By Sussan Tahmasebi Washington, DC
While reading Ali Parandeh's article “Persian NOT Farsi”, I couldn't help but be reminded of a recent conversation I overheard. The discussion centered on trying to figure out which country was/is the worst este'margar (colonizer), and if given the choice, which country would one choose to be a mosta'mer-e (colony) of. I wondered why one would even have a discussion on this issue from this perspective.
Since then, I have spent a lot of time thinking about this conversation. It is incredible how racism weaves itself into the fabric of one's individual and collective identity. Our history with the West has become a integral component of the way we identify ourselves. Unfailingly, this realm of our identity rears itself in our expressions of self — in our actions, words, reactions, opposition or submission — be it conscious or subconscious.
For me, the question of identity does not begin and end with telling the world that I am Iranian, Muslim, woman, other… There is a lot of pain in knowing your true status in society, especially when you are an other, minority, lesser, not equal.
Recognizing one's status in the whole scheme of the world is only a first step. For those of us who recognize our second class status there is only power to comfort us. By power, I mean being proactive. Responding to the forces that push you down. Claiming your identity. Not in definitions that others impose upon you, but in ways you choose for yourself. In opposition, in resistance and yes, in simple survival.
When I choose to tell people that I am Iranian and speak Farsi it is for a reason. It is an attempt at defining myself in my own terms. And, regardless of whether Iranians chose Farsi over Persian in a conscious effort toward self definition, I think the infusion of the word into the English language is proof enough of our collective power.
It is high time for us to take some of our power back. As Iranians, we have spent too long being defined by the powers that be. And so, if replacing Persian with Farsi is the way that we consciously or otherwise choose to do it, why not? After all, language is a social construct. It is fluid. Defining of and yet defined by the very individuals who use it.
The English dictionary is not scripture (and even there you have great room for interpretation). By forcing one another to accept prescribed definitions of our collective identity do we not become a party to the system which classifies us as second class citizens? Let's define ourselves for a change and leave well enough alone!!
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