07 December 2013

American Identity in the Eyes’ of an Observer.



People get so weirded out by the fact that I came to “Fredonia” from Iran. They may have the right to be so skeptical since this is not the America I had in mind! The vision I had about the United States differs immensely from what I feel now that I live here.
As stupid as it may seem I signed up for the American Identities course because I thought it would be about American literary identities. I had no idea that this course would be so much about American politics and racial matters. And yet I’m glad I’m able to dissect my own identity to try to relate it to American Identities. So don’t feel shocked if I try to relate everything to literature, music or movies.
A little bit about me:
Honestly, trying to acknowledge who I really am what I struggle with in my mind every day in order to be able to celebrate who I am. This procedure has become much more intense since I’ve moved to a different country. As figures like Hemingway have suggested, self-realization happens when one immigrates to a different country. It’s like all of a sudden you put this magnifier on your identity and try to dissect what’s within. However I can never disagree with the fact that it’s a life time process. It also changes constantly based on the places you go, the people you encounter, the things you read etc. There are inseparable aspects to a person’s identity that can never be ignored. The filters, as I want to put it that no matter where you are sieve your judgment of the world. They are, I believe, what makes a human being unique of their kind.
I seriously don’t know where to start. If I travel through time and land in the time that Taraneh came to being brings us back to 1991. I was born in Tehran thirteen years after the country went through to the Islamic Revolution and three years after the eight-year war between Iran and Iraq ended. Having said that, I do not need to clarify how the country’s political and economic conditions were at the time. I’ve obviously witnessed different hardships people have been through all this time. There was also never an end to it. The country is under different sanctions to this date. I’m grateful my family and I were all born and raised in the capital. It made things a lot easier since the job opportunities and access to public education is much more difficult to achieve in other cities in Iran.
 With that picture, I believe I don’t like a luxurious life. I’m not sure if it scares me or repels me but I’m positive I’ve never wanted a life of fancy houses and expensive cars. This is very important in my life because I feel it has formed a main part of my identity. Now I’m not suggesting I can easily be satisfied. I’m something close to a perfectionist. I expect so much of myself. This can lead to destruction and success at the same time like the baobab trees versus the rose in The little prince’s planet.
I strongly believe as it has been proven that family, and your parents to be more specific, have the most important impact on a person’s identity. I start with my father. He’s an avid book reader and has masters in librarianship. A great part of my love for literature, cinema and music goes directly back to him. I’ve been exposed to all kinds of literature since childhood. That made literature has thrown shade on my whole life.
My mom is the most tender-hearted and self-sacrificing woman I’ve ever known. Growing up with her, I find some of her characteristics in me in different ways. For example, I basically cannot hurt people easily and I count it as an important part my identity. The reason is it has a huge impact on my social life. I’m often afraid I’m going to hurt people or get hurt by them so I keep away from them.
I’m extremely obsessed with literary characters and stories to the extent that I cannot imagine my life without them. Characters like Holden Caulfield, Huck and Victoria Lucas have definitely formed a part my identity. They are introverted characters constantly questioning what’s going on around them and what’s going on in their heads. They have helped me see who I am. When I was reading their stories I was telling myself “There I am! That’s me! That’s what I’ve been doing!”
One of the important aspects of my identity is being a city girl. I know how important that is in forming somebody’s character but now that I’m studying and teaching in an extremely small town, I can feel the difference with all my bones. It’s rather ironic talking about identity in a city. In a city you almost have no identity whatsoever! It’s crazy how I feel like home whenever I visit Buffalo! I can’t wait to experience being in New York City!
Just like the father in Pirandello’s Six Characters in Search of an Author states, we are not only one unified person all the time, we transform into different people encountering each person. This is much stronger when you live in a city. You’re always lost. You can always go to a place where nobody knows you. You can create another self for yourself. You can choose not to go the same place twice. If you don’t like your friends, you can always and I mean always find new ones with new habits and new ways of thinking.
I have been here for almost three months. Thus, I believe not being able to introduce one fixed version of myself is still a part of me. To tell the truth, I like it. I like having different identities in different place. I like being able to change, to evolve whenever I choose. It’s all because I like flying. I like the freedom to go in and out of my comfort zone and it’s a bit suffocating to live in a small town where you’re bound to see the same people even in shopping malls. It’s ironic how you can run away from people more in the city than in the countryside.
Speaking of running away from people, I’m one of those beings who need solitude. I’m fully aware it’s something we all share as a human being but I require a considerable amount of solitude to live on. This preference may originate from living in the city (the whole story about the freedom to encounter who you want) or it may be something I’ve gotten from my dad since he is the same way.
Being suspicious is a main part of being Iranian. We have been lied to through history and our collective unconscious pushes us to question everything, to have second thoughts about people, places and races. We have been betrayed by different governments just like all the other countries have been at least once ( or always?). It’s time to stop being gullible. Being an over thinker has made me analyze events and people’s behaviors all the time. It brings us back to the struggle I was refereeing to in the very first paragraph. There are constantly all kinds of different struggles going on in my head.
 The way I relate myself to American identities

