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The search
We are reexamining notions of what it means to be whatever

By Roozbeh Shirazi
November 18, 1999
The Iranian

Who Am I? The Mix-boy, academia´s pride and joy...

Eight months ago I decided to leave the States. The reasons were many. On a very basic level, just to see what would happen if I packed my life into a suitcase for six months. I wanted to gain fluency in a language I had been studying since I was thirteen, and escape the suffocating bubble that had become my life in collegetown USA, discover and come to know myself, and also, to conduct a personal test of sorts.

I am, like most sociologists, social scientists and hyphenated-existence having beings, fascinated by and mental prisoner to the subject of culturalization. I want to risk generalizing here: To most who will read this, the issue of culture is one that has profoundly marked your lives. Your existence has been defined by your ability to balance, if you chose to straddle the line, between Iran and wherever you have ended up in the world.

For the adults who came as exiles, immigrants, and refugees, it was a much more stark contrast: a sense of "this is not Who I am, but rather Where I am from now on." These people arrived with personalities to a large part already formed, and the task was to adapt and survive. The home became a sanctuary, where farsi was spoken and the Iran that formed them continued on through themselves, their food, music, and their interactions with each other in this strange new environment.

For the children of these people, including myself, it has been unruly hybridization of growing up in these homes, these little Irans, and having these people as our parents, their closest (sometimes only) friends, our aunts and uncles, and the external world.

Let me give you a vague introduction to who we have turned out to be: We like A Tribe Called Quest and ghormeh sabzi, we smoke pot (but don´t tell our parents) and we are bad at taarof but still understand it. We feel uncomortably American around Iranians, and defiantly Iranian around foreigners.

If we speak Farsi, it includes a jumbled cascade of English words and our accents belie the lack of access we have had to Iran. Interesting too is that we learned our Farsi from our parents, and for those of us whose parents haven´t gone back (like mine) we speak a time-encapsulated Farsi, with the slang and mannerisms of pre-revolutionary Iran.

Are we Iranian? American? American-Iranian or vice versa blah blah blah....

Though this fascinates some of us because it has been a huge factor throughout our lives, it seems rather fashionable nowadays. Apparently we are in the dawn of a global culture, where we are redefining and reexamining notions of what it means to "be____." Be whatever. My own test or question I wanted resolved when I left the States was this: do people form culture, or does culture form people?

In Chile, in the three months I have been here, I have found that it is not one or the other; it´s not black and white. Culture is the food and language and beliefs and idiosyncracies we are given or presented with in childhood, so in that sense it is some thing that forms you. But we choose it. We choose what we like and what fits us and to what degree we want it.

Culture is what you choose to carry around inside of you, what banners you collect to present as your identity and your way of being. Most readers here claim to be Iranian, but each week the differences of opinion, the letters and the articles that appear in this forum contrast so much. So who is the real Iranian?

There is no handbook to being a good Iranian, a real Iranian, or a shitty Iranian. There is a diaspora looking around at itself, examining its faces and deciding who it is and who it wants to be. Regardless of the consequences of this search, it´s the search that is the best part.

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