Photo by tanakawho's
Here's a fun fact: Amongst those in the know, the city of Los Angeles is also known as Tehrangeles. That's an amalgamation of the names Tehran and Los Angeles. Do you know why? There are so many Persians in Los Angeles that people describe it is a mini Tehran.
In this country, many pockets of cultural and national groups have amassed themselves nearly everywhere. How many Chinatowns, Germantowns, Latino neighborhoods and little Italys do you know of? They are everywhere in the US, and most likely, your own place of residence can lay claim to at least one street or one neighborhood that is foreign country defined.
Houston, where I live, has a large and thriving Persian community. It also has a deeply-rooted and pervasive Mexican heritage. My husband likes to say that between his native Farsi, my native Spanish and our communal English, we've got the city covered in terms of language. An observation that has proven itself entirely true over my four years of living there.
Here in Washington DC, where I used to live, you may encounter a Persian community which spread out over the District of Columbia and the states of Maryland and Virginia, is statistically even larger than the one we have in Houston. DC's 'Tehran' is second only to Los Angeles and just marginally larger in size than New York's.
The wife of the deposed Shah of Iran, Empress Farah Diba Pahlavi and her son, who would be Reza Shah with his wife Yasmine, live here part of the year. I've seen them several times at charity events and local restaurants. They look about as normal as people like deposed Empresses and un-crowned Shahs can look when they wait in line to sit at a French Bistro. That is DC for you - a status leveler type of place as I ever saw one. So many of the famous and the well-known are here, that even the bistros can deign to disregard protocol for ex-imperials.
Interestingly enough, even though I can now spout all these bits of information at you, long before I had ever befriended my in-laws (who are Persian) or married their son, I had lived in Washington for years and years and never paid much attention to the confluence of Persians gathered here.
In my four years of marriage, I've learned enough of my husband's language that when in his company, if I trot out a few of my almost diction-perfect Farsi phrases, I get mistaken for an Iranian. By the same token, my husband is often spoken to in Spanish and thought of as Latin American when in my company. We both take pleasure in the mistake others make in this respect. It seems yet another confirmation that not only are we similar and well-attuned to each other in our hearts and minds but that somehow, we've also managed to tap into what brands us as a part of each other's heritage.
This last observation brings me to thought that wouldn't it be nice if everyone could not only be identified easily but also, that just as easily, they could be misidentified? A total oxymoron I know but at the core of this thought lies the essence of what, besides economic prosperity, is the dream that has kept many of us immigrants in the United States of America - the sense of equality in a nation that promises to protect our individuality. The sense of being part of a larger whole even while our uniqueness is preserved; a land where there is really no pot, as I have never believed that the US is about melting its population into fondue-like consistency, but rather a place where we can celebrate what ties us to our old life at the same time that we forge a new one for ourselves here.
For myself, the US is not the land of my father. And yet as I have just written this statement, I have to ask myself what is, truly, the land of anyone's father? Not even my husband, who proudly lays claim to 500 years of uninterrupted family ancestry anchored in Iran, not even he, can make true the statement about the land of his father because in the end, and this is what I've been trying to get at in such a roundabout way, anyway you look at it, travel back far enough, and in the family history you will find that your birthplace is just another place in a long list of places that only partly explains where you are from. I suppose that is perhaps why someone might mistake me for an Iranian or why my husband might be mistaken for a Latin American; it is also the reason why I feel glad that the US has many mini Tehrans and would not find it amiss if Iran someday had a mini Los Angeles. It is also why I believe that there is nothing wrong with ex-empresses standing in line like the rest of us do and why, had I married someone born in a place other than where my husband is from, I would still feel OK with having people mistake my background because, blending in is something that comes to me easily. I think the ability to blend in is one of the single greatest benefits we enjoy by living in this country. Hopefully, no one will ever demand that we sacrifice the I in order to be part of the us in the US.
Photo by tanakawho's