The way I relate myself to American identities may has obviously a close relation to how I became interested in United States and American literature. I started listening to English language songs from a very young age as I grew up in a house full of love for music. To this date, I’m positive I can’t pass one day without listening to music. Since the rock scene in Iran was on the road to perdition for a long while after the Islamic Revolution ( I’m not forgetting the fact that Rock was invented in the US in a way), my attention was drawn the rock scene belonged to United States when I was growing up. I started to become familiar with American bands and music. The lyrics and the melodies helped me experience ecstatic feelings which now have made me a music maniac if you will!
I cannot ignore the relationship between literature and music. Sometimes songs tell you a story just like a book does. Above all the music genres, I came to like American folk music the most, since it was very close to American literature I was so amazed about. I started to love the works of figures like Bob Dylan. I have always believed that one should follow what one truly loves to find out whether s/he is made for that path. I used to attend solfege and vocal classes for 8 months and covered a folk song myself.
George Eliot said, “Nothing is so good as it seems beforehand.”  The great Alexander Pope also reminded us that, “Blessed is he who expects nothing, for he shall never be disappointed.” It may be true that the reality is ninety nine percent of the time far from your expectations. I was reminded of Eliot’s quote when I first came to this country. American media is huge! We all know that! No doubt about it ! 
Me and my friends used to watch the TV series , Friends, so religiously that it was all we talked about for a long time. I still make Friends references when talking to my friend in Iran! It has been a topic of my conversations with people I’ve met from Czech and Germany! Isn’t that crazy? I’m not going to exaggerate since me and my friends don’t form a large portion of Iranian society obviously! But here’s the link to a famous song by a famous Iranian Rock band that moved to New York a couple of years ago (to give you an idea what people think about America in the country I was born in):American Dream
 Also, as much as I adore Iranian children’s programs to this day, I also grew up watching Home Alone series!!  “I'm gonna give you to the count of 10, to get your ugly, yella, no-good keister off my property…before I pump your guts full of lead!...Keep the change, ya filthy animal!” Having been under the media’s influence and before setting foot in America, I had this idealized image of the United States in my head that I still haven’t gotten rid of. I’m not sure I ever will ( I’ve seen a lot of Americans haven’t even gotten over it)Anyway, I built up all these towers in the streets of my mind. I just wanted to hurry to the land where Salinger and Carver were born!
I thought I’d be setting foot in the most multi-cultural place on earth! This was intensified when the police officer in Chicago airport complimented me on my hair!! ( I know it sounds stupid but you had to be there!) Everything “looked” good until I actually started living in Fredonia, a very small village in western New York! Imagine moving from a populated, polluted and hectic city to a calm , very small village! Just to give you an idea about how it’s like to live in Tehran, let me remind you that New York City’s population was 8.337 million in 2012 and Tehran’s population was 7.804 million in 2006!! Okay, I think you can sympathize with me now! Don’t get me wrong! I‘m not favoring any kind of living situation over the other! I actually was escaping the frenzy, the crowd.  It’s just that now I know I need to live in a crowded place unless I decide to be a hermit!
I had in mind Obama being president and probably (?) chosen by US people. I had in mind “liberty mads” (Foner 12) who are able to acknowledge different voices from different races. I had in mind going to America not a land that was once Britain’s colony.
I thought there are so many different people from all around the world that I wouldn’t even be noticed. However, that is unfortunately not what happened. I do know now that actually living somewhere is nothing like what you read in books or see in the movies. 
I’ve been observing Americans ever since I came here. It’s not something that I intended to do but it’s what happens to you when you immigrate to a different country. Apart from the self-realization being in progress and concentrating on you own behaviors; natives become your mind’s subject of study.  Let me tell you about the comparisons I made and the interesting things I came across.
People are basically the same everywhere!
Don’t look so shocked! Just leave the country and you’re gonna know! You’ll be amazed by how many times I’ve actually told myself, “Gosh! That’s exactly how that Iranian friend of mine acts, or speaks.” My roommate, surprisingly enough, has the exact sets of beliefs as a lot of people I know in Iran and she’s not in any way related to them. Everything about them is different, their race, religion, language, school system etc. and yet I feel like I’ve heard the exact same words with the exact same reactions when I heard her talking about abortion to her sister.

