Are you Persian?

Growing pains that accompany becoming part of society outside Iran


by hossein.hosseini

Are you Persian? Asked the lady bank teller with dyed blond hair and otherwise very Iranian complexion. I answered “Baale Khanoom, Haletoon Khoobeh?”. Other times I have been asked “Are you Iranian?” It kind of dawned on me that as Iranians living in America, we might be facing an ‘identity’ crisis. Are we Persians, Iranians, Iranian Americans, Persian Americans, or Americans? I have seen all variations used many times. With our beloved homeland country Iran being in the news so often and almost always negatively, perhaps we want to somehow disassociate our selves from anything Iranian thus referring to ourselves as Persians or Persian Americans.

How we got to this point might not seem obvious to all, but in a nutshell we have an image problem. Most ordinary Americans know very little of ancient Persia's proud and cultured history, but they've heard a lot about Iran's radical leaders and nuclear ambitions. Things were ok up until a few years ago when events in the United States and abroad begun to crash in on our adopted homeland. The terrorist attacks of New York and Washington, election of Ahmadinejad in Iran and his provocative speeches, and President Bush labeling Iran part of an "axis of evil" with Iraq and North Korea made being Iranian in America seem so difficult. As a result, many of us Iranians who had long viewed ourselves as respected, assimilated Americans began to feel the heat of hostility. So when it came down to it, some felt we are not exactly cradle of civilization; rather axis of evil. So we decided to introduce ourselves as “Persians” as well as “Persian Americans” and the creation of heated disputes in the exile community that we cannot even agree on whether to call ourselves Persian or Iranian.

If you think this is confusing consider the fact that there is even a dispute on the country’s name change in1935 from “Persia” to “Iran”. According to Wikipedia, the name "Persia" until 1935 was the "official" name of Iran in the Western world, but Persian people inside their country since the Sassanid period (226–651 A.D.) have called it "Iran" meaning "the land of Aryans". In 1935 Reza Shah asked foreign countries to use "Iran" in other languages as well. Some believe he made this decision in order to be closer to Germany, by trying to emphasize the Aryan connection between Hitler's idealistic German Aryan race and the Persian Aryan race, given that "Iran" means "land of Aryans", at a time where the German empire was slowly becoming an unstoppable superpower.

Then there are others who believed he changed "Persia" to "Iran" to present a new and modern face of the country in the world. During World War II, Winston Churchill ordered that the name "Persia" be used in all British government documents to avoid confusion. Interestingly in 1959 Mohammad Reza Shah announced that both "Persia" and "Iran" could officially be used interchangeably. Now both terms are common; "Persia" mostly for historical and cultural texts, "Iran" mostly for political texts. In modern times, many of those exiled or alienated by the post-revolution Iranian government often refer to themselves as Persians. This is done to distance themselves from the current government of Iran.

Just like any other immigrant community, we have also experienced and continue to experience the growing pains that accompany becoming part of this society. Many communities have struggled to define themselves. There are those who define themselves as Mexicans, Hispanic, and Latino -- and yet their grandparents all emigrated from Mexico. All these terms in my mind function as symbols of identity and in some ways can serve as a glimpse into a person's worldview. I still have a difficult time understanding the fixation of some Iranians living in America with identifying themselves as 'Persian.' The name is obviously attractive and desirable for many reasons and there are those, mostly in the Monarchist camp, for whom it can be a way to associate with a period of Iranian history that many see as a Golden Age and symbol of our importance and power in the world.

For some, being 'Persian' maybe a way to help some clueless Americans distinguish between Arab and non-Arab peoples in the Middle East and that we aren't all the same 'over there.' Then again for the clueless and lay person, I submit it really does not matter. There is a segment that will always refer to “African Americans” as “blacks”, to Mexican Americans as “Mexicans” or “Latinos” and to Persian or Iranian Americans as “Eye-ranians”; you get the point. I can see that at times we sacrifice being 'Iranian' because being 'Persian' is easier, more glamorous, less painful and provocative in these hard times. Besides, being 'Persian' allows us to exist here without feeling bad or attracting unwanted attention. Please do not get me wrong, there are many great things that are associated with the word “Persia” and “Persian” the least of which is our proud history and civilization. Who can not accept that “Persian Rugs” are still the best in the world, that Persian Food is now well accepted here in America? I am only suggesting that the time has come for us, to accept the fact and start calling ourselves 'Iranian'. This might even force us to rethink our own role as a community and feel a greater sense of responsibility and attachment to a place we have become comfortable avoiding.

