Many years ago, I was in my late teens, I met another Iranian one day. Generally not a big deal, but given that I didn’t really grow up around a lot of Iranians, it felt special to meet a fellow German-born Iranian.
Excited and curious, I asked a lot of question: Where in Iran are you from? How good is your Farsi? How often have you been to Iran? Oh, you have never been? How come? Oh, you are from a persecuted minority? I see.
I had visited Iran every single summer growing up, which helped me form a very strong connection with the culture, the people, and my relatives. Quietly I wondered, how can you be Iranian if you have never been to Iran?
The same day I talked to my mom about this: Mom, how can someone say they are from a specific country if they have in fact never been to that place? And she said something that really stayed with me: The Iranian government already took away his Iranianness from him, you have no permission to do the same.
My mom was right. It wasn’t for me to decide how Iranian someone felt or how they wanted to call themselves. Their sense of heritage wasn’t for me to judge. And more than anything, feelings for where you are from and what you call yourself aren’t black and white. culture gets passed down with different flavors and in different degrees.
I have Iranian friends whose Farsi is far worse than mine, but their love and excitement for our annual Nowruz celebrations far exceeds the enthusiasm that I could ever feel. I have other friends who have never been to Iran, but travel around the world to support Iran during the world cup – again, something I would never aspire to do.
As I think about my own children one day, I already know that I will want them to carry on my Iranian heritage, but I also know that it won’t be easy for me to pass it on to them. I am already a diluted version of my parents who decided to leave Iran in their early 20s. My children will be an even more diluted version. And while the thought of being able to pass down only a diluted version makes me uncomfortable, these experience I made have taught me to appreciate that one’s relationship with culture comes in different flavors.