Something else I’ve noticed about Fredonia (let’s not jump into conclusions about the whole country since I’ve heard every state and even every city is different. And also it would be so “unprofessional” of me to pass judgments without any proof) is that people do not talk as much as we do in Iran. It may simply because of the fact that I’m still not a part of any special group and that they may talk just as much when they’re together. However, I’ve noticed so many times in the bus or even in my house with my own housemates that they spend not interacting with one another. The sense of individuality has become incredibly significant that the sense of being part of a community seems trivial to people. I’ve even witnessed those in charge trying so hard to bring students together to help them build a community. I was reminded of Gus Van Sant, American independent director, and his movies about American experience. Paranoid Park and Elephant made more sense to me now.
Do you also smile at strangers when you see them in the street?. I found that extremely strange when I first got here. When someone when from outside looks at these conventions and realize those smiles seem meaningless, they may feel uncomfortable. I even felt scared the very first time. I thought I did something wrong. It’s only because there’s no such convention in our country. People don’t smile or say hello to strangers on the street. I need to go so much deeper in American culture to be able to grasp the meanings of these. After are, people are strange when you're stranger !

Obama writes in his memoir about the difference he feels when visiting Kenya. He goes, “It conformed to my idea of Africa and Africans, an obvious contrast to the growing isolation of American life, a contrast I understood, not in racial, but in cultural terms. A measure of what we sacrificed for technology and mobility; but that there-as in the kampongs outside Djakarta or in the country villages if Ireland or Greece- remained essentially intact: the insistent pleasure of other people’s company, the joy of human warmth.” And at times it can be true. You can feel like you have things bottled up inside you that you need to talk about. A friend of mine who lives in California, my cousin who lives in South Carolina and some of my American friends have also pointed this out to me and honestly, I never would have thought!
As an Iranian who just set foot in US three months ago, I have been observing American interactions and moral codes. This is of course not something that I intended to do; it's rather something that happens to you when you move to another country. I have noticed that there are not a lot of interactions between white people and African-Americans even in the campus (especially among younger generation)! My housemates who are three American white girls do not have any African-American friends, boyfriends etc.
 Now I know that of all American states and cities, I have only been into a small village in western New York. It's just that I didn't expect these attitudes from a country that is being advertised as “Land of Freedom” and full of people of all ethnicities. I'm sorry I read about the unfortunate lives of Washington DC African-American residents! I assume discrimination is still a part of living in America. I'm just reporting what I have witnessed in my few weeks of living here. I'm not trying to overgeneralize anything.
Now again, as someone who is not a US citizen, I have experienced some sort of being looked down upon or hearing some inappropriate remarks like “Oh, You just came to America and they gave you a job!" Of course I forgot about them because I have been welcomed by so many other kind Americans.
I can’t help but notice that the country that is so famous for being multi-cultural is still suffering from a white dominance at least in the country side. You sometimes feel like you’re an alien just because you’re not blond and you have a tiny bit of an accent. 
If we take a look at many educational channels such as schools, colleges, TV shows, Magazines during all these years we could see that most of these channels try to show the real face of discriminations. 
On the other hand, I personally believe that this amount of education is outstanding but it’s not enough. The implemented educational methodology usually tries not to shape the idea of children whose characters are not shaped yet. I believe that these types of education need to be provided for small children. Why do we even bother to go to universities and get Masters and P.H.Ds?
After reading The History of American Freedom and Abolition Democracy, visiting city of Buffalo I’ve come to understand that I have rather mixed thoughts about American identities. I wish I could write this after I visited New York City so I could be a little bit more aware of what’s going on. I need to live here much longer to acquire a good understanding of American identities, their moral codes and their understanding of freedom nowadays. Because I’ve learned that it is only by living among people that you reach that state.( I know this such a cliche!)

1 comment:

Melissa said...

This was wonderful to read! Let me first say, if someone smiles or says hello, it is because they probably genuinely kind. If you go to NYC, which I really recommend you do, people will probably not smile. This is my opinion, but what I have seen in my own life.
I hope you find America to be full of kind, compassionate people who share your love for literature, and you are absolutely right, people are people where ever you go. We are all part of this thing we call the human race!
I'm glad you chose to come to Fredonia for your degree, and I hope your experience here is rewarding.