Thursday, November 10, 2011

the cultural BLOW OFF or how I totally passed for white.

I've always been proud of the fact that I'm Iranian. So proud, that I once caused a huge scene in fourth grade when a boy called another Iranian girl "you Persian!" in a derogatory tone. I started screaming and crying and we had to have an entire classroom meeting about it. So proud, that a few years ago when I was sworn in as an American Citizen, I spent most of the ceremony reading a script for work.

But the thing is, I can totally pass for white . People rarely know I'm Iranian until I tell them (which comes in handy when I want to eavesdrop on people speaking Farsi). It kind of bums me out that I somehow ended up with paler skin and lighter hair than my siblings. It's like I got the big nose and all the excess body hair without any of the perks of being Iranian. So unfair. And I'm ashamed to admit that a few years ago, I used the whole passing for white thing totally to my advantage.

It was June 2009, election day in Iran. My cousin had encouraged all of us with Iranian passports to go out and vote for the opposition-- Moussavi. Living in LA (otherwise known as Tehran-geles) meant there would definitely be a voting station somewhere in the vicinity. It turned out, the closest place was at a hotel near LAX which was like a super annoying drive, but I decided I had to represent. So, I went with my passport, stood in line, and spelled out Moussavi in Farsi the way the internet told me to.

Now, not all Iranians agreed with voting in the election. Some die-hard Shah supporters felt casting any vote meant supporting the Islamic Regime, so there was a good number of protestors outside of the hotel. Of course, on my way out I got stuck at a red light directly next to the protestors. One of them started gesturing at me to roll down my window. I always panic in these instances and foolishly assume that the person just wants to warn me that I have a flat tire or something, so I rolled down my window. She started berating me in Farsi and asking me if I thought of the children getting shipped to Dubai to be sex slaves while I voted. (kids? sex slaves? Dubai? Say what?) I had no clue what she was talking about and my Farsi speaking skills were way too limited to defend myself. I mean, if she gave me ten minutes, I could have probably come up with something to say, but it all happened so fast. So, I did the only thing I could do. I looked at her, totally confused and said in my flawless English: "I'm sorry. I have no idea what you're talking about and I don't understand you. What election?"

I passed for white.

The woman was mortified and all of her protestor friends totally started laughing at her. As I rolled up my window, I heard her say in Farsi "I don't know, she kind of looked like she could be Iranian..."

It was kind of a funny moment, but the protests and violence that ensued in Iran in the coming weeks made me cringe about what happened. All of these young people in Iran were storming the streets and risking their lives and I was so scared of a protestor, I pretended like I couldn't even understand her. It was a total pussy move on my part. Weirdly enough, I accidentally dropped my Iranian passport in the parking lot of the hotel (oh, the symbolism) and would never have gotten it back if it wasn't for a kind soul on Facebook who contacted me to tell she'd found it.

I watched the protests closely when they happened. I couldn't tear myself away from the Huffpost live blog. I wore green. But part of me felt like a fraud. I go back to that moment in my car often and contemplate all the things I should do now to stop BLOWING OFF my culture. I should speak Farsi more. I should learn how to cook more Iranian food (or any Iranian food for that matter). I should grow back my uni-brow. I should get a nose job. I should do more than just correct people when they pronounce the name of my country wrong (it's E-ron, people). My biggest fear is when I have kids, they won't know what the meaning of "tarof" is and won't crave tah-deeg or zereshk polo like I do. I guess the first thing I can do is get my ass to some Farsi classes before I forget to speak the language all together. Then, the next time some Iranian chick gets in my face, I can remember to say "goozidam too cheshmet*."


  1. good to have you back O. the blow off hasnt been the same without you!

  2. haha, thanks cuz. I'll do my best to contribute sometime soon I swear.