by Daria Karraby
My parents had no hopes for an American dream. Even more, they had no desire for it. They had rich, full lives in their homeland of Iran. The streets of Tehran was their playground. They spent their summers splashing in outdoor pools and gorging on saffron ice cream. They attended at least one party a week, dancing until the wee hours of the morning. My father came to Philadelphia to study engineering because that was just the thing young, middle-class Iranians did. Go to America, study some, have your fun, and return home with a diploma in hand. My mother was attending a girls’ college in Iran, but, when the initial tremors of the Revolution hit, school was hardly ever in session. Her parents sent her to the east coast of the United States so she could complete her education without any distractions. America was never the end goal. It was a detour, a fun vacation stop on the path to a brighter, distinctly Iranian future. My parents could not have foreseen that this detour would turn into a permanent stay. I should not exist. Without the Revolution and the destruction of the Iran of my parent’s childhood, my mother and father – my Maman and Baba – would never have met.
My parents forged a makeshift version of their own childhood for my sister and me, the so-called first-generation, here in America. Our parents signed us up for cultural dance classes with teachers who were also Iranian immigrants. They enrolled us in Farsi language courses. They surrounded us with other Iranians and their children and, together, we all formed a kind of tribe. We spent both Iranian and American new years together, attended each other’s birthday parties practically every other week, and went on annual summer camping trips.
I could not always remain in this utopian world my parents so carefully crafted. As time went on, I began to visit only on the weekends, whenever there was another party or gathering. I would only ever fully immerse myself in this Iranian world in the privacy of my home. At school and in the company of friends, I was just like any other American teen. I went to the mall on the weekends and only listened to top forty music. As I grow older, I find that I can no longer hop between these two worlds so easily. I can no longer keep these identities – the Iranian and the American – separate. (Perhaps, I never did.)
As tensions between Iran and the United States continue to rise, I find myself reverting to old patterns. I refer to myself as Persian, wary of the implications claiming the identity of Iranian will have. I hesitate to speak Farsi in public, afraid of attracting suspicious eyes and ears. In private, I ask my family to retell stories from their Iranian childhood, hoping I can leverage them to construct some semblance of an ethnic identity for myself. There are two stories to tell, the story of our parents, and then of us, gifted with and suspended between two worlds.