Um bullshit- nothing this girl does is half assed. We first heard of Parisa when she was an intern at the National Iranian American Council– an organization dedicated to furthering the interest of Iranian Americans through outreach focused on Congressional policy issues and cultural events– through her coverage of foreign policy hearings on Capitol Hill in Washington D.C. It was during this time that we discovered Parisa’s personal blog IranStories — now featured on Aslan Media as “I Heart Iran.” Fellow blogger dedicated to bashing stereotypes? WE’RE SOLD.
Parisa Saranj: Blogger. Lover of Iranian Culture. Self proclaimed Hardcore Feminist.
Parisa was so honest, quirky and fun throughout her interview. I feel like I was able to learn so much from her just through a single conversation about her experiences as an Iranian American. At S&F, we love hearing stories about how people surpassed what was expected of them and went on to do something amazing, and Parisa is a true testament to that. So we hope that you guys will enjoy reading her interview as much as I enjoyed talking to her.
- Tell me about yourself- where are you from?
I was born in Esfehan, Iran in 1985. I left in 2003 to come to the U.S. when I was 18 years old. I came here with a green card. the initial plan was to come here just to live with my family, not specifically for college. My uncle had applied my father for a green card 13 years ago.
My dad, mom and I ended up getting a green card. But because my brother was over the age of 21, he couldn’t get one. So my dad basically dropped me off in the U.S. where I lived with my aunt and uncle. After a year, I went my own way.
If my brother had gotten a green card too, my entire family and I would’ve moved here together. But when he didn’t, my mom had to stay in Iran and my dad had to leave me in America after six months because he was unable to find a job.
My brother got his green card last week and is here with me now. But in the meantime, my mother passed away, and my dad remarried and went off on his own. So it’s just me and my brother now, and he’s staying with me here in the U.S.
- What was one of the biggest challenges you faced coming here from Iran?
There were three things that I would consider the biggest challenges.
(1). Dealing with crazy relatives. I had one relative who believed that I was too much of a “Muslim” girl so they would force me to eat bacon, buy me sexy lingerie and swim suits. I was like this girl straight out of Esfehan – from a close knit conservative community – I had never worn anything smaller than a large, God forbid my boobs ever showed!
My relatives were forcing me to do the opposite of what I was accustomed to. They just picked on a lot of issues and it had nothing to do with the fact that they are Iranian.
I lived with them in Orange County (California) and after, I moved to the furthest point I could think of. I went to Massachusetts for college and I haven’t been back to California since.
(2). The fact that the toilets here don’t have water to wash yourself with. In Iran, we have a hose — a “shelange.” Luckily, I discovered the wonderful world of feminine wipes that you can buy from CVS. I would die without them. I don’t go anywhere without them. I really think if I didn’t find them, I would go back to Iran just to have a hose in the bathroom.
(3). The biggest struggle was the fact that nothing here tastes like the food in Iran. Unfortunately, I just got used to it. I became a vegetarian two years after I moved here. There is this entire industry of vegetarian food out there that I just love and I feel so much better about myself now. I love tofu, different pastas and pizzas. The world of vegetarianism is so vast and there is so much to explore.
So it was an agony to go to the bathroom, eat tasteless food and deal with my crazy family.
Honestly, culture shock or language barriers weren’t struggles I dealt with. I loved being on my own.
- Uhh so how do you handle being an IRANIAN vegetarian… especially with a Persian family? NO KABOB?!
I didn’t tell my mom for a year. We met up one year in Germany so I knew she was going to tell my aunt to make me Ghormeh Sabzi since it’s my favorite food. I had to tell her not to get mad if I didn’t end up eating it. So in Germany, I had it once to calm her down. But, the entire 17 days I was in Germany, I was defending myself and she was trying to get me to eat meat. When I was in Iran after my mom died, all these old women gave me trouble for not eating meat.
They would say, how could you say no to the gift of Allah (meat), what kind of Muslim are you?
