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Finding Iranian Heritage

Hello, Well I don't really know where to start. My father is from Iran, but I don't have very much communication with him. I am 21 years old and have decided I need to know about the other half of my culture. Any suggestions?

2 (a madar)


I don't know where you are living.
There are all kinds of cultural groups in most US cities. California has a very large community of Iranian of all types (religious, political, cultural, etc.)
There are students groups at most major universities.
Internet groups as you already discovered are very helpful.
Other states or/and cities (as I know) with large Iranian communities are D.C., Texas, Tononto (Canada), Chicago, Detroit, Geogia.

Good like, let me know if I can help you with any questions you have please let me know.

3 (a mother)

Here are several ideas for learning about Iranian culture.

1. Find out if there are any Farsi classes at nearby universities to you (UCLA offers them and so do others - I took one many many years ago and found it a great resource of information as well as exchange of info - mind you, most all of the students were not of Iranian heritage).

2. Find out if there are any Iranian organizations in your area. You don't necessarily have to get personal with anyone and become best friends, etc. - however, many organizations have social events, like for the Iranian New Years, Jashne-Mehregan, Shabe-Yalda - usually they sell tickets to the functions and are open to the public (if you know about them).

3. Search the web - check out the different Iranian sites. There are several that have regular articles submitted that are very readable (in English), entertaining and are chaulked full of culture. Usually, they are from people who have recently gone back to visit Iran and write about their observances. (I'm sorry I can't remember the specific site right now I have in mind.)

4. This one may sound dumb - but, go to Persian restaurants; not just the most "famous" in your area, check them all out - you'll get a great impression and "education" about the culture from the folks running these places. I've found that usually the hole-in-the-ground restaurant owner is delighted to share tidbits of his history, etc. (I just returned from a trip to N. Virginia and ate at a little Persian restaurant in Falls Church - so tiny, but cute - my American family had fun and enjoyed the exchange of culture).

4 (person # 1)

I really don't know where to begin. Growing up in Birmingham Alabama and being reared in a traditional black sothern home is the only childhood I know. Still, I remember always being looked at as "different." My father is from Iran and I feel really cheated. He and I are not very close, as he did not take an active role in my rearing. I know that I have cousins as close as Huntsville and I would just love to meet them. I feel cheated because I was never given the opportunity to explore that part of my identity. I almost feel as though I am living a fake life because I am not fully acknowledging that part of my heritage. I have had so many people, even my college professors ask, "What are you?" "Are you Spanish?" It is hard to explain to someone else what I am when I don't even really know myself.

5 (mother # 3)

It's interesting for me to read your post. My husband is Iranian and I American - no particular issues regarding identity. However, I have friends who are Iranian and have lived in the US for many years - they are my age (30-40'sh). Some of my women friends have problems fitting in because they're not American and don't feel the good'ol fashioned American culture in them - and they are not truly Iranian anymore to be able to fit into Iran. Specifically I have 2 different friends who have each tried moving back to Iran only to feel very wedged between their identities.

Don't despair and try not to feel cheated - it's not worth it. What a rich heritage you have with many many deep roots in culture from both sides. I'd suggest that you not try to categorize yourself in one of those "Ethnic Background" bubbles. More and more we're seeing blended families of different ethnic roots, race and religion. The heavy ethnic and religious lines that once were so prevolent in our society are losing their footing.

I guess I would say that you have an opportunity to explore another side of your heritage, rather than try to find something that was lost. Search for the treasures - optimistic perspective. I assume that you are half black/half Iranian from your message. This probably adds another dimension to your identity that many of us might not understand. When my mother-in-law visited from Iran, she stared intently on the first black person she saw - she had never seen anyone so dark before and it intrigued her. I took it as an opportunity to share my own thoughts with her about how people are different to look at but the same inside. She liked it. However, from my own observations, Iranians (I'm stereo-typing here ok?) tend to be prejudiced up front to what they see (this stands for my own experiences where I was prejudiced against as an American woman). However, the good news is that it's only ignorance - as is all prejudice. Once I got to know someone, the ignorance disappeared. I've also seen this of my husband and others where they have made friends from other religions, ethnicity, etc. - the ignorance disappears).

OK - so much for my soap box. If you have relatives nearby, why don't you make contact with them? I would imagine that there are only a FEW Iranians in Alabama - probably can count them on one or two hands. I'm certain that they will love to meet you as well and will warmly embrace you into the family that you haven't known. In Iranian families, the extended family is often as close as the immediate family. 2nd and 3rd cousins are treated the same as 1st cousins. Family events almost always involve the entire extended family; birthdays, holidays, weekend dinners, etc. "Everyone is a Cousin" I say; my own family laughs, because it's so true, but typically un-American like.

There's a holiday coming up called Shabe-Yalda - the longest night of the year; traditionally celebrated in Persian homes. Why don't you give your relatives a call. You won't have to ask to meet them - they will most certainly insist on you visiting them for dinner. This is your entrance into the other half of your heritage.

Best wishes -

6 (a mother)

You are definitely in the minority if you are African/American and Iranian. However, I personally know of at least two families who have this bi-cultural mix and I am sure there are more. Maybe through this email you can find a supportive community who understand your issues. In fact, my brother in-law lives in South Carolina is married to an African-American woman, so I know what living in the South is all about. I am a white American married to an Iranian and I feel very lucky to have such diversity in my family. My in-laws kids (they have 4) look more Black than Iranian, so I don't know if they experience any confusion over their ethnic identity. I would encourage you to try to find your family. As you have probably already considered, they may not be as welcoming as you like---or they may overwhelm you with their joy. It's a risk and you must be prepared. Let me tell you though that my in-laws have been very supportive and loving.

Good luck,

7 (a pedar)


I don't know if u can read Farsi, if not, the best way to start is to look at the photos from IRAN.

U might know that actually , there r hundreds of good photo books published in IRAN.

Good luck

8 (a web visitor)

I am also half american/ iranian. My father is iranian and I had the pleasure of living in iran for several years prior to the revolution. After I moved back to US, I lost most of my skills in farsi and the culture. In the last 4 years I have gone to Iran twice and I am currently taking farsi classes in order to rebuild the language I lost. I agree with the other writers. You can expose yourself to the iranian culture by going to restaurants, organizations, learning farsi.... Are you able to reach your dad and discuss the desire you have to learn about his culture and family? He might appreciate your interest. I love my persian side. I hope you learn about your heritage and enjoy it as much as I do.

Great book to read is "A Life in Iran and America: To See and See Again" by Tara Bahrampour. She is half and half also and her book is about her life in both cultures.

Good luck

Please send your replies and/or opinions regarding this subject to madar-pedar@surya.eecs.berkeley.edu.

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