By Sade Tavangarian
Last week, a few of my friends were over at my house when my parents and I suddenly launched into a vitriolic argument in Farsi. My friends just looked at me with blank faces. Even though I’m currently fluent in Farsi, this wasn’t always the case.
I grew up speaking Farsi until I was six but lost the language by assimilating into American culture in elementary school.
I came into school knowing a few sentences in English, but over the first six years of my life I wasn’t exposed to any sort of English language. I walked in to my pre-K class with a thick accent and didn’t know what I was getting myself into.
I remember trying so hard to conform to my elementary school classmates’ trends. I ditched Mansour songs for Britney Spears and threw away all my Persian dolls in exchange for brand new Barbies. I went through the stage where I stripped myself of all my Persian-ness.
Slowly, I lost my ability to speak, read, and write in my native language and for years I was so ashamed of being Persian that I told people I was of European descent. My parents assumed this was just a silly phase. Little did they know they were watching the last inch of Persian culture disappear from their daughter.
I considered myself to be totally ‘Americanized’ until my entire concept of embracing my native culture shifted on a trip to Iran. I was 11 and visiting my many relatives in Tehran and Northern Iran.
As my great aunt and uncle came to greet me, I didn’t know a word they were saying. Throughout the entire evening, everyone spoke in Farsi and I kept listening to my relatives engage in different conversations and laugh at different jokes. It was torture not being able to communicate with anyone during the trip and it was even worse sitting and knowing that I used to be fluent in the language.
After I returned home, I begged my parents to enroll me in Farsi school and over the past seven years I have mastered my native language.
To cut to the moral of the story, I am a perfect example of a first generation American. I don’t share a lot of commonalities with most of my friends; my life generally tends to revolve around my culture and my family.
The issue I faced that I’m sure many other first generation kids experience is the struggle of embracing one’s culture. When I was in elementary school and newly exposed to the American culture, I immediately dove in and was hooked on changing my true identity to fit in with all of my classmates.
At such a young age, being different wasn’t exactly the most favorable trait.
However, as I’ve gotten older, I’ve come to realize that I absolutely love being a first generation kid. I have a lot of responsibility to promote and preserve my heritage in America and that’s exactly what I’ve been doing.
I am a member of the Farhang Foundation (Farhang means culture in Farsi), which is an Iranian-American culture preservation organization.
I think it is important for all first generation kids to understand that the future of your culture is in your hands.
There is obviously nothing wrong with conforming to the American culture. That’s completely expected of everyone. However, don’t hesitate to keep connecting to something that defines your past. It will be worthwhile.