A Minor Cultural Identity Crisis


Theoretically, I have shared ownership of Marjane Satrapi's comic Persepolis with Dodo after a Christmas raffle, but truthfully, I've had it sitting on my bookshelf for the past two years. I think about the comic quite often actually - because while Marjane lived through a revolution and a war like my mother, she experienced a struggle with her nationality and heritage that I can identity with. 
'I didn't know you were French.'
'Do you think it's easy being Iranian here? If I say I am, they treat me like a savage. They think we're all violent, blood thirsty fanatics.'
'Is that any reason to deny your roots? You remember what I told you? Be true to yourself.'
My parents attempted to raise me as conscious of my Iranian heritage, but also fully assimilated into an English culture. My mother taught me to speak Farsi by clasping me in her chest and murmuring songs from her childhood in my ears, and English through watching Sesame Street with me. The reason that I struggle to pronounce certain sounds is the legacy of my bilingual upbringing and as such, I'm painfully self-conscious when I'm supposedly 'playfully' mocked for not being about to pronounce 'th' very well or god forbid, say the word 'orange' with a slight twang. 

I used to deeply feel that I was not 'British enough', as for all the Spice Girls tapes I owned, I was marked out for 'otherness' in childhood. I began thinking about when the extreme loathing I felt for my body began in primary school due to the mocking that occurred towards the dark features I inherited.

The way that other people saw me shaped how I saw myself and triggered my rejection of my Iranian heritage. I stopped learning how to read and write in Farsi. I began only referring to myself as British. It wasn't until I happened to catch Persepolis on television, particularly the scene where Marji shouts 'Yes, I'm Iranian and, yes, I'm proud of it!' at a group of snotty girls, that I began to re-consider  my cultural identity.

Someone anonymous on the internet (obviously the most informed person ever) tried to tell me that I am 'white according to history and anthropology'. Clearly they're misinformed by American crime television shows, but 'caucasian', which is where Iranians tend to fall, doesn't actually mean 'white'. There's a campaign I read about in America, where Arab-Americans and Persian-Americans have to tick the box for 'white' in the census, despite the fact that they've never been treated as such: 'What do you mean, white? I've been going through all this crap, all this ribbing and teasing for years, and I've been white all this time? You should have told me earlier.' The next time that my family goes through airport security in the US, I'll be sure to tell them that there's no need to racially profile us because 'someone on the internet' told me that I'm actually white.

My mother has lived through a revolution and a war. Although neither of my parents returned to their homeland, they can say with ease that they are British Iranians. I struggle to fully identify with a country that I've never been able to enter, a language that I speak clumsily, a history that I know woefully little of. But I cannot quite claim the label of the country I was born in quite so simply when I always end up having to tick the 'other' box on official documents, when a sense of 'otherness' has been deeply rooted in my identity. 

Truthfully, I feel very lost wandering between British and Iranian, and all the talk of war and hatred between the East and West makes my head spin. An Iranian film, A Separation, won Best Foreign Language Film in the Oscars. This is the speech that the director Asghar Farhadi made:
At this time many Iranians all over the world are watching us and I imagine them to be very happy. They are happy not just because of an important award or a film or a filmmaker, but because at the time when talk of war, intimidation and aggression is exchanged between politicians, the name of their country, Iran, is spoken here through her glorious culture. A rich and ancient culture that has been under heavy dust of politics. I proudly offer this honor to the people of my country, a people who respect all cultures and civilizations and despise hostility and resentment. Thank you very much.