From a promotional brochure for the Persian Center. Photo by Chris Wahlberg.
Gold or Culture?
Man Lailee Bakhtiar hastam.
Madaram Irani-e, va pedaram Amrikaie.
Az budan-e dar inja kheyli khoshhalam.
Man midunam keh Persian Center ba komak-e shoma piruz khahad shod.
Az hameye shoma, mochakeram.
Although my father is American, I use my mother's maiden name. My mother, Parveen Bakhtiar, arrived in the United States in l946, along with her six brothers and sisters.
Perhaps, like her, we are all travelers, through an unusual passage of time, from Iran to America. I learned as a young child in a Persian household that the traveler was a sacred person. My Persian mother would prepare special foods for the arrival of the voyager. The home was arranged for their comfort, support and encouragement.
Why was the traveler such a significant figure in the life of a Persian family?
The traveler brought movement, shared Ideas and recovered culture to those who were far from the landscape, the fragrance of Iran, the deserts, the oases, from the architecture of domes, the minarets, the arches, the gateways, the bridges, the alleyways, the narrow streets and the maze of the bazaar.
The traveler brought sound, of the tin smith, of the ringing of decorated jewelry around the necks of village animals, of the muezzin calling for prayer, of the migration of the tribes. The traveler brought touch of his warm regards. We tasted a meal differently when a traveler was among us.
It is said that all great stories of life begin with a traveler. Someone is coming home, or someone is leaving home. What does a traveler carry with him or her? Is this why a traveler is so respected?
Usually a far distant traveler has little to carry. Only the most essentials things go in his small bag. He chooses between gold, or a favorite book of the culture. He may take the book and less gold. He chooses between the photographs of his family and their relics and rugs, or another set of clothes. He would likely bring the photographs and rugs.
In the end, on perhaps the final voyage of his Life, the traveler, brings almost nothing. He brings himself, the ideas and stories of the culture he left behind, and some small token of this culture. His mind is a museum of stories.
Because the traveler has sacrificed so much of his worldly possessions, he is clear about what is important. What matters, is the sharing of ideas, whether they are about grandmother's savory recipes, about new technology and how it can help others, about ancient architecture that makes sense for today, or about the birth of a new child.
Culture has its own reasons, that reason doesn't understand. Culture and tradition carry with it the lives of humanity and spiritual significance.
We are all travelers here today. We came, our parents arrived, our children were born or our new loved ones are here, now. As travelers we remember our experience of a great culture, a unique culture, the Persian culture.
Should we enjoy this knowledge, and say casually, "It was nice"? Or should we recall our first feelings of being a traveler, when we certainly realized the stories could be lost, the music, the dance, the customs, the history, the architecture, the sculpture, the literature, the poetry, the smells of saffron and the spices of life.
If we could have only one thing, gold or culture, which would we part with? If we have knowledge of the culture, how can we not share it, and let it dissipate, evaporate, when we are able to gather it in our hands like a harvest and share the sweet fruit with those who are hungry for it.
Please, don't part with culture, part with gold.
Please, remember how the spirit of the traveler aches to tell the story of the land, and how the greeter, is waiting with a table set, with a happy beating heart, an eager mind that wants to hear this story.
I have seventeen aunts and uncles from the Bakhtiar family. My grandfather, Abol Ghassem Bakhtiar, was a doctor. He married first, an American wife, who was a nurse, then later an Iranian.
My Iranian grandfather, my American grandmother, and two of my uncles are buried in the holy city of Mashhad, near the grave site of the poet Ferdowsi who wrote the epic of the Shahnameh.
I am an Iranian American. But, I have never been to Iran. I am taking Farsi classes now. I am writing stories about my remembrances of growing up in America with an Iranian mother.
Your children, like me, their friends, your grandchildren, depend on you, like I depend on you, to save the culture in a real place like the Persian Center.