So finally who are we? The best scientific answer I could find for you was the result of a survey of Iranian Americans done by Iranian Studies Group at MIT in 2004. This is how we described ourselves: Iranian (44%), Persian (26%), Iranian American (13%), Persian American (5%), American (2%), and 10% said “Depends on the Situation”. The fact is that my generation might never settle the “Persian” vs. “Iranian” debate, but I think my children will. I am guessing that if someone asks my children where they are from, their answer might be “I am American of Iranian Descent”. If probed to explain their background and heritage, they should know enough about their parents ‘home’ country to explain the glory of Persia and the land it occupied in History. If all else failed, they might even show the pictures they took at Pasargad and the ruins of Persepolis last year when they visited their grand mother in Shiraz. Just remember, no matter who we think we are, we still love “Persian Food” adore “Persian Rugs” and at least among our own people we are “Iranians and proud of it”.


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Please don't get hung up on Iranian vs. Persian

by Hooman H (not verified) on

My two cents: being "Iranian" is a "concept" that is very similar to us saying that we are "American". We have many peoples with rich cultures that comprise Iran. Being Iranian is simply a concept that is meant to unite us. Please don't throw in racial connotations (i.e. Iran is for Persians, Azari people are true whites, etc) if you feel afraid of calling yourself Iranian because of what is in the news. The reason why Pahlavi wanted to get rid of "Persian" is because it divides us rather than uniting us.

By the way, for those stating that Azari (I'm half Azari by the way) is somehow "different" from Persian, you may find this interesting:

"Another recent study of the genetic landscape of Iran was completed by a team of Cambridge geneticists led by Dr. Maziar Ashrafian Bonab (an Iranian Azarbaijani).[52] Bonab remarked that his group had done extensive DNA testing on different language groups, including Indo-European and non Indo-European speakers, in Iran.[45] The study found that the Azerbaijanis of Iran do not have a similar FSt and other genetic markers found in Anatolian and European Turks. However, the genetic Fst and other genetic traits like MRca and mtDNA of Iranian Azeris were identical to Persians in Iran."

Source: //


Perisan or Iranian

by Jason (not verified) on

Which ever way you pernounce it, we are all the same.

Great article.


I am Iranian. I am Persian.

by fellow (not verified) on

I am Iranian. I am Persian. I am a citizen of this world. I am from Tehran, my roots go back to Kerman, Rasht, Baku, Shiraz.
I was raised in Iran, England, France, and am living in the US.

So what am I?

Who am I?

I am Iranian/Persian, a fellow citizen of this vast world.


I'm proud

by lelakoopal on

I'm proud to be Persian/Iranian and I don't care whether people look at me like I can bomb their house tomorrow if they piss me off. My heritage is part of me, and I'm happy with myself so why should I be ashamed of being Iranian?


long live Persia (Iran)

by Anonymous-persian (not verified) on

We are proud to be Persians and we love our Persian language, culture and heritage.



Iran is a Persian country

by Anonymously (not verified) on

Iran is a Persian country and will remain Persian. For those of you who do not want to be Iranian (turks, arabs and kurds) is time to leave Iran and look for other places to live. There are many Arabic and Turkic speaking countries that you can be the citizen of it.


