MY special persian Difference

Rana Somekhian, Jewish Day '18

How I came to embrace the word "different" and everything it meant about me. (Published: 2017)

Image: Women dance to commemorate the festival of Mehregan. The holiday is a thanksgiving festival for the harvest.

“Different.” That’s the best word I can think of to describe what it’s like to be the child of immigrant parents. It comes with benefits and strong values, and it comes with baggage as well. Everything - the food I eat, the holidays I celebrate, the things I do - is just different.

It took me a while to appreciate those different aspects of my life. Sometimes, it made me hate aspects of that culture’s influence on my life. No one could ever pronounce my name. People would always say, “What’s that smell?” when I opened my lunch. That word “different” comes with such a bad connotation sometimes. At least it did for me. I thought that because I was different, I couldn’t fall in love with my heritage and fully realize how much impact it had over me.

“Different” became the thing that caused me to eventually appreciate these traits, and fully feel the impact my parent’s culture had on my life.

My mom came to America in 1979 to escape persecution from the up-and-coming Islamic Republic of Iran. My dad arrived two years prior, hoping to gain access to new opportunities, growth and freedoms, to achieve the American Dream. They came with almost nothing and virtually no knowledge of what life was like in America. Both my parents accomplished what some might call the impossible. They overcame a language barrier and hurdled through a society that did not know how to accept them.

Sometimes, for me, it’s hard to put that into perspective, to fully understand what kind of strength that took. I try to imagine my mom leaving her native country at age 17, during a time of revolution, without her parents, to a new country about which she knew nothing. When I try to put myself in her shoes, I am always blown away by how she overcame every obstacle. Being connected to that kind of strength and resilience, I feel even more appreciative of everything I have in life. It makes me who I am.

Image: The Norwuz Table at Somekhian's house. The table, called a Haft Sin, displays symbolic items for the holiday, which is the Persian New Year.

Without my parents, I wouldn’t have that sense of being different. I wouldn’t be immersed in a culture that is rich and deep in history. While I have grown up in a completely different setting than they have, my parents have managed to instill the values that they grew up with in Iran.

In Iranian culture, family is the top priority. When an elder walks into the room, you are supposed to stand up and greet them with two kisses on the cheek. You eventually have to learn how to cook traditional Iranian dishes that you would see during large family dinners, special events such as Nowruz (the thirteen day celebration for the Iranian New Year) or just everyday meals. I am thankful for the fact that my parents have managed to rebuild their lives from scratch and still teach us Farsi, family traditions and our ancestral history to ensure that we don’t forget where we came from. I am more proud than ever to say that I am “different,” that I belong to a different history, culture and story then most of the people I am surrounded by.