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Italy's a lovely place. But it aint Iran.
To the "Italian" children of Iranian immigrants


Tahereh Aghdassifar
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!

I 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, the dances.

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 and discover 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.

For letters section
To: Tahereh Aghdassifar

Tahereh Aghdassifar


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