I was born and raised in Northern California, particularly, within the South San Francisco Bay Area. My parents, however, were born and raised in Tehran, the capital city of Iran. They moved to the states in their early 20s to expand their education and cultural platform, seeking that "American Dream" many immigrants yearn for. I am reminded of the freedom I was born with here, whereas most of my mother's childhood, for instance, was shaped through the harsh regime that took over Iran's once-thriving royal empire. Though the political state of Iran has been unideal since, the people still thrive through compassion, culture, and love -- keeping the history and memories that have shaped this country, alive.
As a young elementary student, my brother and I were both automatically placed in ESL classes (English as a Second Language). I never really thought as to why we were in those special classes, given how young we were, I actually thought I was being given special treatment. Though, having been one of the top students in my writing and English classes did leave me a bit confused with their placement decision. Nonetheless, I never second-guessed it, neither did my parents, because they were brought up within the schooling system in Iran, prior to advancing their education in the states -- so we all assumed the school knew what they were doing, right?
It was not until years later, after gaining myself some emotional intelligence and education that I realized, even as a kid at the mere age of seven, I was blindly stereotyped against and discriminated. English was my first language, learning Farsi afterward as my second language; this was documented within my file at the school, keep in mind. Though, it became clear to me that because my parents did not speak English as their first language nor were they brought up here, there was a blind assumption that I must have not spoken English well enough to meet the school's criteria; though I guess my report card of A's in my writing and English classes did not suffice. Or was it just my skin color and the accent of my parents my teachers would hear during conferences that led to the conclusion of my dire need for ESL? Hard to tell…
I was blindly shaped as a kid as I grew up and became more exposed to society and the way minorities tend to be treated or looked at as "immigrants" rather than just people, like everybody else. First off, every single person who is not an authentic Native American IS an immigrant in the nation, let me make that very clear. I used to feel shame when people would ask me of my ethnicity or what kind of accents my parents had. I used to feel shame when I would open my lunch box and have a home-cooked meal my mom made for me because the smell of the spices would stand out compared to the turkey sandwiches or Lunchables others would have. And it pains me to say, that I even used to feel shame when my own parents would talk in front of my friends or teachers because I wanted to hide their accents so I can "be more like everybody else".
As a kid, I did not realize why I was hiding my family and identity, but now, I have the answers to them and I am not proud of them. But I am disappointed in the way this society STILL treats minorities, blindly stereotyping and discriminating; in my case, making me grow up with this constant feeling of shame until I grew intelligent and confident enough to realize how pathetic that was.
I am PROUD of my parents and their beautiful accents. It shows the hard work and dedication they endured throughout their lives to get to where they are now: successful and independent. They traveled across seas to gain another life for themselves, having to earn citizenship, which I often take for granted having been born here, and started their way from the bottom before reaching the top, after years of perseverance and confidence. A trait I hope to carry on from my parents.
I am PROUD to be Iranian-American and to have come from a culture where everyone treats each other as family. There is so much history about this country most people do not know of, rather, many assume that everything that is heard on the media is an accurate portrayal of the Middle East, as a whole. No country in the world is perfect, that is a fact. But do not blindly judge what you see on TV to be the truth of what is actually going on inside a country until you've traveled there and witnessed it for yourself. People often mix politics with humanity -- these are two separate things. Look at the politics of our own nation as we speak? I think it's fair to say we've had some turmoil lately, but does that mean that the very citizens within this country represent the politics, literally? At the end of the day, we are all human beings walking this planet, so let's start treating each other better through embracing the unique labels people carry rather than categorizing them.
I am PROUD to have been brought up speaking two languages because language is how we connect with other people. And for me, being able to speak Farsi helps me feel more connected with my older-generation family who can't speak English or to even just feel closer to my culture. I was taught about family, love, respect, kindness, and virtue within my household and within the traditions that have been carried throughout generations of the Iranian culture that celebrate those values. I call America my home and I call Iran my distant home. Though I was not born and raised in Iran, I have had the privilege to travel there several times as a young child and those are memories I will carry with me forever. Memories of great food, kind people, beautiful landscape, and architecture, as well as decades worth of history peaking through random corners of the motorcycle filled streets, the air masked with the smell of freshly baked bread at every corner.
Most of all, I am sorry for the ignorance I carried as a young kid who often suppressed her identity to "fit in" more. I realize now that I should follow and embrace the shadows of my parents more and carry with them the history that they have brought here. And to carry with them the passion and confidence they looked to when life became more challenging. I am proud of my parents and my identity and I hope that others who may have felt similar as I can also come to this realization with me. Let's spread the love thick, not thin -- to everyone.
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