So Where Are You From?

by Laura on 02/06/2010 · 26 comments

Guest post by Farnoosh Brock, the fabulous creative author of Prolific Living. You can also follow Farnoosh on Twitter.

“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 queFarnoosh Brockstion 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.

The silence.

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.

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{ 21 comments… read them below or add one }

Iryna February 7, 2010 at 3:44 AM

Thank you for sharing your experience, Farnoosh! I’m very used to spelling the name of my country or describing its’ location on the map.. & sometimes it’s just easier not to go into all the explanations. But it’s important to remember that difference between the country as a political structure & the place that used to be & still is our home.. Thank you again for reminding me!

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kari m. February 7, 2010 at 5:40 AM

Thank you! Thoroughly enjoyed this post. No need to comment further.:-)

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Yulya February 7, 2010 at 1:20 PM

Farnoosh, I can so much relate to the silence and the awkward expression on people’s faces when they hear Kazakhstan as my home country. Every time I utter the word I prepare to say the standard: No, I have never been to Pakistan and no, my family haven’t been killed by bearded terrorists, and I actually had a happy childhood, no reason to pity me. However much I might dislike the politics of the country, I am still proud to say that I am a Russian from Kazakhstan.

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Farnoosh February 7, 2010 at 4:26 PM

To all of you, I am so happy that this article spoke to you – and happier yet to hear how proud you are to be from wherever it may be…! Thank you for the lovely comments and a special thanks to Laura for posting this here on the fab JCC Online. Be sure to subscribe and read the great articles which appear in this beautiful space here……

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Laura February 7, 2010 at 6:40 PM

To all of you – thank you for your thoughtful comments! And many thanks to you, Farnoosh, for teaching me something new. As an American, living here, I never had to explain what you’ve had to, and this has given me such perspective on what it means to define ourselves, our roots, and the strength we have from our identify, no matter where we’re from. I look forward to having you here again soon!

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Isao February 7, 2010 at 7:01 PM

I had those awkward moments when I was the only Asian kid in a school in Malta – my homeland (Japan) was well-known but only its name. Like you, I never lied but answered with shame.
I too became proud of Japan and its culture, but then I moved to Taiwan several years ago and started seeing things more neutrally. There is – pride and prejudice – everywhere and my love/hate relationship with my own culture is no exception (otherwise why am I living in a foreign country?).
Well, that’s my stuff. Your story spoke to me on many levels. Thank you.
.-= Isao´s last blog ..iPad kills who? =-.

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Linda Dini Jenkins February 8, 2010 at 11:39 AM

Brava, Farnoosh! Your story is one we need to hear again and again. Thanks for sharing.
.-= Linda Dini Jenkins´s last blog ..On the Road Again . . . and Again . . . with Paper and Pen =-.

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Sina February 8, 2010 at 12:26 PM

Great post! I’m wondering whether folks would use an alternative name to make their birthplace sound more exotic? For example, “I’m Persian”, instead of “from Iran”? Do you think this is an appropriate thing to do? Personally, I always use an alternate name first, then explain where that is, and what it means. Also, I’ve found that if you explain your origin in a confident and matter of fact way, most people will actually be interested more so than any other emotion.

Best of success to all.

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Farnoosh February 8, 2010 at 12:33 PM

Sina, very interesting question. Personally, I find it amusing at best that Iranians call themselves Persians. The Great wonderful land and history of Persia is history and present day country is Iran, the citizens Iranians, the language Farsi and the location the middle east. Much as I love to be thought of as Persian (ah a Persian Princess even! Come on, humor me), I am Iranian (and so are you, my dear brother!)

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Narmela Sargis February 10, 2010 at 5:16 PM

I loved reading your post. It reminded me of when I came to this country in 1976 and at the age of 13 started high school in a foreign land. I did not speak English and everything about America was strange. I was made fun of and called names because no one really knew where Iran was. I also begged my mom to pretend that we were from Italy. I know my last name does not sound Italian but I figured I can pretend to be Italian. I was ashamed to say I was from Iran. I refused to speak the language and if anyone asked me if I was from Iran, I would deny it. It wasn’t until I started college where I met two wonderful girls from Iran that I started to speak what I consider one of the most beautiful languages in the world. Iran is and always will be a beautiful country with a very rich history and culture. I pray that some day the people in Iran will have the freedom they so deserve and that the rest of the world can visit Iran like they used to before the revolution so they can see for themselves the beauty that is forever inherent in Iran.

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Rebekah Smith February 11, 2010 at 10:47 AM

People from here are often surprised to hear about these feelings, and those of us who have to think/feel through the question ourselves are always supported by more perspective; thank you for sharing this!

