October 27, 1999
Distilling an identity
I keep checking out iranian.com because, every once in a while, hidden
among record promos and not-so-funny conversation bits, there is an article
that completely brings me to tears. These unprofessional articles, often
written in less than perfect English, move me more than any well-researched
study or master reporting from Iran. I guess, as they say in Persian,
if it comes from the heart it reaches the heart (ageh az del biyaad, beh
And so it was with Mr. Alikhani's recent article "Stop
or go?". I think it moved me because it dealt with a subject
that I have wrestled with many times since leaving Iran -- the search for
one's identity when living away from the source of identification.
Here are some of my thoughts about how our generation of Iranians in
America can distill an identity which is completely in tune with the values
of our parents and grandparents without ending up alienated from the host
society and ineffective as a result.
As Iranians in the U.S., we have faced greater challenges than any immigrant
group since WWII. So no my friend, we are not going to be remembered as
"Iranians who went to America for an easier life." I would imagine
any opinion poll of Americans, taken within the past 20 years, rating their
"most disliked foreign country" would put Iran -- and with that
Iranians -- in the number one or two position. We will be remembered for
having dealt with all that crap, and (hopefully) still emerged as successful
Next month Americans will commemorate the twentieth anniversary of their
Tehran embassy takeover. By now most of us Iranian-Americans don't even
care about public opinion and how it may be re-manipulated on Nov. 4.
What we will probably commemorate is how we were publicly stripped of
our national pride and how we responded -- changing from proud extroverts
to sad introverts.
Twenty years of my life have been spent drifting the psychic no man's
land between American pop culture and Revolutionary Iran. I rocked to
AC/DC in high school and drank Budweiser in college. At the same time
I tracked the events in Iran religiously, crying when seeing the Nightline
footage of blistered bodies of the mustard gas exposed Iranian soldiers
and the Time magazine photos of our dead child-soldiers along the
And I never, ever, thought the ignorant American comments about the
revolution, the war, or the theocratic despotism were cool or even close
to explaining the reality of it. Along the way, I ended up blessed with
a beautiful wife and two lovely boys -- none of whom speak any Persian.
But they are full of fascination for everything that is Dad and I take
that role seriously.
I'm still drifting and feel silly giving advice. But I feel that we
should face up to our unique responsibilities as Iranian-Americans. This
is primarily to learn, seek out common grounds, and teach. As Iranians
living in the U.S. we have access to lots of information which we could
use to learn and to educate. Why not research something non-political
about Iran and share with others.
Mr. Alikhani brought up the masterful style of the American architect
Frank Lloyd Wright in his article. Why not research the Iranian architectural
styles used in the 15-16th century mosques, for example, and publish a
paper in an architectural journal about it? We can all do such things in
our own way.
Taking my old Iranian history textbooks and translating them to English
for our kids, is a project I have set out to do. Perhaps our identity will
ultimately emerge from what we do and not by where we live.