Growing up with immigrant parents while living in America can make us feel like we are the product of two cultures in one person.
When I was growing up, the aroma of home-cooked Persian dishes filled our home. We had parties where we would sing and dance to Iranian music, and we only spoke Persian or Farsi at home. Farsi was my first language and the only language I spoke until I started going to school. Once I started school I began to learn more about American culture. I wanted to fit in with my school friends. I would get embarrassed when my grandma would come pick me up from school and would look for me while shouting my Persian name. I asked my parents to pack me sandwiches and ‘normal foods’ so kids wouldn’t make fun of the smell of my ethnic food, and I completely stopped speaking Farsi. I started to feel embarrassed by anything that made me different from my peers. My mom would always tell me, “You should be proud to be Iranian. We come from a rich culture and history.” At the time, this statement didn’t really mean anything to me because all I wanted was to be accepted by the other students at school.
Later in middle school and high school, it became even harder to have immigrant parents. At the time, many of my friends started to gain independence. They would hang out after school, sleep over at each other’s houses, and go to the movies or the mall on the weekends. These were all things that I wasn’t allowed to do because my parents believed it was unsafe. Like many immigrant parents, mine emphasized hard work and education and said that I should focus my time and energy on getting good grades. This only made me resent them more.
As I got older, my parents shared more about their lives growing up during a war in Iran and the many challenges they faced to come to America. They spoke of the history of Iran, the great poets and artists that made up our culture, the spices and flavors that made our food rich, and the many ethnic groups and their clothing, dance, and languages that make Iran what it is. When I moved away from my parents' home and lived completely on my own in a city where there weren’t many people who looked like me, I began to really think about my mother’s statement, that I should be proud to be Iranian, and really began to believe it. All of those differences that I thought made me strange or weird to my peers, are what make me resilient , beautiful and empowered now.