A few weeks ago, I attended a Persian literary event in UC Irvine located in Orange County, California. It was one of the many great Persian cultural events that good Iranian residents of California have organized in the past several years. Among Iranian ex-pat speakers, there were several young Americans of Iranian decent who were sharing their intriguing experience of growing up in an Iranian house in America. While I listened with great interest, I heard the disappointing phrase of “Iranian Diaspora” repeated by almost every one of those speakers. It was as though, new generation Americans of Iranian origin had chosen it as a standard title for all of us.
Diaspora has a very desperate and negative connotation built into it. In ancient Greek the term Diaspora meant " scattered.” The current meaning started to develop from this original term when the translation of Hebrew Bible into Greek used the word "Diaspora" to refer to the population of Jews exiled from Judea in 586 BC by the Babylonians and from Jerusalem in AD 136 by the Romans.
Throughout history, the word has been used over and over to denote a group of people fleeing from persecution, oppression or genocide. Like Armenians who were uprooted from Anatolian Turkey in 1915 and once again Jews from various parts of Europe starting 1880’s all the way until World War II, and ironically Palestinians as result of establishment of Jewish state in Israel.
While I have not been blind to the difficulties that some Iranian people endured after 1979 revolution and the conditions under which they had to escape from Iran, I tend to disagree that all Iranians who chose to migrate to America and other parts of the world qualify for the word Diaspora. The use of that word by the Iranian-Americans sounds dishonest and melodramatic, but when American born Iranians use it, it is downright ungrateful to the United States and the American people in general.
It is important to mention that except for Baha’i’s and the well known top echelon figures of the former government, there were no immediate threats to the life of any other individual who chose to leave and live in countries where they could enjoy freedom of speech, better education and career opportunities for their children and away from the strict Islamic laws. Many Iranians, who were unable to leave or elected to stay in Iran, endured numerous social difficulties, lived through 8 years of war but eventually adapted to the life style offered by the Islamic regime.
When I think of Diaspora, I picture a large UN camp with hundreds of tents occupied beyond recommended capacities. A place where people are in dire need of nourishment and medical care. I don’t recall any of that about Iranian immigrants. Upon arrival, a good number of Iranians bought mansions in Beverly Hills, Malibu and South Hampton. Others in more modest middle class neighborhoods throughout California and other states. In worst cases, a family would have had to occupy a one bedroom apartment. But nobody had to be placed in internment camp, have a number tattooed on their body and there was no widespread harassment of any Iranians in America.
Iranians like many other new immigrant groups, experienced periods of uncertainty, yearning for their homeland, difficulty learning the language and the culture of the host country and in some cases living beneath the standards that they were accustomed to. For example, some former high power military officers had to drive taxi cabs for a while. While there was a mild and short lived resentment for Iranian immigrants in the US which was created by the hostage crisis and the severed relationship between US and the Islamic regime, there was never an evidence of obvious discriminations towards Iranians by the US government, any private organization or any employer.
The new generation of Iranians who were either born and/or raised in the USA had a tremendous opportunity for an excellent life and career in America. And many of them successfully took advantage of that. In today’s Iranian-American communities, we have self made billionaires of high tech industry, Mayors of major cities, world renowned physicians and surgeons, NASA scientist, top university professors, major network anchors and titans of many industries. If anything we have come of age and it is unbecoming for us to carry that silly chip of Diaspora on our shoulders. I wish those Iranians who find comfort in their never ending commiseration about Iran would get over it and count their blessings while enjoying their free, prosperous and comfortable lives in America.
A response to those who commented on my original post on June 9th
Dear Folks: It seems that most of you misunderstood my points and intention about posting the blog. First of all, I have no political ulterior motive about writing this. I have lived in America for 35 years. Like many other high school graduates of early 1970's, I left Iran with an Ezam e daneshjo permit, my black student passport and my poosteen on my back. I was planning to return and serve my country. But right about the time of my graduation, the Islamic revolution happened. I accepted that revolution despite its obvious flaws as the will of majority of Iranian people. So I chose to stay here. Because, I have had no unrealistic notion for reappearance of a secular state in Iran, I have been happily moving towards mainstream of American society and enjoying the benefits of success without any regrets. Of course like many other Iranians, I had financial and emotional losses because of that revolution. But I got over them. It bothers me to watch the never ending self pity Iranians seem to have about everything in their life. They use the Diaspora card as a crutch for not trying hard enough and use the discrimination due to the hostage crisis and now the 9/11 as an excuse for laziness. Most of all, the sense of entitlement that Iranians seem to have is amazing. After nearly 30 years, many Iranian people still have shown no effort to learn English well. They consort with other Iranians only. They hardly make an effort to entertain their American neighbors or associates. Worst of all, they sit and bad mouth America while enjoying the benefits of this great country. I was at a party last year, when a staunch royalist man started cursing America and CIA for the infamous 1953 incident. I could not stand the hypocrisy so I asserted; " I know it was couple of years before I was born but didn't CIA help restore the man you just revered as his Majesty Aryamehr? Because, if US had not gotten involved, Mossadegh and possibly Tudeh party would have been in power and his majesty would have had to get a job driving a cab in Italy." After back paddling for a while, he started to agree that at least from his point of view, it was a necessary interference. Finally, I would like to respond to the nice lady who wrote twice stating that Iranians do not need to be grateful because they have worked hard and earned all that they have achieved. That statement is exactly at the heart of this issue. Let me ask you this; suppose your husband was a drunk and came home and beat you up every night. Until one night your neighbors take you in. After many months of living there, your neighbors wonder why you have not even once thanked them for taking you in. Would you reply: " I don't need to thank you! I have been helping you around the house and baby sat for your kids. Isn't that enough?"
A good friend of mine who had read my original post responded with this quotation from Nazim Hikmet which I would like to share with you.
". . . Don't live in the world as if you were renting or here only for the summer, but act as if it was your father's house. . .Believe in seeds, earth, and the sea, but people above all. Love clouds, machines, and books, but people above all." Nazim Hikmet, 20th century Turkish poet
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