The dreaded questions. First night of class, first day on the job, conversation at a dinner party. A natural, normal question: Where are you from? But the answer for me is complicated. Do you want to know where I was born? Or do you want to know where I come from intellectually, where did I get my education and where my ideas were born? Or do you want to know where I have left my heart, where my children were born and where I found my sisters? Because the answers are three different places on three different continents. To be factual, I have to answer the first one. I was born in Iran. No, not Iraq, I say quickly, as if one is better than the other and the list of preconceived notions any more positive. But I quickly point out that I have been living in the United States since I was fifteen years old. Except for about twelve years when I lived in Venezuela. To be truthful, I have to say that I am from all or none of those places; I am “ethnically ambiguous”.
I am an Iranian who holds on to the values of deep respect for my parents, high regards for excellence in education and hospitality. I am an American who cherishes individual thoughts and creativity and questions everything. I am an honorary Latina because it is the culture where I raised my children and invented a whole new family with strangers who have remained close to me despite distance and time. It is also the culture that for me is a nice blend of my Eastern and Western influences.
What defines me is not my race, culture or ethnicity. It is not what I do or where I was born. It is not what I have or what I want to have. It is the core of my character. Truthfulness, kindness, justice and compassion are not determined by the accidents of our birth or the choices we made about jobs and careers but by conscious decisions we make every day to live better, a little bit at a time.
My children sometimes wonder who they are. Are we American, Persian or Latinos, they ask. I tell them they are children of the Kingdom; they are the product of the East meeting the West and creating a new race of men. Hopefully they have inherited all the gifts and positive qualities these cultures have to offer but are not tainted by the prejudices and small mindedness of their ancestors on either side.