Do you know what the hardest question you can ask me is? It's not an equation or a philosophical concept; it's just four simple words: WHERE ARE YOU FROM?
I loathe that question. I hate its simplicity, the way you expect me to respond immediately to such an easy question. You ask it without even thinking. It's a conversation starter, a time-waster. You're at a party, you've just met me, don't know what to say and I've mentioned the weather already and what can you say next? You know! You'll ask me: “Where are you from?”
I get nervous, my forehead gets balmy and I start to stutter: “Ummm well, umm…”
Let me explain why this question, to me, is the word-ification of the devil by carrying on the conversation: “Um, well what do you mean? If you mean my accent I was born and raised in London. If you mean my name and mysteriously dark looks, my parents are from Iran and right now I live in California.”
I am sure the asker of the question expects a standard answer like; San Francisco, England or Timbuktu take a left past Tanzania, roll past the Mountains, 2nd desert on your left, the 5th mud-hut with the no place like home straw-mat outside it. What they get however, is a young man questioning his own identity, ethnicity and his soul.
Why am I so confused by this question? I think the only way for me to answer it is by interrogating myself.
Well who am I?
I was born a few months before the revolution outside of Iran. My parents did not flee the revolution; they were already outside when I was born. I see myself as a rare commodity, someone born outside of Iran before the revolution.
How about some basic facts?
I am called Amir Hossain (not often used) Nooriala, which is not as some would claim Italian-sounding but clearly Iranian or Muslim. I am 24-years old or if you want to be Iranian, I am in my 25th year. I have not changed my name to a Western one, though no one pronounces it Ameeeer, but rather like a Swedish hic-cup: AM-IA.
How about language wise?
Well I have been told my first language was Farsi, which I forgot after starting nursery school. I had to relearn Farsi after that and English has always been my native tongue since. I speak Farsi with a slight accent and when I do I am still translating English to Farsi in my head. My reading is slow and childish and my writing is laughable, but I have progressed from 'baba nan dad'.
I am very close to my family and assorted cousins, having been brought up in the same house as them. It was always exciting for my English friends with no siblings to come to my house and play Sega. They were as equally entertained that a normal but foreign-name-sounding yet totally non-insular child was living in a house with his 2 aunts, uncle, mother, brother and two cousins, as they were by my games system.
I was brought up in the English education system and I honestly never really saw too much direct racism towards me, other than on the sports field. I enjoy English and Iranian humor, though more to the English side.
What do I do socially?
My culture has effected in me strange ways. I am a big fan of drinking, partying and all that it entails. I have no problem embarrassing myself or being crude in social circles. However I would never have an earring or tattoo. The reason is that partying is easy to hide from my mother.
I do not and have never really had any close Iranian friends (until recently). I do not know the exact reason as to why I have not bonded with Iranians my age but I think it is mostly due to my mind set. Iranians are usually characterized as either being the type who go to a kababi for dinner with a ghayloun, followed by going to someone's house to crack jokes and drink some chaie. Or the type who wear all black, shades indoors, drive leased BMWs listening to 2pac and are VIPs at the newest sickest club.
I don't fit in either category. I wear designer clothes but with label not visible. I enjoy top clubs but not sitting around VIP tables sipping champagne with my shades on. I don't enjoy going out in big groups or staying in Iranian circles. I enjoy telling jokes and stories but not on a regular basis. I like to take risks and don't consider them as being one, while my peers frown. I find it very hard to explain how this is not Iranian, but this is the reason why my friends are not.
Do I like Iranian music?
I do not enjoy Iranian music. I find many Iranian films can be good (not excellent) as long as the title or subject of the film is not GAV, or it is not a 5-hour epic black and white silent film, showing the struggles and tribulations of a one legged Afghani refugee in a Western-Mashad whorehouse.
Well you surely must love Iranian food?
I enjoy Iranian food. My favorite dishes are (the national obsession) Chelo-Kabab with all it entails: raw eggs, onions and somagh. However I do not find drinking doogh refreshing. I really enjoy nearly all the polos; Lubia, Nokhod, Sabzi Polo e Mahi, with Havij Polo being a very notable exception. I have the very un-Iranian point of view of not liking khoreshs.
If I had a choice between a good Iranian dish and a good pasta, I would have to think about it for a while considering factors such as, is it my aunt/mother's Lubia Polo or what kind of pasta? I do not know what I would go for if it was a choice between Iranian or Italian restaurants, I find Iranian restaurants do not cook anywhere as well as my family do, leaving me always unsatisfied with my meal.
Iranians love sports, do you?
I am the 2nd biggest fan of sports in the world after George W, the baseball fanatic. This love extends to Team Melli who I follow religiously. I even help run Persianfootball.com, a point which some of my friends point as showing my Iranian-ness. I even have the white home kit of Iran, though I do not wear it out very often.
My friends love to test me by asking a simple question: if Iran and England were playing a football match who would you support? I do not answer this immediately but my answer is always the same: Iran. I know my friends who are half-English nearly always support their non-English half in such games.
Do they make me Iranian?
The fact that I even ask this question shows that I am not in my eyes 100% Iranian. I think all those born outside or living outside for a considerable time should make a real effort to integrate. I like the fact that my English or now American friends see me as one of them. I like the fact I speak English better than they do and I feel welcome in their company. I also like the fact that I have my own ethnicity, secret language and am proud of it.
Where am I from? I think there is only one answer to the question. I am from here. Where are you from?