Cherishing our lives in America, while on many occasions successfully managing to hold on to our Iranian heritage, language, culture, and all
May 22, 2007
Episode 1: I was born in Amirieh neighborhood of Tehran. Before my first birthday, my parents moved us into a huge villa style house in suburban Tehran. I grew up in that suburb of Tehran, attended schools nearby and eventually went to Kharazmi High School from which I graduated. I was a typical Tehrani girl who knew the city like the back of her hand, and was nimble in moving from one point to another, claiming the big, beautiful, ugly Tehran as her hometown. My parents had come to Tehran from Hamadan in the 1930’s when they had been very young, and had later married and given birth to all my brothers and sisters in Tehran. Our contact with Hamadan had been very limited and infrequent, limited for the most part to some relatives of my father’s visits to Tehran. I have vague recollections of trips to Hamadan when I was very young, and I didn’t really see Hamadan again until I was 16, when my parents took me and my sisters to stay at Bou Ali Hotel, very much like tourists. Though it was a memorable trip, I was not impressed by Hamadan. Feeling completely unattached to anywhere other than Tehran, if anybody ever asked me where I was from, I would say I was from Tehran, and refused to acknowledge any ties with Hamadan. Later, when I came to US to study, for more than a decade I intermittently and interchangeably forgot about my neighborhood, Tehran, Hamadan, and Iran. I will explain in the next installments how and when I remembered them again.
Episode 2: I have learned that we live again through our children. As they learn and grow, so do we. Our children provide us with a full-length mirror, in which we see ourselves again. Our pretenses and half-truths about ourselves come head to head with reality in our children’s presence. It is a sobering and humbling experience through and through. My older son was 6 years old in 1992, and on a bright January Saturday, he taught me a lesson. He and I were having a conversation about speaking Farsi at home, during which he announced: “Why should I speak Farsi? I am an American.” I said to him: “You were born in America, and that makes you an American, but you are also an Iranian, and Iranians speak Farsi.” He said: “Why am I an Iranian?” I said: “Because your parents came from Iran.” In the style of the short attention span of six-year-old boys, our conversation ended soon. But for a long time after that conversation, I sat there thinking, and feeling like a hypocrite. My parents had come from Hamadan, and I had flatly refused to be a Hamadani. I had deliberately disliked and disdained that piece of my identity, because ... because why? Because Tehran was bigger and better and more exciting than Hamadan? Because I didn’t like their humbler appearance, or the dialect or accent Hamadani’s had when they spoke Farsi? Because none of my other friends had been Hamadani’s? So in an attempt to correct this hypocrisy, this double standard which I was imposing on my own child, I decided that day that I am a Hamadani. Except for some minor details, such as how I could learn to become a Hamadani sitting in the San Francisco Bay Area, literally from scratch. When we went to live in Iran soon thereafter, I took myself and the whole family to numerous trips to Hamadan, found what few “relatives” were still living there, visited its bazaar and its many historical monuments, and tried to learn and recognize the dialect, asking questions about its history, searching for my parents’ heritage. Since that day in 1992, every time someone asks me where in Iran I am from, I say proudly: “Hamadan.” Of course to a bona fide Hamadani’s who then starts asking me about my roots and family and whereabouts, I would have to say that I am not a terribly good Hamadani, knowing little about it, but that I am willing to learn. I have read books on its history and dialect and have tried to become a better Hamadani.
Episode 3: I lived in Tehran and got used to being a Hamadani-Tehrani Iranian. Through a succession of events, I came to know an artist named Mehdi Ahanchi. Ahanchi creates impressive works of art by combining copper and cold ceramic, covering the entire creation with polyester glaze. He is considered a unique sculpture artist and his works are displayed in contemporary arts museums and collections (http://www.opus125.org/mocia/ ). To a few lucky people, too, he sells his artwork for handsome prices. We bought a collection of Ahanchi works for our home in Tehran. Among the pieces we owned, was a flat, framed sculpture of a man sitting in his pottery “studio” in Hamadan’s Lalehjin village. Lalehjin is a village just outside Hamadan, boasting the title of pottery capital of Iran, sending millions of primarily blue, and occasionally different colored hand-made bowls, plates and artifacts into the Iranian market. I have visited Lalehjin many times and also have a modest collection of its pottery, which though is not very durable because it chips and breaks easily, is a powerful symbol of a place I am now dutifully and lovingly calling my province. It felt so “appropriate” for me to have this much-loved artwork in my home, the subject of which had so much to do with me. When under certain circumstances I left that home in 2006, leaving all in and about the home behind, there was only one thing I regretted leaving behind -- the Ahanchi work which depicted the old man in Lalehjin, somehow a piece of my newly-developed and cherished identity.
Episode 4: Eight months ago, I asked my friend who runs a successful interior decorating business in Tehran, whether he could locate any Ahanchi works. Shortly thereafter, I received an email with two pictures as enclosures. One of them was another copy of the same Ahanchi work in my home in Tehran. The other was a continuation of that theme, displaying Lalehjin’s Pottery Market in which blue bowls and vases and such were presented for sale. I was so delighted I asked him to buy them for me and wait for further instructions. The flat, framed sculptures are huge and heavy and several attempts by relatives coming to these parts to bring them along were unsuccessful. Another dear friend finally had them shipped to me and I went to take delivery of them in San Francisco Airport last week. When I brought them home, breaking their wooden crate and pulling them out, I felt reunited with the dearest of friends! I jumped up and down with delight, dancing a dance of joy around the two of them in my humble home in the Bay Area. I felt that I had brought a piece of my lost identity, something I had been forced to leave behind, into my life. I felt I can now truly start my new life, with my entire family on board.
Epilogue: The Ahanchi works are mounted on the wall now. Seeing the pure joy I feel in having the works around me, my children have reacted jovially, having finally understood what it means to be a Hamadani-Tehrani-Iranian-American in their mother. I look at the artwork with happiness and pride. I am reminded of what lucky immigrants we have managed to become; appreciating and cherishing our lives in America, while on many occasions successfully managing to hold on to our Iranian heritage, language, culture, and all. I am reminded again that to be able to live free and regret-free, we must accept our identities in their entirety, and to embrace this which only the luckiest people in the world can have -- the best of both worlds. Comment
* Lalehjin Pottery Factory Photo From: http://www.persia.org/imagemap/hamedan.html
* Hamadan Pottery Shop Photo From: http://www.salamiran.org/CT/Tourism/Map/hamadan/