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Now I cares
Reflections on the Boston conference on the Iranian diaspora

By Mani Parcham
April 27, 2004

The April 17-18th International Conference on the Iranian Diaspora organized by the Iranian Alliances Across Borders (IAAB) unknowingly presented to me the details of a personal initiative on what it takes to be an Iranian in America and abroad. Before I get into my thoughts on the conference, however, I would like to give some idea of what my mindset was coming into the weekend.

I have an acquaintance through mutual friends (for now we'll call him Ghertee) who embodies a stereotype that I absolutely abhor about my generation's Iranian-American community. He drives a behemoth Lincoln Navigator, shops constantly at Armani Exchange or Versace (depending on the Fall fashions...very complicated stuff), listens to hard-core rap (blaring away from his Navigator speakers, not ironically enough), does not seek (but still manages to attract) a fight every time he imbibes, has a misogynistic approach towards women, and in general exudes an air of self-importance that seems to somehow work and perpetuate itself with those who buy into it. Through all this, he maintains the notion that he is a proud Iranian.

My issue with him is the fact that I can always sense the idea that in the back of his mind, I, Mani Parcham, am not sufficient enough to consider myself an Iranian, that I have no pride, that I am lacking in general because I stand on equal footing with my female friends, that my Farsi is broken, that I dress just ok, that I am who I am, not a mold to fill. But despite all this business of recognizing my unique identity, people like him (for one reason or another) began to impress upon me the idea that indeed I was not a proud person, or more specifically, a proud Iranian, to the point where the idea seeped into my consciousness.

So it is obvious why I say that it is people like this that I find remove me from the culture that I crave to know better, but they are still the ones that my logic unreasonably tries to avoid by shunning the community as a whole. Through that avoidance I found that I just didn't give a damn about the community, and took my aversion to Iranian-Americans as a feeling that "oh well, they had it coming."

I found I rediscovered something that people like Mr. Baazee -- Ghertee Baazee -- had somehow diminished since my years of being exposed to stereotype-driven Iranian-Americans. This is not to give the impression that all the Iranian-Americans of my generation that I have met and maintained contact with have in any way contributed to this diminishment. It was just my disgust with a select few that had wrongfully tainted what is an otherwise fascinating community.

With that said, I can now see how I was before this conference, be unbiased, and say that, yes, it was an error in judgment to lump the entire community with those who simply rubbed me the wrong way. What I have found now is just pride again... plain and simple. It is not that I completely blame having had a lack of pride on people like Ghertee Baazee, but I've come to realize that it took people completely unlike him to reinvigorate it, and by doing so, energized a sense of responsibility and engagement.

All this from a two-day event that stood by the simple but hard to grasp concept that we are Iranians outside of Iran - and our attendance at the conference was to talk about just that. To discuss the dichotomy of having such a rich and distinct cultural background while living in a society where that particular culture is not prevalent.

The success of this event was just an intense combination of so many factors that nothing could possibly have made this a more charmed weekend. Beautiful New England weather, contagious big-city energy, fascinating people, and an appreciative environment led those compatriots who congregated there to learn and discover things about themselves and others in an intimate situation where all parties had access to each other, speakers and audience members alike.

Personal accounts and artistic renderings from several panelists oftentimes left my face numb from having to maintain some composure from crying. videos from the charming Iranian-Brit film director, Taghi Amirani, had me choking back tears of nostalgia from an era that I was never a part of: the rise, fall, and subsequent return of Googoosh to sing in Western countries after years of forced silence. After showing "Gaga for Googoosh", he then had us laughing at the idiosyncrasies of fellow Iranians in California in Tehrangeles, a short documentary about a former Iranian pop singer turned satellite television "journalist" as he sits by his luxurious Beverly Hills pool (funded by his wife's plastic surgery practice), and discusses why he (a monarchist at heart) encourages people in Iran to rise up and revolt against the Islamic regime (for their own benefit, of course).

There was also Houman Mortazavi, the artist from California, whose Project: Misplaced [See "The rise and fall of Simon Ordoubadi"] had the audience in fits of laughter from the recognition and sympathy of our own fresh-off-the-boat attributes, and the people in whom we constantly see personify the same characteristics that Mr. Simon Orodubadi (to whom I owe the title of this essay) embodies. A fictional character of the artist's, Simon Ordoubadi is the typical FOB Iranian who has come to America and finds that he needs to establish himself in whatever manner he can.

