Tales from Tehrangeles – Los Angeles (and Iran)
In an article, Javad Parsa, photographer, writes: “Los Angeles is home to the largest Iranian diaspora in the world. […] Along Westwood Boulevard, hub of the local Iranian community, almost all the signs hanging above the shops are in Persian.”
Reading through the article and pondering over the portraits, I wondered if among the Iranians living in Tehrangeles, there existed any active and credible political group to counter the despotic and martial rule of the ayatollahs in Tehran. Any efficient political organisation that would fulfil “[A] shared goal of a better life nurtured by social, political and religious freedom”.
I am not sure at all.
I recall the White Russians’ fate. The Iranian Diaspora, in Tehrangeles or elsewhere in the West, is similar to them in many ways.
The White Russians were conservative, accepting autocracy while remaining suspicious of “politics”. Aside from being anti-Bolshevik [read anti-ayatollahs in the Iranian context] and patriotic, they had no set ideology or main leader. The White Russians lived in exile, nurturing the nostalgic idea of home and returning home in glory… they never got back to Mother Russia as they had daydreamt.
We Iranians are following the same path. Since 1979, we have copied the ways of our fellow citizens in our new homes, and now by a genuine sense of belonging, we are full citizens of our acquired countries. Today, the first generation of the migrants to the West are being replaced by the younger generation born there. As the signs are already tangible, the feeling of being Iranian is fading out. Sooner than later, the Iranian memories will be a dry dogma, something that we will remember occasionally, similar to a miniature hanging on a wall, admired from time to time.
On Javad Parsa’s website there are some more pictures, taken earlier in Iran. These remarkable shots from ordinary people depict our daily lives in our country.
We leave the reader to examine them and to ponder, to find one’s own answer to how to reconcile so many different facets and realms so as to build a country “where we can vote in truly democratic elections, dress the way we like, choose our own religion and speak, and photograph, freely,” as written by J. Parsa.
We do a have a sense of nationalism and pride that should unite us, as we do occasionally in a stadium outside Iran cheer our football team in unison. But then outside the stadium walls, we could not be further divided, ignoring, and ignorant of the diversities that make our country.
Paradoxically, our nationalism and pride carry with them negative and destructive behaviours: contempt for simplicity and pragmatism, praise for the glitter of money and influence. They drive us to look for enemies, rather than building friendship. They push us to chant “death to…” in cacophony, rather than singing a melody together. They prevent us from reaching a consensus on a social project.
In want of self-confidence, in want of a common vision and shared ideals, in want of a vitality badly needed, we live carpe diem, credulous of the oral legends of our family elders about Iran without ever questioning them and getting to know the facts, as much as they might displease us. We should consider learning from their mistakes, and become fully aware of the intolerance and fears that inhabit our minds, and cripple our actions.
As for the future of our country, one thing is for certain: if we yearn for a kind of dignified Iran that we want to be truly proud of, in which people can live in harmony, and be free from the ayatollahs and their medieval dogmas, we must work together for it: plan it, sweat over it, and bleed for it. No one will ever offer that kind of Iran on a golden platter to us while we sit on our hands and expect better days.
We cannot make an omelette without breaking some eggs.
Two Photos, Same People
From the pictures taken by Javad Parsa, we have chosen two, and set them side by side. The choice is ours, to the extreme but highly symbolic. In both, the women are in focus, veiled or flamboyant. Women are the force of Iran, and the ayatollahs fear them more than they fear the men.
In the photographs, the men despite their physical presence, are sidelined and far away. One seems absent-minded, and ill at ease. The other too busy with opium paraphernalia to care about the world.
Before rashly dismissing or accepting, and being judgemental of what we see at first glance, as is our habit in dealing with social issues in our country, we should examine in detail the significance of the photographs taken by J. Parsa.
We need to find answers to the why and the how in them and square our interests in a common vision for our country with all portrayed in the photographs.