Oh Iran, must you always take one step forward and two steps back?
I was reading (via Facebook Trending of all places) about an Iranian woman who was put to death for killing a man who allegedly tried to rape her. And it got me thinking about Iran, and how my whole life has been shaded by one negative thing after another from my home country.
I was born in Iran and my family immigrated to the US when I was a toddler. I grew up speaking Farsi – English is technically my second language (something I like to remind my fiance about anytime I trip over a common American saying).
We weren’t rich, no Shahs of Sunset BS with us – my family came over on student visas for an education and ended up staying when the revolution broke out. We struggled, we lived in an unsafe neighborhood, worked at 7-11; it wasn’t easy. I don’t think anyone longed for, or expected The American Dream. It wasn’t ever the goal, it was simply the circumstance. If anything, my family wanted a country to belong to, they wanted to go back to their mother land, the place where they grew up, that held all of their memories. A place that wasn’t anywhere near perfect, but not nearly as imperfect as it came to be.
I haven’t personally experienced a whole lot of racism. Maybe it’s because I speak without a foreign accent, maybe it’s because I don’t look typically Middle Eastern, maybe because I’m just lucky. As a child, a kid in my gym class once called me a Communist – I guess that counts as a racial slur, although it really said a lot more about that kid’s family than it did about mine. I don’t recall anything blatantly negative being said to me other than that. My family’s experience has been different though. They speak with accents, they’re obviously not natural-born Americans. And adults can be cruel. Still, it hasn’t been terrible for us by any means. The hardest part is hearing the news about this or that thing going on in Iran, and feeling a pang of sorrow every single time.
I visited Iran, reluctantly I might add, for the first time when I was in my twenties. I was a spunky, Americanized girl who had a major attitude about being forced to cover her hair. “Why must women be oppressed!,” I proclaimed, all the way up until I had to put the head scarf on when I entered the Iran Air terminal at Heathrow. When I got there, it honestly wasn’t so bad. I certainly didn’t come around to the idea of it, but the action of it wasn’t painful. I’d have felt very overexposed not to have my hair and body shape covered up when every other woman did. I explained it to my friends back home afterwards, “Everybody is covered up to one extent or another, and it would’ve felt weird not to be – like how being topless in public is allowed, but would you feel comfortable doing it?”
Over my lifetime, there’s been virtually no good news to come out of Iran. I have family still in Iran. My grandparents lived there their entire lives. I stopped visiting after they both died. I don’t know when I’ll ever plan to go back, and that makes me the saddest of all.
As I’m preparing to be married, to an American man, I find myself thinking about Iran a lot more than usual. My fiance, although having been a film major in college, had never seen an Iranian film, so we watched Children of Heaven the other night. I love Iranian films and especially the ones with children at the center of the story. It is through the eyes of the innocent, the unaware, the unscarred, that I think the spirit of a culture truly shines through.
And I think about our future children, and I wonder how I can pull off teaching them to speak Farsi when we don’t speak it at home. I worry about those types of things.
The truth of it is, if the uneasiness and distrust of the government didn’t exist, I would go there as often as I could afford to. I’d go to the shore of the Caspian Sea, wade in the water, and eat the delicious smoked eggplant dip. I’d go to Shiraz, where my grandmother was born, to Narenjestan and breathe in the sweetly scented orange blossom air. I’d visit the rivers of the Elbourz Mountains where my uncles took me, for the freshest air, and trout, I’ve ever eaten in my life. I’d marvel at entire families – father, mother, older kids, and baby – riding down the street on a rickety old scooter. I’d admire villagers who survive with few material possessions yet possess greater happiness in their simple family lives than anyone I’ve ever seen. I long to experience those things again, and I long to share them with anyone who has not been fortunate enough to.
My heart breaks for that woman who was executed. It broke when Neda was shot during the Green Revolution. And it breaks over and over again that thousands of years of a rich and warm culture, with so many beautiful, meaningful traditions that have nothing to do with the politics, are lost in the political story.