Iranian? or American?

Question: Shall we raise our children with Iranian or American values?

From Susanne Pari, author of The Fortune Catcher:

Finally, I have some time to respond to your questions about my multicultural upbringing.
As you know, I have a 12-year old son. And I've chosen to raise him in a very different way from how my parents raised me with the regard to the cultural issue. In the sixties and seventies, my peers didn't even know what "Iran" was; I had to call it "Persia" and then they would have this image of harems and tents and camels. And when I spent time in Iran, people didn't fully accept me because I was half-American. I spent most of my childhood wanting to be one thing or another and, wherever I was, I felt ashamed of some part of myself and I tried to hide it. I think this is natural to an extent, with all bicultural children. The urge to fit in is strong and we, as parents, should try to weather the storm because, in the end, children grow up and learn to accept themselves as long as we show them love and teach them about our pasts without passing judgment on ourselves or on them. One thing I've learned is to allow our children to make up their own minds; trying to control what they think is a dangerous proposition.
As for the issue of "the American culture" -- my belief is that there is no definable American culture. It may sound like the usual line, but it's true: we are a nation of immigrants. Even those people who have lived in this country for generations, their culture was brought over from somewhere else. American culture is great because you can mold it into whatever you wish. You can expose your children to the ideas and festivals and rituals of the Iranian culture that you find acceptable and discard those things that you find unacceptable. In your message, you talked about "filtering out the negative aspects of American culture" -- well, I don't think of it quite that way; I think we try to teach out children what is right and what is wrong and culture has nothing to do with it.
If we, as parents, preoccupy ourselves with retaining everything with think of as Iranian and forcing those things down our children's throats, we will ultimately push them away. My father had five brothers. He was the only one of them who lived in the United States and, as it turned out, he was the one who changed and matured the least of his brothers (although that has changed since the revolution) because he was so concerned with losing his Iranian identity and also failing to pass it on to his children that he held on tight to the old ways. I rebelled strongly against that. I think we run the risk of confusing culture with identity.
We expose our children to Iranian culture because we are Iranian; it's part of our identity. When we choose to live in America, we don't lose that identity, but we may revise it, not only because we're in America, but because we are always growing as people and that is the natural way of things. Our children are exposed to the cultural attitudes we bring from the old country, but even in the old country, children are exposed to the cultures of others through their encounters with television, video, internet, radio, books, and, most importantly, other people. In fact, if you were living in Iran now, you would probably worry whether your children were being exposed to the different kinds of cultures and ideas and attitudes of the rest of the world. In America, children get this exposure more readily than they would in Iran. They have a chance to be more well-rounded. In America, we can be who we want to be and we can help our children become adults we can be proud of. But to worry about their exposure to the so-called "American culture" and to tell them that "we don't do certain things because we are Iranian" is limiting the possibilities this country affords us as parents. Perhaps "we don't do certain things because we don't believe in them" is more like it. We can't forget that our children are American children and to put that down to them will only make them confused and rebellious.
My son is, by blood, more Iranian than I am. My mother is American and his mother is only half-American, his father Iranian. I try to expose him to all the cultural attitudes and ideas and -- so important -- the stories of the past, of his grandparents, of our lives in Iran, of the people left behind. But I never tell him he's Iranian. He may be Iranian-American, if he likes, but the truth is, he is here in America and the values I pass on to him (which are always part Iranian because that is my identity) and the lifestyle we lead (Norooz and Persian food and Farsi) will always be a part of him and a part of his children.
Oh, I could go on and on and never feel I have expressed my thoughts on this issue thoroughly. Unfortunately, I must get back to work. I hope I've made myself clear even if there are so many things I feel I've left out. I hope, from time to time, I can chime in with my opinion on the many issues madar-pedar members bring forward. I will try to do that.

