The bedtime stories we hear as a child often act as the prologue to our young dreams that, by morning, have started to sprout into new ideas and perspectives. Having just recently turned 20 a few months ago, my mind still wanders to the stories that my dad told me and my sister when we were growing up. The accounts of a teenage boy and his band of misfits escaping the grasps of the Iranian government and fleeing the country amidst a revolution that has altered the course of Iran’s history.
It was do or die; escape or be forced to serve in the war. My daydreams were filled with my dad making his way from Iran, through Pakistan, and all the way to Spain. Avoiding patrols, hiding cash in emptied cigarettes, and evading helicopters like John Wayne escaping bandits, Indiana Jones emerging from a burning building, James Bond walking away from an explosion. Over the hills and through the valley, all the way to the US. That was the dramatic picture that my childhood self painted from the bedtime stories of my dad’s life, and it is one that many other young Iranian-Americans share with me. Slowly my daydreams and late night thoughts have matured and now contemplate the meaning behind everything my parents had to do to get here, and what it took for my family and our traditions to exist.
Last week I was at my local Starbucks having a conversation with a friend about our families and cultures. I am a second-gen Iranian-American, and she had moved from Egypt to the US with her family early on in her life. Midway through our discussion, an elderly man sitting next to us introduced himself.
He had overheard our conversation and was curious what our backgrounds were. We shared with him, and he shared with us that his family had moved to the states in the 1930’s. He was 73, Jewish, and a retired lawyer with a new passion for Netflix shows. He shared countless stories about meeting presidents, and claimed to have met Benjamin Netanyahu in his youth when they were both growing up in Philly. As the conversation steered towards his early-life, he made an interesting point to us that has lingered in my mind ever since.
When he was growing up, he was in the position where he had the opportunity to build, and create tradition and community. He presented this as a perspective for us to embody in our own lives. To push the envelope with our budding communities and ensure our respective cultures make it to the next generation here in the US.
Nowadays my daydreams are less so comics of my dad blazing a trail from Iran to America, but more so visions of our Iranian community blazing the way for the future generation, and so on, and so on. As much as my mom wants, this does not mean that my wife will be Iranian (LOL). I’m open to it but I don’t think that it’s a prerequisite for pushing forward the culture. Just like the old man said, we are in a position to preserve traditions, and also create new ones.
It was about my sophomore year of high school when I truly began to appreciate my Iranian heritage. From that point until now, I have been able to get a better grasp for what my traditions are. Off the top of my head, we have the holidays. Old and young alike jumping over small-fires under the stars in celebration of Chahar Shanbeh Soori. Attending packed events put on by students in celebration of Nowruz and Yalda. Picnicking with music and food across Black Hills Regional Park for Seizdah Bedar.
Alongside the mass celebrations there are centers for education where my sister and I, along with many of our friends, spent our Saturday mornings learning to read and write Farsi. Organizations and fundraisers that bring the community together to volunteer and provide relief to children and families who need support in Iran. Dance classes and music groups that promote traditional art forms. Even summer camps for young Iranian-Americans to make lifelong connections and better understand their roots.
From these larger scale events and institutions stem new friends who share your background. With these new friends, who have now become old friends, we get together and: feel excited about seeing an Iranian dish on Bon Appetit, and pride when Anthony Bourdain shared his experience in Iran (thanks Kamran). Crave aanar. Obsess over the emergence of the Iranian Messi, Sardar Azmoun. Root for Iran in the World Cup like there’s no tomorrow with the underlying knowledge that they have horrible odds. Play old Iranian card games. Treat our friends to coffee or tea when they visit. Always offer a place to spend the night. And when we have kids of our own (way down the line haha), it will be up to them to carry on the torch.
One of my random ongoing conflicts with the world is that (other than the ocean) there are no more great frontiers, and no land to settle as far as we know. However, this recently acquired perspective has made me a little bit less bitter about the state of the planet. The purpose behind these disjointed thoughts is to share the concept that the old man shared with me, and that our parents would be proud of us to embody. No matter the timeline of your family history in this country or where you are from, you have the opportunity to build community, create tradition, and ultimately share it with those around you.
Just some random, distilled thoughts.