“Where are you from?”
Early 1990s. I was an immigrant teenager in America and this question made me shudder every time. It was an unusually common question back then. It must have been my awkward accent or just my awkward self. High school was more than enough of a culture shock but I managed it fine in the end. This question however always unnerved me.
Where are you from? The inevitable question would ensue after my first words of greeting. The dread at the pit of my stomach. The temptation to make something up.
I am from Iran, I would say.
The puzzled look. The attempt to feign understanding when there was no clue where or what Iran is. No matter how I pronounced my poor country’s name, more often than not, I might have just as well named a star in the solar system or a tribe in Africa.
The awkward moments which followed.
I remember begging my mom to conspire along with me and lie. We could pretend to be French. Everyone knows where France is. She spoke the language and I was learning it – and besides, most likely, the person asking us did not speak French to put us to test. But she refused. We are from Iran, she would say proudly. I was ashamed. So ashamed of my origin. Why Iran? Why me? Why not just America?
No matter how I tried to fit in, the question always haunted me. So I adopted strategies. I became extremely good at steering the conversation immediately back to the person, changing the subject or dodging the question altogether. I learned to deal with it most of the time. It felt lousy though.
I admit I never lied. I just told the truth shamefully.
Until I grew up and I grew older. Slowly over the years of denial and shame, I started to feel a sad sense of belonging and longing for Iran. The more I wanted to remember what I had tried so hard to forget, the more I realized that I want to be from Iran. That my past is part of who I am – and who I am is a fabulous person.
I am from Iran. I can say it without shame, without a trace of regret, and without trepidation now. I can say it even before I hear the once dreaded question.
I am from Iran, the land of Persia, where the most prolific poets such Ferdowsi , Sa’di, Hafiz, Rumi and Omar Khayyam influenced the world with their prose and where the most beautiful rugs, jewelry, music, history and most of all people come from.
How did I become so proud? The government of Iran has been full of sham and drudgery for over 30 years. How I feel toward them has not and shall never change. That, however, I finally realized, is entirely inconsequential to the matter at hand, my friends.
It is not at all about the government. It is about the people. And you would be hard pressed to find another nation that has produced more doctors and lawyers and dentists and scientists and professors and engineers than the Iranians who have left Iran to make a home for themselves all over the world. I am proud of them for making a difference through education and hard work. I am one of them. My family is one of them.
From nothing to a life of bliss, comfort and happiness. Most of all, a life with freedom. The freedom to be who I am. And being ever so proud of it to boot.
Farnoosh only started pursuing her myriad of passions in recent years where workaholism was finally forced to take a backseat, and balance became a matter of intellectual and emotional survival. She has a relentless love for living life to the fullest via reading, traveling, yoga and eating well, all of which and more she explores on Prolific Living.