For some time, a thought has bothered me. The more I read about the accomplishments – and failures – of Iranian immigrants, the clearer it becomes how we are still each on our own. Culturally, we were raised as an individualist nation. After decades of exposure to teamwork, most of us still do our best works alone. Group function is an acquired skill we have to yet master.
No doubt, many will disagree with this, because after all, we can’t even begin to count the number of Iranian-American organizations and nor could one deny their accomplishments. However, as I listen to some social comments, it becomes clear that part of that old “Me” culture is still with “Us.” Phrases such as, “She’s really not qualified enough to be the director”, or, “That one bought his way into success,” aren’t unheard of. No sooner has someone met their good fortune than someone will find fault with them, and those who meet success, often forget the little people who helped along the way and don’t hesitate to take full credit.
I remember once watching a standup comedian, who used this as proof that Iranians couldn’t have possibly been involved in the 911 attack. He joked, “That operation required teamwork, and we all know how Iranians can never work together!” The audience’s roaring laughter indicated that they agreed. Looking back, I see a lot of truth in that. I don’t remember doing team projects at school and even in sports; there was often competition among team members over who should be the captain, or worse, whom to blame for losing a game. Even at our “Newspaper Club”, there was a lot of tension as we each did what we could to prove being the better journalist among the group.
So, I am not surprised to see that, as immigrants, we have kept some of that trait. It’s not easy to be among millions, who are all a bit better than the rest. Having been an immigrant for four decades, while moving from Virginia to Chicago and now California, I’ve met all kinds Iranians. A few Iranian residents can improve a neighborhood. Not only do we each come from the best part of Iran, the place where we have now moved to soon is mentioned as the best there is. True as it may be that Shirazis are the sweeter ones, while Tehranis are the most “modern”, the Turks are our born and raised “bilinguals”, as Iranian-Americans we should all be the same. But are we?
In Virginia, we enjoyed the most “friendly” community. Yet we heard from everyone in DC that they had the more cultured life. Then we lived in Chicago where the Iranians never doubted they were the best, and my only doubt about that came from knowing a whole slew of good Iranians in the nearby states of Wisconsin, Indiana, Ohio and Minnesota. The constant comparisons left me confused, that is until I moved to California and saw for myself how the California Iranian’s were also better. I finally convinced myself that the best were whoever I happened to be talking to, a fact that I have been conditioned to accept along with its day-to-day change. As for the differences among California cities, please, let’s not even go there.
The best part of being an immigrant must be the fact that nobody knows your past, that your history matters little here. But is that a license to change our stories? The other day I met a gentleman, who spoke with the sweetest Persian accent, but I couldn’t place it. When I asked which part of Iran he was from, he said Tehran. I’m from the dahat of Khorasan, and for all I know, a Tehrani could also have the dahati accent, but how could 99% of the Iranian-Americans be from Tehran? And isn’t it amazing that 99% of those are either related to some royal family or had lived like one? Now that may be exactly what makes each of us the best, don’t you think?
When you are the best, what does that make the others? We are just as prejudiced against our own as we are about any other and decades of life in the free world has done little to change that. Our jokes are still about the Turk’s naivety, the Rashti’s infidelity, the Esfahani being tricky and the Ghazvini . . . well, let’s leave that one alone! The only change now is that being in a more civilized ambience, we have learned a polite way to insult. The joke teller checks first, “You’re not a Turk, are you?”
We brag about the accomplishments of a few and use that as proof of our solidarity. In fact, we brag so much about the Iranians who have done something great that it sounds as if we accomplished it. But, when it comes to wrongdoers, all of a sudden nobody knows where these people came from! I haven’t seen the latest scandalous TV show everyone talks about because I didn’t like the reviews and have no time to waste. When I heard people talking about it, I realized that as despicable as everyone says it is, the truth remains that these individuals actually do EXIST. And yes, they also happen to be living, breathing Iranians and part of our community. I still choose not to watch the show and nor will they have my support, but like it or not, they are as much you and me as those who have done us proud.
My best friend’s voice was bursting with joy when she called to give me the latest. “Guess what? Once again, Miss Canada is an Iranian!” In a world filled with problems and as someone whose roots are torn into pieces, the last thing I genuinely care about is who is Miss Whatever. But my friend sounded thrilled. “Our girls are really the most beautiful, aren’t they? This is our second Miss Canada. The last one married that Canadian politician.”
I thought of all the threats, all the sanctions, and upcoming news that I might have to brace myself for. My reaction surprised even me as I said, “So what?!”
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