Category Archives: Iranian diaspora

Norooz a la 1988!

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Well, the time is fast approaching for Norooz, otherwise known as Persian New Year’s, which begins on the first day of Spring. If you are in London, be prepared to celebrate at 5:48 am, as this is when the New Year’s changes to 1387.

As with most celebrations, Norooz brings out the party mood among all Iranians. Most diasporic Iranians will celebrate Norooz with family and friends at home, and/or paint the town red later on by attending a Norooz Gala party thrown by some diasporic Iranian organization at an expensive hotel/hall, paying an excess of $50-200 for a single ticket. In London, the Iran Heritage Foundation charged between £80-120 for a single ticket. If you convert that into US dollars, that would be between $160-240! With such a steep price for a single ticket, I’d expect a meal as tasty as the food at Behesht with Vigen resurrected from the dead for entertainment!

I utterly detest at how formulaic Norooz parties are in the diaspora. Every Iranian cultural organization rents out the same, tired hotel/hall, hiring some no-name, no-talent band, and forcing us to consume what is a very pale imitation of Persian/Middle Eastern cuisine. I can’t tell you how many Iranian Norooz parties that I have attended where the hotel food was fit for cockroaches. Yet, despite all the complaining, we still attend these uninspired, expensive parties.

I wish all Norooz parties were like the one I experienced as a young girl in Pittsburgh, circa 1988! I don’t know who were the organizers of the first Norooz party in the ‘burgh, but I gather it was a few Iranian families with the help and coordination of a some Iranian students at the University of Pittsburgh. This clever and inspired group rented out the Irish Centre in Squirrel Hill. I vividly remember entering on the day of the festivities and looking up at the stage, realizing that someone had replaced the words “Irish Centre” and the flag of Ireland, with the words “Iran Centre” and a non-political (i.e., nothing in the center) flag of Iran. At least for one day, we diasporic Iranians had a place to call our own!

What a marvelous evening it was– there was delicious Persian food cooked by volunteers, a traditional dance skit done by a group of young ladies that was so popular with the crowd that they were asked to do a repeat performance! Afterwards, the crowd (about 100-200) got to boogie to the beats of mix-taped Iranian pop music via Tehrangeles, California. Back in the ’80s-early ’90s, no Iranian party was complete without music from three popular diasporic artist of that decade: Fataneh, Andy & Korous, and towards the end, Susan Roshan (click on the links to hear those golden oldies). At the time, because Googoosh, Iran’s pop diva, was still living in Iran, many diasporic Iranian female singer tried to copy or create an illusion of the Googoosh legacy. Among these “Googoosh wannabes”, Susan Roshan was the closest in singing and being a trend setter like her predecessor. I remember that Tanin use to sell VHS tapes of their Norooz programing. For every Iranian residing in backwater places where being Iranian was like being an extinct species, no matter how cheesy those Tanin programs where, they provided much Norooz cheer and joy. It was through those Tanin videos that I became acquainted with Susan Roshan and Andy & Korous. I remember for the “Rooh-e-sheytoon” video, Susan was rockin’ a PVC black bondage cat-suit. Tre risque!

Music made during the ’80s reflected the limbo state that many in the nascent Iranian diaspora faced. Prof. Hamid Naficy, has written extensively and is the foremost expert on Iranian diasporic culture, especially focusing on transnational media and music. Naficy wrote in “Popular Culture of Iranian Exiles in Los Angeles” in Irangeles: Iranians in Los Angeles, that

Exile pop music is often performed at concerts, where thousands of Iranian teenagers and adults bask in the tumult and, sometimes, the nostalgia and allure of the music…By staging indigenous rituals and performances in a foreign country, the exile play their private, ethnic, and national symbolic forms of culture against those of the host society. Moreover, these cultural events not only reduce isolation and loneliness but also promote ethnic solidarity and integration, helping the exiles find new friends, companions, lovers, and especially future spouses.

Very true, Prof. Naficy– I remember the budding romances that began on the dance floor of the Iran Centre/Irish Centre that night. What was most memorable was the organic essence that evening- nothing was predictable, but everyone seemed happy to be together to celebrate the New Year. When I say “everyone”, I mean Iranians of all backgrounds: doctors, businessmen/women, dentists, engineers, students, refugees, rich, poor, etc. However, this sort of solidarity has ended; now some Iranians can weed out what they consider “undesirable elements” by electing to go to a Norooz party sponsored by a professional body/organization. Iranian physicians can go to an all-physician only Norooz party. The same is true for dentists, engineers and the like. This fragmentation along class and educational backgrounds is probably why Norooz parties are so stale now.

I long to go back to that magical Norooz celebration in 1988. Since fashion is recycling from the ’80s, perhaps this Norooz, I’ll make a play list of all those cheesy 80’s Iranian songs that I learned to speak Farsi from.

From me to all of you: Eid-e shoma Mobarak: Happy Norooz!