So the whole time there, I was just eating rice. My aunt was cool though, we would go out to eat at restaurants and she would always have a can of beans in her purse for me. But I lived in Iran for six months and I basically endured hunger and starvation, insults and jokes — but I still stayed true to my vegetarianism, which I’m very proud of.
I will tell you this– when people would invite me for lunch or dinner, the only thing they could think to make me that was vegetarian was kookoo sabzi so I had a LOT of kookoo sabzi. But that’s why I love them – they tried.
- How have you been able to deal with the cultural conflict of being Iranian American?
Of course, the conflict exists. But I think I’ve been able to find a survival technique/tactic to avoid it. Sometimes, I hate myself for it but, I feel as if I have no choice because it’s my only way of surviving between these two crazy cultures.
My technique is to basically shift between being Iranian and being American- – depending on where I am.
Sometimes I’m a typical, 27 year old American woman—in terms of how I dress the way I like, I have hardcore feminist tendencies and I don’t take shit from any man, I talk back, I use colorful language and I laugh out loud.
But when I’m around Iranians, I’m a 27 year old typical Iranian woman. I think that because I moved to this country at the age that I did, I’ve been able to get a fairly good grasp on both cultures to the point where I am able to shift between the two.
So when I’m around Iranians at a mehmooni, they always say, “Inshallah, you will find a good husband.” In my head, I think: HELL NO, I don’t need an agha Iranian man to look over my shoulder…” but on the outside, I smile and say, “Inshallah.”
I play the role I’d play in Iran because I know I can’t fight or talk back to this group of Iranians who’s mentality hasn’t changed from where they came from. No point in arguing.
Sometimes I really hate myself for it and feel like I’m being a hypocrite, but I really believe that that is the only way I can life.
- So who’s the real Parisa?
The real Parisa is the American Parisa who still holds Iranians traditions… but I don’t like to call them traditions, I call them “classics.” I love family- I think it’s such a beautiful thing, but at the same time, I don’t want to wait around for a husband. And I don’t think happiness is found by waiting for a man.
I really like classic values of being Iranian and the Iranian culture—just to mix it in with this modern woman that I am. When I am among Americans, I can be the American that I am and I can also show my Iranian side because they find it authentic and unique.
But if I am around Iranians, I can’t really have my American side because they would think, “Oh this girl came from America, and she has totally forgotten who she is and where she came from.”
- What was the social scene like in Iran when you lived there?
I was born and raised in Esfehan and Esfehan is a small conservative city, and then on top of that when I was in Iran, I was this hardcore anti-man feminist. I never involved myself in the dating scene. I just turned my nose up on men.
I thought all Iranian men are dumb and that one day, I’m going to grow up and be a famous independent woman, and I would never need a man.
But in Iran, I would still catch a girl and a boy jumping out of the bushes within a few minutes from each other and I knew they were ones of “those” people- who were involved in “forbidden relationships.” I was definitely aware of what a taboo thing it was and I could totally single out the people at school who were involved even though I wasn’t one of them. It sounds dumb and stupid because people would have 4-5 boyfriends and girlfriends at a time.
When I was young, winking at a boy was bad. If you did that, then you might as well had been a whore. That’s how taboo it was. I experienced the world of forbidden relationships through my cousin who had a secret boyfriend. They would go on dates or go hide in the closet… I would hear about them holding hands from my other cousin.
That shit was too much for my time.
Her mom did end up finding out, but he came for “khastegari” (hand in marriage) and they finally got married after two years. He’s a great guy and they have a kid together now.
For me personally, I would never date an Iranian man. Unfortunately, I think part of my reason for this is the result of never having had a good role model of an Iranian man. Even with my father, uncles or cousins– I never interacted with an Iranian man who actually believed men and women are equal.
You can blame it on me for being a feminist, but I’ve never met an Iranian man who didn’t believe that a woman is biologically made to serve him.
Even highly educated Iranian men who date highly educated Iranian women believe deep down that at the end of the day, SHE is expected to wash the dishes just because she is a woman. They think that somewhere biologically women are lesser than them. We come from a culture that from the day a man is born, he is called doodool-tala.
