There are those who call themselves Persians. There are those who rather associate their ethnicity based on their religion. I would much rather associate myself as an Iranian-American. Iran is my heart and flesh but how Iranian am I when I do not practice the progressive culture that is growing in Iran.
As many cultures grow and develop, so do the peoples. For example, fifty years ago the American culture was much more traditional and family oriented as opposed to its present individualistic and technologically advanced generation. Most of our parents who have children raised in the United States for the past 20 to 30 years came from Iran with the fairly traditional background that preserved family traditions, Iranian heritage and the good ole' customs from the 1960s and 1970s that do not exist in Iran anymore. Therefore, is it right to call myself an Iranian when I do not follow the Iranian cultural progression?
In many aspects, I would agree I could call myself an Iranian but I'd rather not — it would be lying to myself. I'm an Iranian-American. The labels are merely association; Iranian because of it's my birth country and emphasize the American because I follow the ever growing American culture. I read American novels. I am fully aware of the American legal culture and system. I laugh at American jokes. I speak English eloquently and I like American food. As a matter of fact, I am married to an American. This concept can apply to any Iranian immigrant growing up in any foreign land. Moreover, Iranians are much further defined by their regional location, time frame in which we immigrated, and more importantly religion.
Everyone says their parents, he, or she is from Tehran. Tehran is a pretty big industrial city but not everyone is from Tehran. In South Florida, many of our Iranian neighbirs are from Shiraz, Ahwaz, and Bandar Abbas. Each providence, city, or even villages that we came from are much different each other. I am not trying to divide our Iranian community but we have to realize that we aren't united as we are suppose to be and it might because of differences that we possess. I know since my parents were raised in Tehran, Tehran was and still known to be the trendiest, fashionable, and economically booming of all other cities. This might also be true for someone who's from Esfahan, Shiraz, or even Bandar Abbas.
Furthermore, our regional division can create tension with the time frame in which we immigrated from Iran and also how the many times we travel back to it. It is because of the revolution that some of us have different reservations as to why we cannot travel back to our home country. This can cause some resentment toward those who do travel. This can reflect how we define our true Iranian-“ness”. For someone like me who traveled once at 14, the experience was breath taking and revolutionized the way I saw myself. However, seven years later I see myself in a different perspective. I am not the same person who is able to travel because of current unsettling diplomatic relations. I love both countries but such tensions can be draining and exhausting and can have a negative effect in how we interact and participate with the Iranian community.
More importantly, I have notice that Baha'is and Jews tend to keep their distance from Muslim Iranians and Muslim Iranians tend to keep their distant from Christian (or converted Christians). It's no wonder that immigrant Iranian children grow up with so many discrepancies. For an example, I had a conversation with a male college student couple of semesters ago and as our conversation progressed I asked if he's Iranian. He said, “No, it's funny I am Jewish but my parents are from Iran.” He deliberately distanced himself from being Iranian. As a matter of fact he didn't know the difference between Persian and Iranian.
For those who don't know, Persians are innominate objects — like cats, rugs, cars, houses, etc. People from Iran are referred to as Iranian. If you speak the Iranian language it is known as Persian and not Farsi. Despite its popularity, Farsi is equivalent to saying to someone, “I speak Espanol.” Overshadowing our Iranian labels might okay for many of us only because I know we are afraid to explore our own culture independently. I came to this country as an infant and was raised traditionally by two very Iranian parents. Many of my Iranian friends weren't raised with very traditional Iranian families, but we learn from each other. At least, I like to believe we do.
The honest to goodness truth is that not many of study our Persian heritage. Not many of us call ourselves Iranian. We aren't proud enough to stand up because the media doesn't allow us too. However, we need to overcome such diversities and build a stronger community. We all are scared because of series of political events — historical or current — that took our sense of security away. We tend not to trust each other and are more vulnerable than ever. There are many instances where the local chelo kababi grunts at me in English taking my order while he smiles and shakes hands with the American. In many was some of us have lost our own sense of formality. Is the fear that maybe somewhere one of us will take advantage of another?
My generation is torn compared to those who came to the United States as teenagers and those who were born and raised in the States. We do not know if we offend our cultural heritage by acting fully American or do we simply ignore our ancestry as a whole. A part of me felt awful that I almost disowned my faith and patriarchal patriotism toward Iran by marrying an American. But I have come to the realization that I do not lose myself unless I want too. I can stop celebrating Nor Roz and “13-bedar” events. I can stop speaking Persian and only listen to Americanized music. I can choose not to expose my future child to the wonderful culture that Iranians have built for centuries. Yet, I know children who come from two Iranian parents and couldn't tell you where Iran is located on the map.
My only advice is — do not be ashamed of your heritage. Stand up for yourself because no one will for your culture, for your traditions and for your ancestors. Sure we still have political turmoil but that shouldn't stop an Iranian from still feeling nostalgic wishing and praying that maybe one day we can all travel back in peace. I am sure we will go back but for now let's start reading books by Iranian authors who wrote their memoirs about Iran. Let's start speaking Persian to each other and let's all start uniting. We do not have to start a club or an organization. We don't even need to make an appoint to bond with Iranians. Start learning to be Iranian by practicing the culture. Learn what the meaning of Nor Roz is why we have to have seven decorate ornaments starting with the letter “sin.”
Many Iranian-American students I met at my college thought Nor Roz was a Muslim holiday. I regret to inform those who still think Nor Roz is a Muslim holiday but in fact is pagan. Its simple minor details that we need to teach ourselves. Let's take the good parts of our culture and incorporate it in our everyday life and family. If your in a inter-racial or inter-cultural relationship that shouldn't stop you from learning and practicing your culture. I tell my husband everyday there is no reason for you to learn to speak Persian, but if you want to interact with my special holidays and family events its best that you do. Since he isn't pressured he is learning on his own — little by little. He can understand conversations and is able to respect my elders like he does with his own. It simply comes down to educating oneself and those important around you whether it's your child, spouse, life partner or friend.