Sanaz

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Filed under festival, Iranian diaspora, music

Being Diasporic & Elderly

Last Thursday (21/02/08), I spent time with the folks who run Persian Adult Day Care at the MRCF. As I mentioned in an early post, I will be examining this group a bit more and sharing with you interesting situations that I come across.

I had a chance to speak with the founder of Persian Adult Day Care, Ms. Roohy Shahin, a hypnotherapist by training. She indicated that the main reason for establishing this group was to allow elderly Iranians to all come together and have a place to meet and socialize with one another. As with all diasporas- often times, elderly relations also migrate so that they can be closer to their children. This is very true among those in the Iranian diaspora. Depending on the age which they have arrived from Iran, some of the more adventurous will learn English and try to communicate with non-Iranians in addition to their grandchildren (2nd & 3rd generation). However, often times, the elderly population who have migrated don’t learn English. They begin to feel very marginalize, lonely, and it doesn’t take long for depression to result from having no one to talk to and being completely reliant on their children and grandchildren for help. Of course, this sort of family set up isn’t healthy in the long term, and often creates many family dysfunctions, including estrangement between family members.

Shahin has utilized her qualifications to address the issues of depression, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, and developing good family relations among other topics. After lunch times, Shahin will usually bring up a issue or situation and explain what is (mentally) healthy and sound versus a unhealthy way of tackling problem or issue. Shahin mentioned during our chat that she often repeats concepts over and over again in order from them to think about it thoughtfully. Although some of the people who attended appeared to not be listening, there were others who seemed engaged in what Shahin was explaining to them. I spoke to one older gentleman in Farsi and he said that, “What Khanoom [Lady] Shahin says is true. In Iran, young people get married and don’t understand what marriage is and people wonder why these marriages don’t work and why everyone is getting divorces. They need to see someone like Shahin in order to understand what they are engaging in. It is the same with raising children and general family life. There needs to be someone who can provide guidance.”

I was surprised by what he said given that many Iranians loath psychologists and see it and anything to do with mental health as being a “quack” science. In Iran, traditionally, if you are depressed you talk about your sadness to family and other relatives. You may even make a pilgrimage to a religious shrine and ask God for guidance. It is rare that someone seek out medical attention for this matter- unless you are educated or upper class.  Changes are being made within Iran to promote mental health issues and to educate the population about mental health. However, by and large, whether in Iran or within the Iranian diaspora, talking about mental health and/or being mentally ill is still considered taboo.

Anyway, I’m going to present a question to the readers: are there any articles and essays that explore mental health within a diaspora, specifically regarding intergeneration issues?

Sanaz

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Weapons of Massive Laughter

I am a connoisseur of humor and satire. In fact, on those days that I feel blue and find life a bit overwhelming, I retreat into my room and watch a few YouTube clips of stand-up by Dave Chapelle (famous for his Comedy Central show, Chapelle Show), Margaret Cho, and Russell Peters among others. Sometimes, I’ll look up old Saturday Night Live skits from Dana Carvey and Phil Hartman. Friend have witnessed me on my own hilarious musings and I know that if a person is down in the dumps, nothing gets one out of their doldrums better than deep, belly-filled laughs!

I’ve decided to combine my love of humor into my own examination of the Iranian Diaspora, specifically how 1.5 and second generation Iranian diasporics utilize photoshopping to create digitally altered and humorous images poking fun of Iranian and US/UK politics, and Iranian culture in Iran and in the diaspora among other themes. I first presented a rough version of this at the Third Annual BRISMES Graduate Conference at Wolfson College, Oxford, and will expand the theme to explore how diasporic Iranians are also utilizing Youtube to make their own home-grown humor exploring such things as dating, inter-generational issues (i.e.: 1.5 and second generation Iranians versus how their parents act in daily life), and double standards in how parents treat young women and men in the diaspora. I’ll be presenting my findings at the Moving Borders: The Aesthetics of Migration, part of the Mellon Lecture Series at UCL. My colleague, Dr. Federica Mazzara has been marvelous in organizing the entire event and I am excited by all the interesting papers that will be presented, especially one by my friend Alpesh!

Perhaps another motivation for my recent interest into humor and parody in the diasporic Iranian landscape has a lot to do with how Middle Easterners are portrayed and essentialized as being either overly sensual/sexual or barbarically violent. In between these two massive stereotypes is the picture that Middle Easteners are also devoid of any humor or parody. Well, take away the stereotypical images usually presented and there is a very rich history of humor, especially in the Iranian context. I grew up on the parody short stories of Mulla Nasruddine. For the diasporic Iranian community, there is a plethora of talented stand-up comedians, such as Omid Djalili, Shappi Khorsandi, and Maz Jobrani to name a few. These comedians are answering back to many years of bigoted assumptions through the use of wit and humor. Who says that Iranians can’t appreciate a good laugh?

To drop you all a good WML (Weapons of Massive Laughter), I have included a few links to my favorite stand-up by Djalili, Jobrani, and Khorsandi.

Enjoy!

Sanaz

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Filed under conference, event, Humor, Iranian diaspora, multimedia, research, Uncategorized