2 (a mother)
(mother =Amercian woman married to an Iranian)

My thanks to Ms. Pari for her insightful and balanced input. As an American married to an Iranian and raising two beautiful "half-breed" teenagers, I have been bothered for some time about the extremely nationalistic view presented in this group. As an anthropologist by education, I would always encourage individuals to be proud of and curious about their "native" cultures and I make every effort to open the Iranian culture to my kids. But, as Ms. Pari said, we teach our children morals and ethics because we believe in them and it is the right way to live. It is not really a matter of nationality. I have met people from every culture who I admire and ones who I do not respect at all. If anything, my standards are more strict than my husband's. The underlying current is good, caring people, raising good, caring people. My two cent's worth. Thank you.

3 (a mother)

As an anthropologist by education, I would always encourage individuals to be proud of and curious about their "native" cultures and I make every effort to open the Iranian culture to my kids. But, as Ms. Pari said, we teach our children morals and ethics because we believe in them and it is the right way to live. It is not really a matter of nationality. I have met people from every culture who I admire and ones who I do not respect at all. If anything, my standards are more strict than my husband's. The underlying current is good, caring people, raising good, caring people.
My approach to avoiding whatever kind of "ism" is to take out the adjectives from my conversation. Instead of saying "my Iranian" friend or my "African-American" friend, I say just my friend. I live in the inner-city because I wanted my children exposed to as many cultures and races as possible, not like I wasn't in all-white Lafayette in the 50's. I was so proud of my son's 8th-grade graduation because my son's best friends in all his pictures were from several different races/cultures and they really love each other. My best defense against prejudice is to live my life without it, as much as possible.
I am fascinated by other cultures and that may account, partially, for my marriage into an Iranian family. I love the differences between my husband's views and mine and we regularly joke about them. When he was having trouble confronting his partner about business things, we just laughed and said he was handling it polite Iranian style, not forthright American style. As you talk about your kids thinking you are nationalistic, I remember one day when I watched my husband write a note to his father. I asked him what he said because I wanted to have a better sense of their relationship. I would have said "Hi Dad. How are you doing? Love you." He said something formal and flowery and poetic in a style that I would never have used with anyone. Something like "I kiss your hands and feet . . . " I can't imagine any child raised in this country in this day and age talking to anyone but a girlfriend with those words.
We really have to move on with our kids. We can't be inflexible in any way because they will just discard our views. They are not living in our world, they have their own. Most Iranian kids I know are polite and respectable and fun-loving and I only know a few who have screwed up their lives. But it is not the being Iranian that made that happen, it is being raised by parents who value family and values and morals. It's just harder to maintain those ideals in the American society because it is so diverse and fast-moving.


From a madar

It is facinating to me that some people think that Iranians can be too nationalistic. Have you done any studies or know of any that compare Iranian immigrants with others? Chinese? Korean? Indian? I would be very interested in it.
I have always thought the reverse. It seems that Iranians are usually more than happy to blend in and take in the dominating culture's aspects (at least on the surface). I have thought that probably the reason for it is our long history of invadors, and that we have always survived by blending in and taking the invador's culture and making it our own. WE have acquired the talent.
I was so surprised when as a teenager I learned that the Islamic Arabs had been ruling Spain for 800 years, and yet the Spanish survived their language, their religion, their writing, etc. where as in Iran we took it for granted that the fact that we were invaded by Arabs (even though for a much much shorter time frame) meant that we accept the new religion, that we change our writing. But we took pride in the fact that Iranians became famous Visirs and poets etc. in the Arab courts.
Here in the US, I find that other immigrant cultures think nothing of having their children spend long hours at chinese school or japanese school, etc. every week and sometimes everyday (yes every day!) where as most of my Iranian friends are happy _if_ their kids even talk Farsi and think that their is no need for them to learn how to write. Other examples: The Indian community proudly wears their Saris, their hair in natural black, and no nose jobs (even when they have very similar profiles :-). where as we, already in Iran, turned blond and wore deisgner suites (or tried to!) and had the nose job done right after high school (or again, tried to)!!
I know I am generalizing, and of course no one person, represents the whole culture, etc. But I really have found Iranians being very practical about adapting quickly and not even valuing many parts of their culture enough, to want to pass it to their children.
That is, of course, compared to other immigrant groups not Americans themselves But then again, I have never done an actual study !!


