When did your family immigrate to the US and where exactly did they move? What made them come?
Most of my family immigrated to the US from 1983-1987, soon after the 1979 Iranian Revolution. With the rise of radical islam came the unfortunate rise of anti-semitism, leading many Iranian-Jews to leave the country in search of a more peaceful home. While we were one of the few to go to Boston, the rest of my family flew straight to Los Angeles, which is now home to over 1/2 million Iranians, many of which are Jewish.
What is the first language you learned? Do you speak any other languages?
My first language was Farsi. I started speaking English around age 3, and later learned Hebrew and Spanish in school.
What language do you primarily speak when with your family?
With my parents, I typically speak English and they respond in Farsi. With some of my other relatives, especially my grandmothers, I'll speak in Farsi since their English isn't very strong.
Have you ever visited or been back to your family's native country? If so, how often do you visit and for how long? What is that experience like? Do you have relatives there?
I've never been to Iran, but it's definitely a dream of mine to visit. As of a couple years ago, all of my family members have officially moved away from Iran with my uncle being the final one. Most of my family has expressed that they will never go back since they left the country with negative memories.
Describe your experience growing up in America as someone who is so closely tied to another culture. How did you feel? What things were easy? What did you find difficult?
To be perfectly honest, growing up I never really felt different as a result of my multi-cultural upbringing. A big part of that was the fact that I wasn't a very mindful kid growing up, so I probably wasn't even aware of any obvious differences that I might've been faced with. Another factor is that I went to a small, private Jewish school from grades 1-8, so my religious background unified me with my classmates in a way that made me feel connected. As I got older and entered my 20's, I started reflecting a bit more on my unique upbringing and the influences it has had on me. I've grown to appreciate my one-of-a-kind experience, and recognize the perspective is has offered towards my outlook on life.
What type of food do you eat at home? What are some of your favorite dishes?
We typically eat Iranian food at home, cooked by my mom. Our dishes usually involve rice + stew, and my favorite meal is called Ghormeh Sabzi. It's a stew, including beef, beans, and an array of herbs.
Describe your experience making friends as a kid growing up in the UNITED STATES.
I personally don't remember my cultural background having any effect on my experience making friends. Two of my best friends growing up, Josh and Mike, are also Iranian-Americans. Our parents all came to Boston around the same time and met through the local Sephardic Synagogue. The rest of my friends are Jewish-Americans, which I met at my middle-school.
Do you consider yourself as more of an American or that of your parents' native country?
In terms of my personality, I'm definitely a perfect mix between the two. Certain characteristics, such as my sense of humor and my cultural interests, are typically more 'American', whereas my manners and my strong focus on family relationships are more 'Iranian'.
Are you proud to be American?
Do you plan to pass along aspects of your parents native culture to your children (if you choose to have them)? What parts of the culture do you want to keep if any? If yes, how important is that to you, and how do you plan on doing so?
If I'm fortunate enough to have children, it would be great to pass on certain aspects of the Iranian culture. In particular, I love the strong focus on family. I see my family every week here in LA, either for Friday night dinners or Sunday brunches, and I'd love to keep that tradition alive. As an added bonus it would be great to teach them Farsi as well, that way they can communicate easily with my elderly relatives. The focus on family is definitely more important than the language, and if I end up staying in Los Angeles it will make that easier since everyone lives within 30 minutes away from each other.
Are there aspects of your culture that you don't enjoy, parts that you know you don't want to pass on?
Definitely. There's one behavior in the culture so specific to Iranians that we have a name for it: Ta'arof. Ta'arof is a form of courtesy in the Iranian culture, and it can be displayed in multiple ways. One situation is that when you have guests at your home, you should always offer them whatever you can to make them comfortable, but usually that leads to an almost comedic showcase of over-offering. Food/drink is typical, and usually the guest will refuse every offer, even if they are hungry or thirsty. This, in itself, is another form of Ta'arof. The idea is to always offer your guests absolutely anything that will make them comfortable, which often comes off as sarcastic, and to refuse such offers as a sign of appreciation. Ultimately, it doesn't leave much room for pure honesty, and always leads to uncomfortable situations since you never know when someone genuinely doesn't want food or if they're just being polite.
What's one thing you wish people knew about your culture?
In the US media, the people of Iran are often misrepresented due to the negative coverage and actions of their corrupt government. While some people might believe most Iranians are angry and hateful people, the actions of the government often do not represent the beliefs of the community. Many Iranians are constantly at odds with their government, like we are here in the US, and they are always trying to have their voices heard via marches and protests. We never hear about these demonstrations because unlike the US, the Iranian government does not offer the same support for freedom of speech, thus making it even more complicated for opposers to voice their opinions to the public. If there's one thing I wish more people know about the culture, it's the strong distinction between the views of the government and the people who live in the country, a trend which has continued since the 70's.
Are there any specific thoughts / inspiration behind the way you took your photos and what you took photos of? Feel free to use this space to express your photographic inspiration for this project.
My main goal when taking photographs was to capture two typical experiences with my family: eating breakfast at my parents home and visiting my grandmother at her apartment. For breakfast, we usually eat an array of common 'Iranian' breakfast foods, such as bread/cheese/fruits/vegetables, mixed with some more common 'American' foods as well. I wanted to showcase the juxtaposition of these foods in my photographs, as well as some moments during the breakfast table. For the second part of my photo series, I wanted to capture a typical experience visiting my grandmother. The first part of our gathering includes eating a homemade Iranian meal, cooked by my grandmother. Once we finish eating, we always play a card game that my grandmother taught us called 'BB-Peak', which translates to 'Queen of Spades'. On this particular day, my grandmother's brother and his wife, who live in her building, came over to join us for the game. For the record, my grandmother won.