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What's the rush?
There's too much pressure to figure out our "identity"

Laleh Larijani
December 8, 2004

I was very intrigued when I came across Arash Emamzadeh's "A simple question," aimed at understanding the identity of individuals of Iranian decent. I hope that this rather humble response may be of some help to those who at one point or other must resolve this question.

The process of searching for and questioning your identity is not always a burdensome task. It is however, in my opinion, somewhat problematic in that there is no universal truth to be found. One individual's terms of understanding his/her identity may not necessarily translate into a viable solution for others.

Having said this, I want only to share my personal experience with you, knowing that what I assert as my understanding of my own Iranian-something-something identity may or may not be of help.

First of all, I have a slight problem with the word "identity." I should say rather that my concern comes from the overwhelming pressure put on individuals to find/have/figure out their "identity." It seems that if you haven't discovered it yet, or are in the process of searching for something within or outside yourself, that you have somehow missed the boat. This pressure can frustrate, more than motivate you in understanding yourself.

There is also a matter of timing: was the identity I carved out for myself at 20 relevant at 25, 30, and 35? What I am trying to say is that there is no definite point in anybody's life when this matter is completely figured out. I'll give you a brief example.

In my childhood years when I first moved abroad, I embraced everything new, rationalizing that I was never going to forget where I came from and my love for Iran. By the time I became a teenager, my Farsi was disintegrating and I denied being Iranian at all.

In my twenties I found my life rather barren with no real sense of heritage and I searched desperately for something, a sense of self, that I could call my own. I stayed in university three extra years and put all my effort into re-learning the history of Iran and its neighbors, re-learning Farsi (properly this time) and getting actively involved in all matters related to Iranian culture form social studies to politics and economics.

I learned to think critically and question myself and my relation to the world.  This has been an enormously lengthy journey, with many obstacles and even more phone calls about why I abandoned science to study "Iranian things" when I don't live in Iran. The point is that there really is no rush to find the answer to the question of identity. It's an evolving process, a constant negotiation if you will, where you learn about yourself. 

As for the "Persian" versus "Iranian" classifications of identity, it really doesn't matter. As much as scholars or anyone else might try to persuade you of the usefulness of one or the other, I have abandoned both. There is no framework that limikts the use of Persian or Iranian, despite what many semi-scholars might want you to believe. It's a play with words meant to confuse you rather than help. And frankly I don't appreciate the divisions it creates. Rather that highlighting what people have in common, these debates create false separations not worth entertaining.

Consider what "being of Iranian origion" means. We Iranians are very patriotic about our homeland. We appreciate its diverse and natural beauty. We are also, by nature, very persistent. We have faces enormous struggles in all spheres of life. We value culture, history, and art, because it offers a sense of stability and hope. More than that, we value hard work and determination because it's a winning formula that strengthens us as individuals and as communities.

I hope you reflect on yourself with a sense of calm. Give yourself permission to embrace the process of finding yourself and your "identity" at every stage in life.

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