From a pedar

I don't think it's enough avoiding the issue of nationalism. this is something that this society is obssessed with. look around yourselves. almost everything is made of the three color (red, blue and white). and the flag is everywhere. it saddens me seeing all these. we all know what is being done systematically here: why do I need to raise my child thinking of herself as belonging to the Nation Number One in the World? believe me I love America, but most of all I love fairness and people. so we can not ignore this systematic brain washing that is taking place upon our children. we have to bring it up with our children and let them see it by themselves. the same thing goes with anything that has to do with PERSIA/Iran. PERSIA has never been the most civilized and the greatest country in the world. this is like driving in the freeway: it is true that you have to make sure that you don't cause any accidents, but you also have to watch, by applying certain measures for bad drivers who cause them.


From an Iranain college student raised in the US

I am an Iranian-American college student interested in giving you inputs about growing up in two different cultures. For most of my life I have tried really hard to keep my Iranian heritage. I speak fluent farsi and know the history of Iran. However, I have encounter many cultural dilemmas. For example, how do I keep the traditions of my ancestors while growing up in a society with different norms and values. The confession is hard to bear it starts to torn you bit by bit. It is like two different people pulling on your left and right arm while you try to stay in the middle. I talk to few Iranians that I have connect with about my situation their response is "keep your heritage, you'll never be accepted by the dominant group in this society. Wait and see the importance of your Iranian roots." Yet, when I am with group of Iranians they don't consider me Iranian. When I speak to them in farsi they are shocked "wow! we didn't realize that you are an Iranian." When I tell my Iranian counterparts that I never had Iranian friends growing up, I am accused of only liking Americans. More importantly, since I don't agree with many of Iranian cultural values I am told, "you are trying to defend the American culture."
Personally, I identify myself as an Iranian and nothing will ever change my identity. But I am not acceptable in neither Iranian culture nor American. I am simply torn. Where do I go? Maybe, it is time for us Iranians to change our traditional cultural norms and values to in such way that it would fit this society. So that our children will not suffer the consequences. This is not an insult to the two thousand five hundred fifty seven years of Iranian civilization, but a simple suggestion. We can keep some of our values but not restrictedly stick to them. It simply does not work.
Furthermore, Iranian community must allow room for of us who come from different socio-economic class, religion, sexual orientation and values. This means not all of us come from upper or middle class backgrounds. Not all of us have parents who are engineers, doctors,businessmen and etc. Not all of us are Moslems, not all of us are heterosexuals, not all of us will be going to elite colleges. I demand you parents who state that you care about us youth to consider the above statement carefully and accept us. That is all we ask. We don't want you to be an American or completly deny your identity or tradition.


From a pedar with reagrds to above answer #5

I just wanted thank you and acknowledge your stands and courage. I've personally value and respect your points of view, and hope we truly realize and remind ourselves WHERE we've chosen to live. Parenting is very joyful/challenging task, SPECIALLY WHEN YOU HAD NO "PRIOR TRAINING".
Most of the issues you've brought up, are REAL and they ought to be dealt with, sooner or later for each family. I'm very optimistic that we, as a small group of people who have will and determination to help their children grow happy, by having better understanding of their needs and educating our parenting skills, relationship with our partners, being open to new ideas, and by not looking
at our youth as "private property" or people who need to be controlled or else our culture/heritage will go down the drain.!


From a pedar with regards to above answer #5

thanks for taking time and giving us parents some insight on how an Iranian-American feels in this society. I don't know how old you are, but I am 41 years old and up to few years ago I had the same problem as you do. My problem was lack of self identity. I needed others to be around me and to accept me. I needed them so bad that I would act the way they wanted me to act. It wasn't me but I did not know any better. Things changed the moment I started to get to know myself better. I didn't need others approval anymore. I started feeling comfortable being by myself alone. I didn't have to act like Americans or Iranians. I started picking up the best of the two cultures and do what is right. I took the road less traveled and believe me it has paid off..............
All I am trying to say is that being lost is not just a product of having two heritage, but it is mostly because of lack of self identity. Why should we try to be Iranian or American? Perhaps we need to be accepted. What if we take the best of the two...... Yes, this road is less traveled and in beginning will be very hard. But I believe is the right way....... So why don't you tell us what are the good American and Iranian qualities. This could be the starting of a constructive discussion......
Thanks again for your great input....