Iran is a Persian country

by Anonymously (not verified) on

Iran is a Persian country and will remain Persian. For those of you who consider themselves as non-iranian (Turk, Arab and non-iranian Kurd)is the best to leave Iran and find a new country to reside.


to Ehsan- USA

by Anonymous-parsi (not verified) on

You got a reaction when you heard somebody called himself Persian! absolutely weird? Then your problem is the lack of knowledge about Persian history and culture. Persia(Iran) was founded by Persians (Cyrus the great) and will remain Persian forever. Get it.
You wrote: "you know it looks very funny and stupid to say that".
It is funny and stupid for you that somebody refers to her/his Persian heritage, becasue you are jealous of Pesian culture and persian history. You can not tolerate anything with Persian roots because you are jealous. Jealous of beauty and richness of Persian culture, which flourished long before when there was no sign of Turkish (Azeri) and Arabic civilization.
You are Proud to be a turk (Azeri) with no reason. why are you proud to be an Azeri? Are you proud of Qajars known as Vatan Frosh? or of Safavid which killed million of Persians to coerce them into a backward Arab-Turk religion like Islamic-Shia, Haaaa? What makes you proud of your turkish heritage? There is nothing about your turkic heritage to be proud of it. Turkic history is full of crime and genocides, how can you be proud of so many shameful things in your turkic history?
You are obsessed with nothing but your lack of understanding of iranian (Persian) history and culture and your hidden prejudice.
We Persians are a proud nation with a glorious history and culture.
There is something unique about Persian language and Persian identity that make other nations jealous and that is the fact that we are the only nation having the honor to speak in pure Persian and enjoy our glorious Persian culture. Persian is a philosophical language used for 1000s of years that taught people a message of behavior and gave them philosophical wisdom. It was a tool to educate and pass wisdom down from old to young.
There are many great things that are associated with the word “Persia” and “Persian” the least of which is our proud history and civilization.
There is a solution (final solution) for those of you who do not want to be Iranian: there are lots of Arab and Turkish countries that you can become citizen of if you think you are not Iranian and have no Persian roots.
We, the Persians, the people of Iran, the founder of Iran(Perisa), will sustain our heritage, preserve our glorious past and we will strengthing our present and embracing our future. Long Live Iran (Persia).


Iranian Azeri Turk

by Ehsan_USA (not verified) on

As an Iranian Azeri Turk , I have always identified myself as Azerbaycani and sometimes Iranian Azerbaycani and my language as Azeri Turkish.I am proud of that. I have seen one of my persian identified himself as Persian!! and got a reaction , What??!!! what is persian! absolutely weird! Honestly this happened. and you know it looks very funny and stupid to say that. Come on guys you are claiming to have aryan race and you are saying Iran name comes from Aryan , so what is wrong with you, keep your identity and heritage. I know that is also funny becasue in the World Aryans are known as white blue-eyed people but majority of Fars people are really dark-skinned , like Pakistanies (please have a look at yourself in mirror if you are Farse Asil) . Actually Iranian white population are mainly Azeribaycani Turks and Kurds and you all know this . If you are white , you should ask your parants if you have a Azerbatjani root , because many Azeris have been assimmilated and they think they are Persians and this was because of 85 years suppression and insult of Turkic identity in Iran by fascist persians to assimmilate Turks.
If you guys insist on saying Iranian=Persian then we Azerbaycanies Kurds lors will be reluctant to identify ourselves as Iranians. So you gotta understand that Iran is a multi-ethnic country adn there live TURKS, KURDS,ARABS,BALUCH,...

Zende Bad Irane Azad ba tamamiye ghomha va zabanhayash.


Are you Persian?

