A couple of days ago, I was talking to a friend about Iran, and he asked me how old I was when I had moved to the United States. I explained to him that I was born and raised in California. He looked surprised and confused. “Then you're not Iranian,” he told me. “You're American.” He then began to lecture me on how I should be a proud American; after all, I was betraying my patriotic duty to my country by supporting Iran. “Ay baba,” I thought, “Give me a break already.” Once again, I found myself immersed in an argument about nationality.
For many Iranians who left their country in search of a better life, Iran has always remained their true home. They have not forgotten the land in where they were born and raised in. I've only been to Iran for one-month visits every few years, but that has been enough for me to know that Iran is my true home, not America.
Many argue that simply being born in the United States, you automatically become an American. Yet I've never thought of myself as an Iranian-American, only Iranian. Why should a birth certificate tell me what country I should identify with and how I should feel? It may sound extreme, but I don't feel any “Americaness”. Sure, I love hip-hop, I wear my Tommy Hilfiger, but deep inside, none of that is very important to me.
So what is it that makes a person Iranian, rather than Iranian-American, British-Iranian, Australian-Iranian, or German-Iranian? Does it matter where you were born? Or is it what's in your heart, the emptiness you feel inside because you're so far away from your homeland? Am I turning my back on the country which has given me a home, an education, and the freedom to do as I choose?
All of that doesn't matter to me. What matters is whether or not I can go to the “meydoon” and play soccer with my cousins, or eat “faloodeh” along the banks of Zayandeh Rud. What's important is whether or not I can feel the warmth of my people, the strength of my homeland. What's important is how far away the next once-every-few-years visit to Iran is. I yearn for the scorching summers spent in Tehran, and the enchanting trips to shomal.
The people in Iran may not be rich in material wealth, but the richness of family is worth far more than the wealth we attain abroad. Don't get me wrong. I enjoy living in the United States; I have freedoms and opportunities most teenagers and college students in Iran only dream about. But I always feel like something is missing. As Iranians living abroad we lack the unity and closeness that is so natural to those living in Iran.
I'm fortunate enough that my parents have taught me to be proud of my culture, and to be proud to be an Iranian. It breaks my heart when I see fellow Iranians hesitate to reveal their nationality, or claim that they're from a different country altogether.
We are Iranians, and we should never forget that. We come from one of the oldest cradles of human civilization. Whether we were born in Iran or abroad, we must never lose sight of our heritage. It is our identity; to ignore or hide it would mean severing our roots.
I am not ashamed to say I am an Iranian. I am not ashamed to say I come from the land of poets, scientists, and thinkers. But I am ashamed to see Iranians shy away from their heritage. Being born in America is no excuse. I was born in the United States, but so what? I speak Persian at home, I eat Iranian food, I watch Iranian films, and I cried tears of joy when our soccer team won the game that mattered the most.
I realize that Iran faces many problems today, politically, socially, and economically. Iran is not a perfect country, but I love her nevertheless. How many of us can say that we truly feel accepted and at home in the countries we presently reside in? Iran will always be our home, regardless of how long we've been away, or where we were born. I will never turn my back on my true county. And next time someone asks me my nationality, I will stand proudly and tell him, “I am an Iranian.”