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George Matroni February 11, 2010 at 8:17 PM

Farnoosh,

I am so glad to see your allowing your self to experience more than just work now and letting us in, so we can share in your experiences and wisdom you have gained along your journey in life.

I thank you for allowing us in to share some your life experiences. These inner thoughts are part of who you are and allow us to know you better. Your inner strength is outstanding.

As you share yourself we will benefit from your wisdom and life experiences and I am sure will find some freedom in your expression.

George

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Wally Robertson February 12, 2010 at 5:18 PM

Farnoosh,
What a magic piece of prose and what a wonderful perspective.
I first learned respect for Iranians during that awful period in the early eighties when Iranians were badly maligned here in the States.
A colleague at the World Bank, insisted on meeting at 17 minutes after the hour. I, a typically naive Scot, responded with indignation. “Why not on the hour or half hour, like a normal person.”, says I. “Because you westerners are like slaves to the clock. Learn to enjoy time instead of subjugating yourself to it.” We compromised, and met at 47 minutes after the hour.
Over a period of time, this superbly educated, cultured and deeply philosophical fellow taught me some intense and critical life lessons that are with me to this day.
He never bowed to the prejudices of the day, never got upset with the incessant pedantry and won over just about everyone he encountered.
Oh, and his cooking skills were awesome.
Have a lovely weekend, Wal

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Haleh February 12, 2010 at 5:34 PM

Nicely put!

As I read this I went back 30 years ago when I came to U.S. during my high school years and started having those batlles in my head. I wish you had written this then!!!

I guess I was blind then, but now I can see. And, I see myself as an Iranian-American. When asked, I can now proudly say I am from Iran. And, I live to see the freedom of Iran.

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Farnoosh February 24, 2010 at 8:06 AM

I have been melting from joy of reading all these comments and just wanted to thank all of you for being so conscious and aware of the mosaic of those around you and of being proud of your own origins.

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mareli September 26, 2010 at 4:33 AM

thank you for sharing your story…which is many other’s stories as well! I was born in South Africa (white), and grew up in Brazil. And even though I was only 2 when we emmigrated, we were always judged and rejected as racists.

We left SA in the hight of the Apartheid Era.
And it was not easy to blend in, having very fair skin, blue eyes and blond hair, in a country where tanning, dark eyes and dark hair is the norm….

I never had an accent, so, “where are you from” wasn’t something that would come often in a conversation, only in school when people realized that I had the most diferent name in school, name (Inheritedfrom grandmom), surname that no one could pronounce… I hated my name… and to be honest, I still don’t like my name.. 40 years later, if I put my mind to it, I would change it…

Happily married to an englishman,with an hungerian surname (his dad was hungerian), surname always the topic of conversation, but I love my surname (maybe because there is no trauma attached to it, no rejection, no judgement). have I mentioned I have been back in SA for 17 years?

I am babbling away! never really shared this with anyone…

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Laura September 27, 2010 at 8:06 PM

Hi Mareli! So glad you shared with us – and we welcome babbling (you didn’t at all, btw). What an amazing story you have – a true example of adaptation, not just because of willingness to change, but an amazing commentary also of “what’s in a name.” Thank you for sharing – definitely got me thinking a bit. So glad to have you in the TJCC community!

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Farnoosh October 6, 2010 at 10:48 PM

I dropped by here to check something and saw this beautiful comment. Thank you Marell for sharing this story. I think you mean you have NOT been back to SA for 17 years? I have not returned to Iran in over 20 years and someday I’d love to go back….back to the roots and to the beginnings. I hope you make peace with your name. I love mine and wouldn’t change it for the world now :)!

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Howard Stein January 28, 2011 at 2:26 PM

I cannot say this about any other nation. But I often have occasion to say, “I have never met an Iranian I did not like!” Iranians are among the warmest, loving, passionate people one could hope to meet. And the history! My beloved Rumi, as well as Molana, Hafiz, Khayyam. Nizam al Mulk. I enjoyed all Reshad Fields books along my journey.
I am South African and encountered many responses similar to yours. Africa? How come you’re not black? Do you have tigers walking through the streets? Is that near Brazil?
Quite amazing. But my English accent (South African actually, mate) was always popular.
Seriously though, today it is imperative Americans become familiar with young Iranian people and their dreams and troubles.
Howard Stein´s last blog post ..Untitled

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Farnoosh June 12, 2011 at 2:33 PM

Dear Howard, I am so sorry this reply is ever so overdue. I did not check back in here and your comment has completely warmed my heart and made me smile ear to ear. Thank you SO much. What can I say? The world is funny, small, strange but overall a very good place. So glad to meet you and know more about your background. All the best.
Farnoosh´s last blog post ..Best Quotes from World Domination Summit – Day 1

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