Persian, American or Iranian: Who Am I
Researching in my Popular Culture class this term has brought up old questions I have struggled with and answers I never suspected. Often feeling my situation is unique, I never realized that many Iranian-Americans have the same conflict; how do I identify myself in this mass media driven society, Iranian, Persian or American?
I have wonderful memories of my first six years. It was an uncomplicated, happy interval, and I was unaware of the pending revolution. Not long after my family moved to Oregon, I realized that having an Iranian name was not well received. Being so young, I wasn’t sure why, but the older I get, I see the continued hostility between the United States and Iran.
What I didn’t realize until this course and through the research I have done for this blog post and even some of the other blog posts we analyzed in class that my internal battle for a sense of identity is not unique. I am always looking for a way to stand out as an Iranian, whether it be through family connections, food, holidays-anything. Longing to embrace the part of my life I have good feelings for inside, but don’t have a clear recollection of.
The documentary “Iranians in America” that aired on PBS in 2012 shows clips of the Iranian Revolution, the Government being brought down by religious groups, riots, and the American hostage crisis. There are a number of Iranians interviewed in this piece who left their home and moved to the U.S.3 One woman who is interviewed recalls all she misses about Iran, the markets, the mosques, family get together, the garbage man, and the neighbors. She searches for the same connection of community around her in the U.S. and cannot find it.
I totally relate with her, and have nothing but bits of family tradition my mother and father continued, such as eating Persian food (lots of rice) and celebrating Nowruz (Persian new-year). There is an Iranian-American comedian K-Von who does a Tedtalk about celebrating Nowruz, and how he was not even aware it was a holiday until he went to Los Angeles in his early 20’s.5 His father aimed to keep him as American as possible to avoid any conflicts.
I was ecstatic when Bravo decided to broadcast a reality television show portraying the lives of six Iranian-American people living in Los Angeles-called the Shah’s of Sunset.1 This show broadcast by Ryan Seacrest Productions, follows the lives of these six young adults living a lavish lifestyle in Los Angeles, sometimes referred to as “Tehrangeles”. The show demonstrates how these people are grasping at their Iranian roots, with food, Iranian traditions and occasionally speaking Farsi. This is the extreme opposite of what I remember about Iranians, portraying these six as rich, heartless, greedy, gossiping and stirring up a whole lot of drama. They fight, they drink, they smoke, they disrespect each other. However, now it is in its sixth season, and must obviously be successful.
After reading a news piece written by Bianca Soldani, “Stereo-typed and Shrouded in Controversy” I was interested in the different opinions given on this reality show. Bianca raises the questions, is it bad to have this show that is somewhat a mockery of Iranian’s or does it bring to light that there are successful Iranian -American’s living in the U.S.?2 Basically an American television show that does not portray all Iranians as being from the ‘the Axis of Evil’, terrorists, or villains. Part of me agrees with Bianca’s article about portraying Iranians in a different light but I would argue that this is what true Iranian’s are. The drama of these actors is what draws the audience in. “Reality TV”
On an opposite side of the spectrum, Maz Jobrani, a well-known Iranian-American comedian did a TEDtalk on YOUtube, “Did You Hear the One About the Iranian-American? “ This piece Maz describes how Iranian-American’s and others from different cultures can be easily stereo-typed into one classification. Maz continues in his piece about how he was asked to play the villain time and time again, using his Iranian accent to rob a bank with a bomb wrapped around his waist. He brought up the question to the producers, “why can’t I just rob the bank with a gun, like a normal person would?” I guess the point is that story doesn’t sell, not with an Iranian accent.2
My earliest memory of stereo-typing and how terrible it can be was made evident when I was 10. All my friends and others I did not know pulled me aside in the hallway one day after school, held me against the wall and took turns hitting me, spitting on me and calling me awful names. I walked home that day, confused, I didn’t really get it, these were my friends. It was later that I was told it was because of what was happening in Iran. To this day I don’t believe my classmates hated me, but they hated what they had seen or heard on the television, radio or even from their parents. How could that be? I didn’t cause the revolution. I didn’t take any hostages. These questions don’t matter if you get indoctrinated enough through television, or household discussions and pretty soon all Iranians are evil.
I now realize this struggle is not only mine. As I researched My Big Picture Blog Post, read through and listened to other peers in my class, I realize finding personal identity is affected by all that surrounds us; whether you were born in a different country, your parents migrated here, have a different religion or even look different. So much of what is portrayed on media outlets lumps people into various large categories. We are all individuals, and no one person should be defined by mass media.
Neda Magbouleh wrote a piece, “Inherited Nostalgia Among Second Generation Iranian- Americans- A Case Study at a Southern California University” A quote from the article rings loud and clear for me “But a nostalgic longing – encompassing homesickness and psychic travel, both for and to US-based childhood homes and an Iranian ‘homeland’ they have never before visited”. 4
Neda’s article makes it evident this is a struggle for first and second-generation Iranians living in America. Southern California is home to more than half a million Iranians according to a census done in 2012. There are groups established in California and other parts of the United States so Iranian-Americans can gather together and share their culture, language and heritage without the fear of judgement.
Another interesting quote from Neda’s article concerns the defining of Persian vs Iranian, Neda writes from an interview with the president of this Persian student group “Maybe ‘Persian’ is more inclusive or more cultural, you know, I guess we’re just carrying on the name that the group has had. I know that the country of ‘Persia’ doesn’t exist anymore and I’m not trying to say I prefer you know, being compared to a Persian cat than a real country that my people are from … but it’s [the term] used all around us in L.A. … and we support Iran and its place in the global system. We love our country as ‘Iran’. But in my life, I use both terms all the time and I don’t think I do one or the other more consciously.” She also adds later, “The PSG President’s understanding of the term ‘Persian’ is particularly noteworthy, as it illustrates her effort to negotiate a sense of cultural history with present-day circumstances.”
Going through middle school and high school personally I identified as Persian instead of Iranian.
Like so many other cultures or heritages, mine is only unique in the sense that I struggle with what identity I call myself today, Iranian, Persian or American. I don’t think I have to identify as one of any of those things, I am all of them.
The conclusion is best stated from an Iranian man interviewed in the PBS documentary, Firouz Naderi, Engineer, NASA jet propulsion laboratory ‘there is not a side of me which is Iranian and a side of me which is American, it’s sort of like scrambled eggs, when you scramble it you can’t separate the white and the yolk anymore, this is who I am no, my Iranian identity and American identity are woven together into a fabric which is me right now.’ 3 This is who I am, Iranian-American woven together to make me the unique person I am.
- Seacrest, Ryan. “Shahs of Sunset.” Bravo TV Official Site, 30 Oct. 2017, bravotv.com/shahs-of-sunset.
- Soldani, Bianca. “Stereotyped and Shrouded in Controversy: An Examination of Iranians on TV.” Guide, Sbs.com, 3 May 2016, sbs.com.au/guide/article/2016/05/04/stereotyped-and-shrouded-controversy-examination-iranians-tv
- “The Iranian Americans.” PBS, Public Broadcasting Service, Dec. 2012, pbs.org/program/iranian-americans/
- Neda Maghbouleh Journal of Intercultural Studies 31 , Iss. 2,2010
- “FUNNY TEDTalk about PERSIAN NEW YEAR ~ (w/ Comedian Kvon).”YouTube, YouTube, 16 Mar. 2016, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YehRVbB8jQ4.