I was born in Tehran, Iran, and lived there with my family until I was roughly 6 yrs old before the situation dramatically and violently changed (politically) in the country causing us to have to leave due to the imminent danger and risks posed to our lives by the circumstances.
Europe became our home away from home until we finally chose to settle in New York City during the height of the hostage crisis of the 1980's. Looking back, I'm pretty proud of myself for being able to survive in a New York City public school at a time when I received tremendous heat on a daily basis from my young American peers for being Iranian. I think the experience shaped certain aspects of my personality in many ways.
Growing up, I became a rebellious teenager trying to do everything in my power to distance myself from my culture, the Persian diaspora community here in the US, etc. In fact, I spent many years pretending to be from a completely non-Iranian culture (i.e., Italian) when asked where I was from, simply to avoid the American societal stigma toward Iranians. I really just wanted to be a cool American teenager like all of the kids I went to school with and so those years were full of constant conflict between the culture and values of my parents with those of my newly adopted country.
I'm an adult now (and an American citizen) and some 30 years have gone by without having set foot on Iranian soil, literally since the day my family left. I've become older and wiser and have done a better job of reconciling the two cultures, picking and choosing what I like best about each one and incorporating those qualities into my own personal aesthetic. I've traveled the world and I've built a pretty amazing life for myself but the one thing that I find myself really yearning for is to be able to connect with my true heritage by visiting the land where I was born. It's taken me a long time to get to this point given the diametrically opposite point of view I held as a teenager, but I'm intensely proud of being Persian, from Iran, whatever you want to call it.
The Persian culture is so diverse in its history, its richness and its beauty. Persian people are some of the warmest, most loving and hospitable people you will ever encounter. At the same time, they are strong, resilient, artistic, creative, intelligent, hard-working, tenacious-they are survivors. To be Persian is to have nothing at all to do with the headlines and stories you see on the evening news or in the media-what you see there is something entirely un-Persian.
I don't know when I'll be able to visit Iran again such that I can be free and completely unencumbered by the politics, dogma, and radical fanaticism which are imposed daily upon the population by the cruel and evil government. My greatest wish (on my personal bucket list) is to visit the site of the ruins of Persepolis before I die, to capture it on film with my camera, to put my own artistic stamp on this place which symbolizes the greatness and strength of the Persian Empire, not to mention the artistic and architectural genius of the Persian culture.
Up until now, the closest I've been able to get to Persepolis is Paris. The Musee du Louvre houses an incredible amount of art, artifacts and architecture from the Persian Empire spanning several periods. Having had a chance to see the Persian art and architecture at the Louvre has only whetted my appetite for the opportunity to see the real thing. I've already waited 30 years; I hope I don't have to wait another 30 years but I'm willing to wait as long as necessary. My experience has taught me that things come full circle in life and so I'm clinging to my belief that one day I will have my chance to carry out my wish.
Whether now or in the future, whether through words or through images, I strive to make it abundantly clear that I'm Persian and I'm proud.