Italy's a lovely place.
But it aint Iran.
To the "Italian" children of Iranian immigrants
June 14, 2005
When I was in high school I met a girl named Ava. Ava was your
average girl, nothing stood out about her really, but I took particular
interest because I, stupidly, assumed she was Persian. Now, the
name "Ava" wouldn't necessarily give away her ethnicity...
but in combination with her three syllable last name and oh-so-Iroony
features, well, it was pretty obvious... but hey, I was clearly
jumping to conclusions... because it was later revealed to
me that Ava, in all her Persian glory, was actually Italian. Oh,
that's right, when questioned about her ethnicity she fervently
proclaimed her Italian ancestry. It is at this point that I wish
I could show a photo of her along with her incredibly Iranian last
name, but for the sake of her family I will resist. Still, at the
time I gave her the benefit of the doubt, maybe I didn't know my
Iroony features as well as I thought.
A year or two into high school though, my best friend, a very proud
Iranian, came up to me with the earth-shattering news: Ava was
Iranian! How did she find out? Well, it seems Ava, along with her
entire family, were spotted at a Sizdeh Bedar celebration! Now
what, I ask you, would an Italian family be doing at a Sizdeh Bedar
celebration? At the time I was quite baffled, I knew this girl
was full-blooded Iranian... so why would she lie to everyone
about it? I also naively thought that this was a rare occurrence,
just one poor, misguided Persian child.
In my short number of years since high school, I've encountered
far too many cases like this: Iranian children ashamed of their
heritage. Now, before I continue, I must admit that at one point
in my own life, I also denied my bloodline, I can understand why
kids do it. I was in elementary school and I was tired of being
teased by wicked children, so I denied being Iranian, I just flat
out denied being an immigrant of any kind. I never went so far
as to create a new identity for myself... but I digress...
A few weeks ago I had the opportunity to watch a younger cousin
graduate from high school. I also had the opportunity to watch
her interact with her friends while we (her family) were around.
Suddenly I was no longer Tahereh, I became "Tia" --
the annoying nickname Americans have given me, her mother became "mom" rather
than "maman," and my mother, her aunt, was "auntie" rather
than "Khale Mahvand."
The memories from high school flooded
my mind as I began to recall every Iranian I've met that passed
themselves off as "Greek" or "Italian." It
blows my mind that there are teenagers and probably adults as well
that are still denying their ethnicity. Italians and Greeks both
have absolutely amazing cultures and histories, however, and excuse
my burst of patriotism here, we come from an incredibly beautiful
and rich culture as well! We are a people of many accomplishments,
we are from the most visually stunning country on the planet. There
is no reason to deny coming from such an extraordinary group!
understand the desire to fit in, I understand the misery of being
excluded because of a name no one can pronounce or a language no
one speaks. I understand that it can be difficult, especially in
a post 9/11 world, and I also understand that there is a certain
amount of integration one must do when they are Iranian and living
in America. I'm not asking my generation to coordinate all their
outfits to match the Iranian flag or to blast "Ey, Iran" from
car stereos, I'm just asking that they stop calling themselves
Italian or Greek due to some idiotic insecurity about our race
caused by Western xenophobia.
In my very short life I have encountered far too many youth ashamed
and some even hateful of their culture. I know the Iranian government
is nothing to be envied, but what people fail to understand is
that the government and the country are two separate things; the
government is a group of liars telling everyone else how to live
their lives, the country however, the country is the people. The
country is the land, the soil, the beaches, the mountains; the
country is the culture, the food, the languages, the dialects,
If you want to be ashamed of something, if you want
to hate something, be ashamed and resentful of the way the government
has treated the people and the land, don't be resentful of the
country. Italy and Greece are both lovely places... but there
is no shortage of patriots spreading Italian and Greek pride
across the world. Go talk to your parents, your grandparents, go
this magnificent and intricate people you come from. There are
enough people in the world who dislike our homeland, mostly due
to ignorance or racism; we don't need our own race spreading hatred.