by Faribors Maleknasri M.D. (not verified) on

Growing pains that accompany becoming part of society outside Iran.
My comment: She/He who asks me Where do you come from? has no personal interesst on me, no interesst on the country and culture where i come from. Her/his motivation of asking me about my most private and personal identities is only a very primitive and dirtyminded curiosity. First i get categorized, then judged. These poeple are generaly strangers to me, i do not know them and they do not want to "know" me, make friendship with me. they want only to know in which grade i am to be ignored. I think becoming a part of society outside one`s homeland takes other ways that going around and explaining things to poeple from whom I know that i would never meet them again such as grosserist and likewise individuals. AND the well educated "natives" - as a matter of fact one meets also such individuals in all over the world - do not ask me about my primary nationality. In the contested western culture no being should be judged up to her/his nationality, religion, race, skin colore and all other matters for which he can not be made responsible. I, for my part, am sure: the one who asks me where i come from wants to perjudice me. by a nice young lady i use to answere: I use to answere likewise questions late at nigth, before or after, better after, by dimed light and closed curtains and nice persian musik. sometimes i also just ignore the question. I mean the one who finds you, your person, sympathetic does not ask such silly question. the answere is to her/him of no relevance anyway. In addition the westerns in general are may be interessted in nudes club in their naighbourehood but by no means in such complicated and most valuable cultures as iranians and other real cultures. they are just not capable to understand it.
Now i take a passage of a comment:
Employees speaking Persian in front of other non-persian speakers and customers, as if this is very normal (I haven't seen it elsewhere) and do see it as a major reason for racism and discrimination, against our community.
my comment: A racist is provocated by birth to be one. However the "Exotics" behave she/he finds reasons to act hatefull against them. The antisemit means the fault of jews is that they are jews. many years after second world war one couls stil every now and then hear: They ( the jews) were jews, that is their fault.
another passage: However, this area was mostly white (again, ethinically) the growth of the Persian population here has been too intense and too quick and I and others I know do and can feel some silent tensions among our community and the white and I've witnessed several cases of open racism against Iranians.
my comment: the factual differing between whites and non whites is an unnegligible part of social life in the united states. that society is a racistically constructed one. The individuals living there are handled racisticall but gradually. a "true" american black is supposed to have better "chances" than an non-american white. tension in the iranian community is a result of racistic social policy in the united states. also jews have tension in their community since centuries. Every jew imagines she/he would be rescued only if she/he ignores other jews. When one says: the growth of Iranian population was too intens and too quick, so it means to me that the racist atmosphere has allread worked. This argument is exactly what the native racist use to justify their behaviour against, not only iranioans only but against every body they "get". If there is no exot available they take theri next relative. I think each iranian has had her/his own reasons to leave home and they got legaly the possibility to settle down in the united states. It is the american imperialism to blame to have allowed a big number of iranians to go there in a very short time in order to produce other targets for hates, unhappiness and frustrations of the natives. which otherwise would aim on local administration, which is responsible for the american social mesery. I think: better learn about one`s rights and make the appropriate use of them. I know that in nearly all countries iranians are observed by information services of the states where they live as refugees, although the politicians. Their controller is then from iranian origin. some savak agents who worked for his majesty in abroad had learned to find connection to criminal police of the country where they were active. after 1978 the "good" ones found jobs in their "specialty", as cotroller of the iranian refugees.
It is all a very long story. I would like to say thank you to johnjohn. Since March 2008 i do not recieve any earthy words as answer to my comments. Greeting


It's important to call ourselves Persians

by Anonymous-persis (not verified) on

Over the centuries 'Persian' was used to refer to the whole country of Iran and therefore could be used interchangeably with Iranian. Since many criminal elements inside Iran(IRI + some ethnic groups in Iran) and outside iran (Arabs, Turks, some European countries and sometimes Americans) try to eliminate Persian history and culture then it is important for us Iranians to protect and sustain our Persian heritage and keep the name PERSIAN alive. For us Iranians: we are Iranians; For others(non-iranian) we are Persians, our language is Persian(not Farsi) and we have the Persian Gulf. By Using "Persian" we will be able to sustain our heritage and preserve our glorious past (pre-Islam).
A nation whose soul, culture, language, history and way of life is taken away is not a nation and has no identity and will succumb to everything tyranical (IRI).

Ben Madadi


by Ben Madadi on

I have always used IRANIAN. What's wrong with it? Nothing. We can always explain to those who do not know what being an Iranian means. Afteral if we are nice and people like us that is argument enough for prejudices. And why should an Iranian care about people who have prejudices?


just Iranian

by fyi (not verified) on

I personally think that if we are asked to identify our heritage/roots we should simply respond by saying: IRANIAN !

Here is also another similar post worth reading:



A Rose is a Rose by any Other Name

by LanceRaheem on

My mother has lived in this country for three decades, is married to an American and speaks English at near native level, yet I've never heard her call herself American. When asked she has always referred to herself as being Iranian.  She chokes on the words Iranian-American when referring to herself although she has no trouble in describing me and my sister with this hyphenated term.

