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Learning to love English
"Mom, you need to start reading in my language"

Sima Shahriar
November 27, 2004

I recently wrote an article for a friend's website in Minneapolis []. It is about my struggle and growth with identity. I would love to share the story.

I was thirteen when my family moved from Tehran, Iran, to Minneapolis. It was 1978. It wasn't an easy move. Our move coincided with the Islamic Revolution in Iran and the hostage taking of Americans for 444 days.

I've lived between two cultures for so many years that I really don't know what it means to be in my comfort zone. I don't have one. I used to resent this. As I've aged, I have realized what a blessing this has been for me. It has allowed me to open myself to almost anything or anyone that inspires me without judging them! This is true mostly with my children.

When we had our first son, we decided to speak Farsi to him. My husband is also Iranian, so it seemed the natural thing to do. Besides, I had dreamed of going back "home" for the past fourteen uncomfortable years in Minneapolis.

Arman wasn't two-years old when I decided to go back to Tehran for a visit and also to do a little research as to whether we could move back. As the plane was landing in Tehran, my body was overjoyed. Tears came down my face, and I had to explain to Arman that Mommy was very happy and these were the tears of joy. Well, the tears of joy turned to tears of overwhelming sadness during our five week stay in Iran. It took about a week for Arman to get used to the time change. There were nights that I had to rock him and sing to him for hours until he'd fall asleep. Then I would go to the balcony facing the Elborz mountains -- the most beautiful sight and such a comfort to me when I was just a child. I would cry for hours. I couldn't help but feel homeless. I felt so foreign in my own country.

I came back resolved, knowing that Minneapolis is my home and I would never spend another day wanting to be somewhere else. I couldn't help but feel sorry and angry for having wasted fourteen years of my life wishing to be somewhere else.

However, I still had to speak Farsi to Arman. He is one of those energetic children who used to get up at five in the morning and wanted to go Da-Da (in his language, outside). So we did. We'd head out to either Lake Harriet or Lake Calhoun and the fresh air brought so much joy to us. At the park we'd still speak Farsi and would get all kinds of attention from people. I was resolved to pass on my mother tongue to Arman.

Since life was so new as a family and we really didn't have a community to participate in, I started looking for venues to belong to as a family. Minnesota Children's Museum became that place for us. We would go there on Friday nights and spend the whole night watching and playing with Arman. There were all kinds of celebrations every month.

One month a group of Menorahs had caught my eye, so I took Arman to the display and explained to him their significance to the Jewish culture and their celebration. He turned to me and said, "Mom, when are we going to share our celebration at the Museum?" He was referring to the Iranian New Year (Noruz) which is a celebration of the beginning of Spring. His thought became my goal.

With the help of a couple of old friends and many new friends we made the celebration happen at the museum for seven years. Arman taught me to feel comfortable and share what I knew with others. It was a huge leap for me.

When our second son Armeen was born, we had to deal with a whole different personality. Armeen cried for the first seven months of his life. Once he found some comfort in his new world, he blossomed. He is my analytical child. At nine months he decided that there was no need to waste his energy crawling around, he just wanted to walk. So he'd find all kinds of strategies to get himself up, find someone to help him tiptoe around the house.

I used to read every book in Farsi to my kids. I got really good at it. At the library, I would have Arman and Armeen listening to me. Often another child would come to join us. He'd start listening, then I would get that puzzled look from him. I would always explain to our new listener that I was reading in Farsi. Sometimes the child would sit and listen!

When Armeen was about three, he stopped me and said, "Mom, you need to start reading in my language." It didn't register for me, until he said it to me another time.

It made me think quite a bit.

Arman had helped me share my culture for the first time at The Children's Museum. I met some of the most inspiring people in my life there. Now Armeen pushed me to assimilate. He pushed me to learn and love English.

I continued to read in both Farsi and English to the boys. Little by little, I switched. It was hard for me to give up that last bit of what made me comfortable in life. Farsi was my connection to my old childhood life and I had hung on to it.

I have been in this uncomfortable zone for a while now and I'm beginning to feel comfortable in it.

Every day I tell my children how much I love them. When I learn something from them, I thank them for that. Someday they will read my journals and I hope I will still be here to thank them for showing life to me all over again, for helping their mom find a new home.

They helped me love another language.

Sima Shahriar
I am mom to my boys Arman and Armeen. I am a part time salesperson/dishwasher at Cooks of Crocus Hill, and during the winter months I teach children Alpine skiing at Hyland's Ski School. My highest priority and passion for the past two years has been the food I put on our table, educating myself on nutrition and eating a balanced diet, and making simple awareness in my children's schools with regards to lack of nutritional food for many children in our nation. I am a big supporter of my Co-Op in Linden Hills and love to support our farmers at St. Paul Farmers Market. Community Supported Agriculture and local organic farmers are my inspiration to healthy living. I studied Architecture at the University of Minnesota and practiced before my first son was born. I love gardening and discovering beautiful natural treasures in Minneapolis with my family. Some of our local favorite treasures are the Walker Sculpture Garden and Conservatory, the magnificent bike route all along the Mighty Mississippi, and Wirth Parkway's Wildflower Garden, bike route, and of course their soft and cushiony Bog. The three local organizations that have impacted my thoughts and life style immensely are In The Heart of The Beast Mask and Puppet Theatre, The Green Institute, and Nutritional Weight and Wellness. Local, Local, Local is my motto.

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