The ability to exist harmoniously as an equal part of two very different cultures, has proved to be a challenging, yet rewarding experience. I was born in Florida and look like almost any other American. I have brown hair and green eyes and light skin, even in the summer. I have no accent and receive good marks in school. A single glance and perhaps a short conversation may lead you to believe I am a full-blooded American, possibly of English or Irish descent. But I am not. I am the child of two Iranian parents, raised for the majority of their lives, in Tehran, the country’s capital. My parents and sister look like the typical Middle Eastern family, with dark skin, thick hair and deep brown eyes. I have always stood out. When coming to this country in the 1980’s my parents made great sacrifices that I know I will never have to make in my life. They toiled in ways I can only read about, and hope to understand.
As I was growing up, I began to learn I was different from my peers, but was always confused because I did not look different or sound different. I rode on waves of emotion as I struggled to learn who I was and where I came from. My sister, four years older than I, easily embraced her heritage yet blended in gracefully with her friends. My aunts and uncles would always tell me to be thankful that I did not look Iranian because of the numerous stereotypes. Yet, I felt betrayed and lost. I would have rather belonged to some culture, any culture, than to belong to none. I felt forced to identify myself one culture and neglect the other, yet found it impossible. It is impossible to forget the tantalizing scent of the “loobia-polo” dish or the many intricacies of traditional Persian dancing. It is equally as impossible to ignore the many rich cultures present in the United States and the unique opportunities it graciously offers.
With the ongoing conflicts in the Middle East, I have also become painfully aware of the stereotypes clouding the heritage of many countries, including my own. It is painful for me to comprehend that an entire culture can be labeled as “savage” or “uncivilized”. Growing up with other Iranian children and their parents, I realized that some things do not change from one culture to another; some things are universal. Things like loyalty to one’s family, the crushing pressure of excelling in education and the importance of being grateful to God, are part of almost every country’s culture. I began to learn that it was not necessary to sacrifice one heritage for another – one identity for another. I am not simply Persian, just as I am not simply an American. I am both and now, I am proud.
If you enjoyed this essay, please consider making a tax-deductible contribution to This I Believe, Inc.