When I lived in Seattle I was a proud Iranian. I liked shopping at the Iranian stores, listening to Iranian music, eating at the Iranian restaurants and I loved attending Iranian events. We had a great Iranian community where 2/3 of us knew each other and liked one another. There were only a handful of small Iranian convenient stores, so every one knew the store owner by name and had a little chat with him when they stopped by for a new CD or some hot Persian Wax. Same with the friendly and warm Iranian restaurants where the waiters were the restaurant owners. The events such as concerts, plays or 13bedar were merely a reunion between friends, family and acquaintances. They were fun festivities and gatherings where every one caught up with their parent's friends, their old high school buddies or just hung out with one another. It was also a place to meet new people and expand our circle of friends. People were comfortable, friendly and down to earth, having pure fun. That was the reason why I attended each concert, went to every event, shopped at the stores, ate chenjeh at the restaurants and the reason why 13bedar was one of my favorite events.
Then I moved to Southern California.
At first I was excited to be amongst the largest and most popular Iranian community outside of Iran. A place where we, the non-Californians believed was fun, exciting and where every thing was happening. I was right, I was awed by all of the different Iranian stores, businesses, restaurants, TV shows, radio shows, clubs, parties, events and the big population. I was overwhelmed by all of the cultural and language overload and I was looking forward to socialize with my kind. Wrong!
The first couple of times that I was hit in the ass with a shopping cart in the Iranian grocery store and received no apology or had my cart (with groceries in it) picked up by another shopper who did not have their own I disregarded it. The first few times that I was cut off while trying to park in the Iranian store or restaurant parking lot by a Mercedes or a BMW and had my intended parking space stolen I disregarded it. When the waitress (who disregarded her lip line when she was putting on her lipstick in the morning) did not offer me a smile or a second glass of Coke at the Iranian restaurant I blamed the big crowd and the lack of help. Eventually I noticed a trend. Even though it was a general difference between L.A. and Seattle as a whole, where customer service and common courtesy just dropped significantly, I felt it stronger in the Iranian community than the American one. Maybe it was because I cared about the Iranian community more or it was because I did not expect it from "them", therefore I was more hurt by it.
It was at the clubs and at the big events when I really noticed the difference between the population in which I was used to and the one I was now living amongst. I did not feel the warm and friendly aura that I used to feel when I attended these events in my old home. Instead I felt coldness, snootiness, competition and judgement. Even though this new crowd looked beautiful, trendy and hip I had no desire to be around them. Creating a line outside of a building to make it look popular and not allowing respectful adults to enter in order to seem "high end" was just not appealing to me. I always left the event with a bitter taste in my mouth instead of the sweetness that I was used to.
It was when I heard a commercial on the Iranian radio stating "show your worth and power to others by driving a Jaguar" that I was appalled and changed the station. Even my relatives who lived in this land shocked me by being as unwelcoming as possible in spite of appearing otherwise. My heart was broken by the dishonesty.
Slowly I stopped shopping at the Iranian stores, I stopped listening to the Iranian radio, I did not eat at the Iranian restaurants as much and stayed away from the Iranian clubs more often. I even stopped trying to establish a relationship with my relatives here who each time insisted that "we need to see each other more". I reached a point where when searching for a physician or dentist I made sure to skip the Iranian names as I made a point to stay away from "them".
In addition to my family and friends I really missed the fun and caring Iranian crowd of my old home. I missed the public gatherings where familiar and new people met, talked and socialized with out walls, with out pretense and with out the Gucci high heels in the park or the big sun glasses in the clubs.
In order to be fair I have to say that I was very lucky to be able to find a great group of Iranian people in L.A. who did not fit this stereotype (I know I am guilty of stereotyping, but whatever) who befriended me and I consider them good friends that I love.
When I moved to Orange County from Los Angeles County I did see a difference between the two in the Iranian community. Even though the difference was not significant, yet things were more tolerable and that is what helped me to come back from Jaded Ville. Some of the women still wear gigantic rocks on their fingers, have blond hair and do not smile. Some of the men still cut in line, smoke in non-designated areas and cut you off in the road. But I have learned to accept and change myself.
One thing that I have learned is that I love my culture and I do not wish to shut it out of my life because of others. The other thing that I have learned is that one can not change people, however one can change oneself. We can change the way we see others and how they make us feel. I do not expect "these people" to change and I will not let them make me hate my culture and "my people".
I chose not to listen to the L.A. radio station, but I have found another great online station from the East Coast, where I get my dose of Iranian music from. I chose to do my main grocery shopping at the civilized American super markets, but for my dose of Iranian herbs, pastries and food that I love as well as the much needed Persian wax I stop by the Iranian market. I park far away, keep my cart close to me at all times and take deep breaths and smile when the lady has no shame for blocking the aisle with her cart. I chose my events carefully and do not let little things bother me. I celebrate Iranian events to the fullest with the high quality people who I have surrounded myself with.
I still try to stay away from Iranians professionally (except for issues pertaining to my hair since they are the only ones who know how to fix the frizz and do fabulous up dos) because I am not comfortable with the level of their honesty and genuineness. However socially, Iranians are the only group of people who I have the most fun with.
At the end like it or not I am one of "them" and I cannot help but to want to be part of "them". By changing my attitude and using my gift of "choice" I am able to have the good of all worlds.