Accepting Iranian identity vital for growth

Luka Heidari, guest columnist

My dad’s favorite quote by Rumi, one of the greatest Persian poets of all time, questions our inability to embrace our most outstanding qualities; for “[if we] were born with wings, why prefer to crawl through life?” 

Growing up, I always strived to live by Rumi’s words and embrace everything that makes me unique, especially in regards to my cultural roots. As I got older, though, I realized more and more that this pride was gilded; I would try and convince myself that I had no shame but beneath the surface, accepting my cultural identities was where uneasiness and discomfort crept in.

For every “what are you?” I would get asked, the first half of my answer would roll out of my mouth readily; “I was actually born in Bolivia, a small country in South America.” Then, following a slight hesitation, the rest slips out as I’d add, “…and I’m also Iranian.” 

Those moments of delay, although over within fractions of a second, wholly represent the challenges I face every day; my perception of my Iranian heritage often clashes with the stereotypes and misconceptions associated with Iran. 

On any given day, all it takes is a quick Google search or mention of Iran to recognize the prevailing stigmas surrounding Iran, and by extension, the Iranian people; snapshots of barbaric hordes burning American flags and terrorists dressed in turbans are both what the media shows but also what immediately comes to everyone’s mind when the word “Iran” is uttered. Although I’ve always been too scared to say anything, accepting that characterization has been difficult to swallow though, for it just never felt true to me—and I would know, for I see the opposite unfold before my eyes every summer in my travels to Iran.

Visiting my family in Iran and traveling around the country has allowed me to see what Iran is truly like, first-hand. Whether it be meandering through the maze-like crevices within bazaars in Tehran, venturing into the thousand-year-old ruins of old Persian dynasties, or even simply being invited in by random strangers for hours of discussion and several cups of chai, my experiences in Iran has given me primary access to the culture I’ve grown to love, as well as molded my understanding and respect for the Persian community. 

Listening to Iranians share their views and experiences has allowed me to learn and appreciate the gift I have of getting to call myself Iranian, and now that I accept it, I am committed to standing tall and sharing the perspectives that have transformed my own. 

So although I must face mischaracterizations and stereotyping in the US, the ability to identify as Iranian is truly a blessing I wouldn’t wish away. My understanding of the complexities and real life impacts that issues can have comes from a place of personal and direct experience, and this lens, although discomforting sometimes, provides me with the unique opportunity to spread my truth to all who are willing to listen. 

Difficult as it may be, I do not crawl anymore; instead, I stand firmly and explain to others that the Iranian people, unlike the government, are a community of care and decency, and that assuming otherwise fails to recognize the nuance behind identity. It’s not an easy message to spread, but those are the battles that I must fight, in my family’s name. 

Accepting—and embracing—my cultural background has, in the words of Rumi, allowed me to use my wings and soar, developing a more positive outlook on my cultural background than I ever allowed myself to have before. So as I continue to gain confidence in everything that makes me unique, I will let my wings, painted in the colors of the Persian flag, take me to new heights.