learned to distance myself from such hot issues enough to arrive at a fair conclusion. As a proud Iranian I, too have had my share of debates which often take the tone of defense. Born and raised in any country, you grow-up with a certain level of pride and patriotism. Selfish parents, we are denying our new generation from their share of such a pride. "You may be born, raised, educated and married here. But you are an Iranian!"

My children were very young during the hostage crisis. I don't know about other parts of the country, but in the Midwest, the atmosphere was charged. Some parents even feared for their children's safety. My own kids gathered enough courage to plead if I would "please not talk in that language around school!" That brought an end to their limited education of their mother tongue and made me the target of a social criticism which continues to this day. As a writer and a poet, I would have loved nothing more than to be able to share my passion of Persian literature with my children, but it is their choice to learn Persian, not mine. (As it turns out, one of them is already fluent.)

None of this is intended to defend Cas for his camouflaged identity. Nor is it a failure to understand Kambiz. If anything, I am more of a Kambiz in this story than Cas!

I find Cas caught in his self-spun web. He began by not clarifying his identity and letting a careless mistake go by in order to further his chances of professional success. He did not so much lie about it, as he failed to say anything, including the truth. By the time he wanted to voice it out, it seemed already too late. No pun was intended and he did not do this for a lack of pride in his heritage, but rather as a means of convenience. Shaming him on what began innocently, would serve no one. In fact, now that he has--for the lack of a better word--come out of the closet, the least we can do is to support him, embrace him in our community, thus encourage others to do the same. As my grandmother often said in my defense, "When the child says I didn't do it, it means she is sorry!"

Understanding Kambiz's frustration, and sharing some of it, all I can tell him is to try and tolerate. Cas is not the first and will not be the last to hide his identity. It is an angry world out there and the flames of rage--not to mention ignorance--have pushed many Iranians into hiding. It reminds me of my own childhood and how, coming from Mashad, I dreaded visits to Tehran. God only knows how I tried to blend in with those kids who spoke with a Tehrani accent. At times I hated being identified as a Mashadi and none of my "magnificent tribal heritage" lectures helped. But I was never punished for my ignorance, and in time, I grew-up enough to feel the pride my family had tried to instill in me. Had it not been for their tolerance, I might still hate my background.

Iranians are not all willing to tolerate. We are a proud people who often cling to extremes and, as a result, become too critical of ourselves. It is good to, for a change, leave the pride aside and imagine ourselves in the other person's shoes. Can we see what they saw and feel what they must have felt? Only then do we forgive them for their mistakes and only then do we begin to learn the true meaning of tolerance.

As we struggle toward "world peace" are we able to establish some form of peace at home and amongst ourselves?

About

Zohreh Khazai Ghahremani is a retired dentist and a freelance writer. She lives in San Diego, California. Top

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