From an Iranian-American college student

Like the person who wrote reply #6, I am also an Iranian-American college student. Many of us half-American and half-Iranian young people, I found, are often the result of Iranian male college students and American (European-descent)women marrying during the 70s. My father was one of those Iranians who came here to study in the mid-seventies, and met my mother at college. Unlike most of my other compatriots, I had completely no, I mean no, contact with my father's culture, because I was too young to remember. So I grew up around mainstream American culture (you know,--French fries, Star Wars, rap,video games, etc.) My parent's marriage failed, sadly, 3 and a half years after I was born. So I must say I cannot and do not know much about the Iranian culture, nor the language. I grew up mostly, alone without a father, and my peers were all of European or African descent, and I never, repeat, never ever had a friend or peer that was of any kind of Asian descent, until my last year in high school. In fact I live in a town that has less than a dozen people who are of Iranian descent (none I am related to, and none I know well). So please, people, don't ridicule me for not maintaining my heritage. In fact if I were to talk to the Iranians mentioned in #6, they would too be surpiresd that I was also Iranian. In fact, my physical features are a cross between the Iranian and European. This is what a true half-"American" and half-Iranian person looks like. Just because I can't speal Farsi or look like one (or "different" to bigots),or have a Iranian-sounding name, doesn't mean I'm not Iranian. What is more special to me is my "mix", my "breed". I feel like a rare species or a fancy cat (and proud to be), because I'm not just the average Iranian or your usual white American---I'm a special person because I'm one of the few So who are of both sides. One thing I learned is this--An American is a citizen of the world. For her or she is of many diffrent backgrounds from all over the world, that is what the definition for an American should be. I feel important, because I am the bridge between East and West But my biggest fear is my future--Soon I will probably be getting married (maybe a mix like me or maybe a plain white girl, but I don't care), settle down and raise children, and grow old. But my biggest fear is my future children- They won't know who their real grandfather is.. They won't know that they are also of Iranian descent like me. But when they find out, there is going to be a real problem--what and how will they react, how will they feel? Of course they will have big problems--they will have an identity crisis---I encountered one when I found out my father came from Iran, and it destroyed my entire identity, nearly my life as well. I'm scared about that--please,someone, please help me! I need to find a way how to raise my children so that they are conscious, and proud, not hateful of their Iranian descent. But I don't want their heritage to consume them and their personality, like it did to me.


From a mother

Dear friends
I would like to reply to 9 (college student). I am the mother of a 15year old daughter. My husband is Iranian and I am a South African of European descent. My European ancestery is very much like many Americans, i.e. a mixture of German, Dutch, French British. I remember when my daughter was little, I was told by Iranians that she was Iranian. I was a little taken aback because after all her mother (me) was South African. I made a decision to bring her up knowing and accepting that she is 50% Iranian and 50% South African - a very special person, and it worked because today she knows without any doubt that she is special. I believe that you are also one of those very special people. All you have to do is tell your children that they are also special. There is nothing confusing about knowing exactly what your birthright is. If you are confident, they will be too. They will have the privilege of two cultures linked by a common history. I say, seize your heritage, its yours, it belongs to you.
Here is some interesting information, under the old South African government which was 100% based on race, (every person was classified) and as everyone knows, whites (whatever that is) were the ruling class, Iranians were legally classified as white because they are descendents of Aryans. Life is really strange, today, in America there seems to be so much emphasis on colour and in South Africa under the old extremely racist regime, Iranians were regarded as being of the supreme race. Did I say life is strange, sometimes its downright confusing! I am not a racist but I thought you would find it interesting to know that there are many different ways of looking at race, culture, history, etc not only the American way.
My best regards

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