Both my sister and I describe ourselves as Iranian-American because this is what we are culturally and biologically, and this is how we view ourselves.  We have one Iranian parent and one American parent.  Could anyone have a greater claim to the term than those like us?  We can't really call ourselves Iranians since we weren't born in Iran and have never lived there.  Moreover, the government of Iran doesn't even regard us as Iranian-Americans.  The IRI says that since our baba is American, we are Americans, P-E-R-I-O-D. Even some in our community that are hung up on racial purity regard us as being a "lower" form of Iranian. 

It doesn't really bother us what the IRI wishes to call us or what a few Aryan nutballs think of us  because we know who we are and we know of the proud people from whom we are descended. Our mother has made sure that we know enough about our heritage that we will always be proud of our connection to Iran. This doesn't mean that others are not free to call themselves what they wish.  None of us have the right to dictate what others may wish to call themselves unless we are able to walk in their shoes. We can't know the difficulties our compatriots may face in life if they tell every  violent redneck around that they are Iranian.     

At the end of the day, it doesn't matter it bit what a person calls himself, as long as he (or she) always remains true to his (or her) heart.  While it may be possible to take the Iranian out of Iran, it is impossible to take Iran out of the Iranian...or the matter what he calls himself, for a rose is a rose by any other name! 

Just my two cents worth!


Sick of these attitudes

by Fed Up (not verified) on

I am so sick of:

__ The salespeople (male and female) who try to flirt with me by saying stuff like: "Wow you don't look Iranian at all!" as if Iranian features are ugly!

__ The neighbor who insists on ess-speaking English weeth hair theek accent even though I have the courtesy to reply to her in our mother tongue.

__ The boy with low self-esteem who replied: "My parents are Persian. It's not my fault! Haha" when I inquired if he was Iranian.

It goes on and on...



by Kamangir on

Persians and Persian language is the spinal cord of what we know as Iran. Iran wouldn't be Iran without Persians, Therefore Iranian and Persian should be and is teh same!


Mikey joon

by hotblond (not verified) on

Glad we're in agreement. You change your name, and some of may change our hair color for the same reasons.

"...I'm not going to vatankosh bazi..."

I like you.


Michael Mahyar Hojjatie

"Wait a minute, I just noticed something." Hey, so did I!

by Michael Mahyar Hojjatie on

Since name's apparently are the be-all-end-all of Iranianism (as we've been so aptly told, certainly keeping your natural hair color with pride is not!) your name isn't even present, you're masquerading. How convenient, from behind a computer!

Michael Mahyar Hojjatie

Wow, typical!

by Michael Mahyar Hojjatie on

As always, you can't seem to ask a question and not be assailed on here. Such is our diaspora culture! Siiiiigh!  

My name is my "preragative" too, thanks. I use both my middle and first name depending on whether I am around Iranians or not. Trust me, the world isn't going to end, I checked. Nobody else seems to care, but thanks for wondering with such fierce determination. Anyway, I answered your inquiry, you (I guess) answered mine, and I'm not going to vatankosh bazi on here, I refuse to treat my people that way. I'll leave it up to those Iranians who think it's okay to do and that there's some sort of gain to it.

And I don't know anybody, young or old, who uses Rogaine... When I encounter one, I'll report back to you.



by 1hotblond (not verified) on

Wait a minute, I just noticed something. Your name is MICHAEL and you are making the comment that you made???



by 1hotblond (not verified) on

Girls are girls. We like to change the color of our hair to match the season or our shoes. It's our preragative, ok???

You guys have your things too like puttig rogaine on your bald heads--what's up with that? :)

Michael Mahyar Hojjatie

Ugh, the dying blonde/bleaching of the hair!

by Michael Mahyar Hojjatie on

Without any immature Finglish swearing or insults that seems to flourish on here, will somebody please tell my WHY this is so fashionable among our women in America? I would certainly hope it's not out of any degree of shame associated with our skin and hair tones and our complexion!


PERSIAN easier sometimes...

by justHuman (not verified) on

i agree, i use persian when it's convenient and dont have time or am never going to see that person again or whatever just dont want to get into it. because usually people have no clue what that means!

just dont have the hoseleh sometimes to try to defend myself and my culture, country, etc.