Pomegranates and black tea, that's me
But many have become ethnic
impostors where being Iranian is synonymous with being a terrorist
June 28, 2003
I had a friend in high school whom we shall call Sina. He was
the hairiest teen-ager in school, with a five o'clock shadow
which had not left him since he was 12-years old. His eyebrows
were two hairy caterpillars joined at the mouth in an amorous embrace.
His arms were covered by an Amazonian jungle that spilled out onto
his hands and fingers. His skin was darker than my African-Canadian
His rotund belly was evidence of a profound love for polo-khoresh
and dough. Apart from his physical attributes, the kid was a
whiz in math, getting an unheard of 105 score on his annual math
(Our school grades were measured out of a 100).
Why all this description?
Because this very picture of Iranian-ness claimed that he was
Sina was born in Iran, and was schooled there for some years,
before moving to North America. But for the handful of
times that I forced
him to speak Farsi with me, he exhibited an accent
worse than even mine (which was admittedly not pretty).
go on blaming
the parents on this one. Sina's mom was the loveliest
specimen of a true, classy Iranian lady, with much education and
Iranian culture and heritage. She always organized the
Nowrooz" show at our school, and she was an active
member of countless Iranian cultural and charitable associations.
Sina and I always got into huge fights because I kept insisting
we were both Iranians but he kept vociferating that he
is Canadian. One day, he brought his Canadian passport
to me that he was not Iranian. As if that meant anything!
Last I heard
from him, he had married a White Canadian girl from a small
town and had his mom in tears because he had forbidden
her to inject
any "Iranian" elements into the wedding. They
were going to go to City Hall, get the license and get
Sina was not an isolated example of an "Iranian ethnic
impostor". I ran into countless of examples
over the years. The friend's
mom whom I
bumped into at the mall and who "shushed" me when I greeted
her in Farsi in front of her Anglo co-worker. (She had reinvented herself
a German woman).
The countless Ginos, Antonios and Vincenzos
that used their tired,
heavily Farsi-accented pick-up lines on my friends and
at nightclubs. The manager at
my apartment building who can't pronounce words starting with "S" without
adding an extra syllable ("ESS-stop", "ESS-school" etc)
but who plays dumb when my husband is courteous enough to speak to her
in her native tongue and put her out of her misery.
My own family, sadly, is not immune from this phenomenon.
One of my relatives married a native of Mauritania, a francophone
African country. She has raised
her children to be disrespectful to their Iranian heritage. For example,
they ignore their Iranian relatives when they are addressed in Farsi,
they understand it perfectly well. She has taught them that
they are "French"!
Another sad example was a relative who invited me to her
office party however she proceeded to warn me "never" to
speak Farsi to her and to "blend
it" with the American co-workers.
My close friends have always asked me why I use the pen name
when writing for iranian.com. This is my own little inside joke. Years
ago, I had
met a young woman in college who sported that family name.
in her name standing of course for the capital of Iran, it was not
hard to deduce
that she was Iranian. However, when I asked her so, eager to find a
new friend among the vast anonymity of a college campus, she responded
that she was
Italian. She actually went so far as to pronounce her last name with
an Italian accent
("Terrenchi", rhymes with "Arrivederchi").
for her, a few weeks later, I was introduced to her at a wedding
by common Iranian friends, at which she turned beet red and disappeared
rest of the night.
People who have tried to hide their ethnicities
and reinvent themselves are not as few and far between as you would
think. Though there
may be a multitude
reasons that would motivate people to take such a step, at the
bottom lies the desire to escape an unwanted identity.
It is not
Iranians have become ethnic impostors in today's world where it
is synonymous with
being a terrorist, backwards etc. Something as seemingly innocent
as your cousin Jamshid introducing himself as Gino to more egregious
the Iranian man who has been living in Charles de Gaulle airport,
or that disturbed Iranian man who tried to pass himself off as
Steven Spielberg's nephew
Jonathan Taylor Spielberg are all examples of how difficult it
has become to be "Iranian" in today's society.
Of course the counter argument could be that there is no such
thing as being "Iranian" for the millions of displaced Iranians
all over the
world, sometimes in four or five different Western countries.
sure. But I truly believe that wherever you have been raised does
not matter as much as how you feel, or, stealing a line from Catherine
the movie Indochine, what your flavor is. It comes down
to whether your flavor
is red apples
and Baguette bread, root beer and Mac'n'Cheese, or pomegranates
and black tea.
You know what? I have lived in London, the French Riviera, Paris,
Toronto, New-York, and now L.A. and I have traveled to three times
as many places
around the globe.
But I have never set foot in Iran. Nevertheless, I feel Iranian,
in my heart and soul. Pomegranates and black tea, that's me.
a request by a friend or relative to turn down my Googoosh CD or
speak English, German, French or Chinese, anything but my native
I am going to stand
firm and say: "Kheyr!" Khassteh shodam.
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