Using fliers, leaflets, and newspaper ads, Mr. Ordoubadi (among other things) proclaims his position on politics, where he stands on the very moderate platform of declaring absolutely nothing at all. One of these fliers has a picture of Mr. Ordoubadi smiling with a big grin while on a cell phone, and a separate picture of George W. Bush, also on the phone, in the corner, giving the impression that he "has connections". At the top of another ad, the headline boasts that he is "gooder in defending you right".

These accounts are just a handful of what we experienced; to name them all would be a foolish experiment in capturing the essence of all these accounts through quantity and not the utter purity of their quality. To those who presented (whether I mentioned them or not), I owe my profound gratitude.

The specific moment that determined my absolute emotional connection to the people surrounding me was the silence of the room while a soft spoken, unanimated half-Iranian from New York played an ancient wooden flute-like instrument. This young woman had recently returned from a yearlong trip in Azerbaijan where she learned to speak Farsi, play the wooden instrument, and gathered 70 hours of documented film from her experiences there.

The melody coming from the haunting sound of that flute pinned the audience in such a way that a substantial silence followed, and then a reaction that was nothing short of elation and a standing ovation. Immediately afterwards, a half Iranian, half British young woman (fueled by the emotion from the musical performance) gave her eloquently spoken and impassioned account of a return with her sisters to Iran. She touched on an expedition to the top of Mt. Damavand, and just reflected on her reaction to what it was like knowing she was looking down from the highest point of Iran, a woman, who at one point in her life detached herself from the idea of coming back to her childhood home.

I have no recollections of Iran, though I was born there. With the exception of my first 6 months of life, I have lived in America for 22 years. The images that these two extraordinary ladies painted in my minds eye were a thorough, unbiased connection between the spiritual and physical aspects of the country that I have been always curious about returning to. From these accounts, a not unreasonably mad jealousy began to brew within me at the thought that I deserved to go back just as much as anybody else. These stories settled one of the bigger inner conflicts I've had about living in America by increasing my resolve to visit Iran in the next two years.

For now, however, I'll save those thoughts of returning for a future article. I just wanted to express what it meant for me to hear these stories, and how they encapsulated, clarified, and settled some struggles I've faced in the past.

I recently talked to a panelist who I had driven to Boston with, and the one word that he said describing the conference that stood out to me was "relevant". From the beginning, this was evident. I can't recall any conversations about conferences in the past that covered the same ground that the IAAB envisioned. I have attended conferences about Iranian politics, the status of Iranian women (in Iran and abroad), and discussions of Persian films, but never have I heard of any organized gatherings about Iranians in America or other countries.

Perhaps this is because there is a developing acceptance among first generation Persians outside of Iran that where we have settled is becoming our permanent home; or maybe there is the notion that second-generation Iranians are too used to our new lives; or perhaps even that those second-generation Iranians have settled in and started with their own families, and have no use for political discussions of a place that used to be home.

Whatever the reasons there is still a growing need for a forum where we can embrace, discuss, and appreciate the same things that interest us, with the small caveat that home is now, always was, and/or always will be somewhere other than Iran. On top of that, in respect to our home, the whole of this conference was spoken in English - another indication of who the audience was and why we were there. The relevance and recognition of these things on behalf of those college students at the helm was crucial, and I cannot give enough credit to those at IAAB who accomplished this with seeming infallibility.

I don't know how to make the impression of how moved and fascinated I was without being redundant, and negating the experience by repeating the words: embrace, embody, spirit, absolute, emotional, etc. But those are exactly the phrases of what the conference was to me. Up until last Friday, what I had experienced about Iran before were secondhand emotions from my parents, but at least now I know that I have more than a relative interest. This weekend was a personal investment that I am sure will never exhaust. I ask you to patronize these websites as they belong to those who influenced a great deal in one way or another to my experience.

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Book of the day

Nasir Khusraw, the Ruby of Badakhshan
A Portrait of the Persian Poet, Traveller and Philosopher
By Alice C. Hunsberger

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