DO WE HAVE VAGINA TALA WOMEN?!
No we don’t because we are raised in this culture that cooks in its DNA nonstop that because you are a man you are superior.
If I’m going to date an Iranian man, the doodool-tala douchebag needs to be missing from his DNA.
- What are your future goals?
I am currently enrolled in an MFA program for nonfiction writing at Goucher College. I was originally in a Master’s program at American University where I was studying comparative regional studies of the Middle East. But then I woke up one day and said, “Woman what are you doing? I do not belong here.”
So I went home and looked at myself in the mirror, and told myself, “It’s time to get brave and follow your passion.” So I dropped out of American University and wrote to Goucher College to reconsider my application again (they had accepted me prior, but I had chosen American University instead). It was a sign that they accepted my offer. In August, I will begin working toward my MFA.
Part of the MFA program at Goucher College is to start writing my memoir.
I want to write about growing up in the Islamic Republic of Iran.
The program is designed in a way that by the time I graduate, I will have half of it completed– at least the essentials of my memoir. Hopefully after that, I will write wonderful novels about the amazing Iran and Iranian people.
- What are your goals with your blog IranStories?
After I graduated from undergrad at University of Massachusetts, I felt like I had enough of America. So I went back to Iran and lived there for six months, but of course I couldn’t last. I was this new found American woman living in Iran. I clearly couldn’t do it. When I came back and started applying for graduate school, I realized I had all these stories or essays that I had written or brainstormed in Iran about the Iranian people. Life as an Iranian.
I started the blog so that I could have an outlet to share all these stories. After awhile, I developed the blog and added a photo section, a section for vegetarian recipes, and another section called “I Heart Iran” where I wrote short commentaries about funny things and politics that happen around the Iranian culture. So if there is a picture that is going viral in Iran, I would analyze the Iranian people’s perception of the photo.
I was then fortunate enough to be noticed by Aslan Media and they asked if I would like to continue the “I Heart Iran” section on their website. So now I am a columnist for Aslan Media.
I try to address terrible issues in Iran like the economy, unemployment, religion, oppression, and the tradition that has been shoved down Iranian’s throats– through sarcasm and sometimes even humor.
I hope I can show those who don’t like Iran and just want war that it’s possible to laugh at our politicians. We are all just human. They are human too — despite the fact that some are ignorant and tyrannical.
But instead of promoting war, hate and violence, we can actually sit down and talk with them.
I’m begging Americans to see that Iranians have the same hopes, dreams and wishes that we have in the U.S. And that they really are different from the Iranian government.
- Did your parents ever talk to you about sex?
GOD NO. It’s so funny because I come from a very unusually open-minded family– my dad was the who explained to me what a woman’s period is and why women get periods. Talking about things like that with your FATHER is such a taboo in Iran even to this day. My mom was the type of woman who would say that if you ever like a boy, just tell me and we will go take him out together.
But sex was extra taboo. Growing up in a more modern family in Iran, I always thought I’m not going to have any problems asking about anything, but sex was just NOT talked about. I didn’t dare ask about it and they didn’t dare talk about it.
I learned about sex and sexuality when I came to the U.S. I was like an innocent child and I never cared about guys. I learned most things here from making American friends and watching movies.
- What are three things you value most in life:
Love/religion: my religion is love.
Poetry: I live and breathe poetry.
My passion in life: making people laugh. I have this motto: Give the gift of laughter.
So I really value the fact that despite my crazy life and crazy self, I can still laugh at myself and hopefully, make others laugh with me.
- What is some advice you have for the younger generation of Iranian Americans?
Keep up with your Farsi. SO IMPORTANT.
Go to Esfehan if you’re ever in Iran.
And like I said, laugh at yourself. Be able to laugh and know that we have a crazy culture, the only way you can enjoy it is to love it for the way it is. Our parents are crazy to want us to just be lawyers, doctors and engineers — but at the same time, love them and respect them…
BUT DON’T DO WHAT THEY WANT!
- How do you like your Fessenjoon?
VEGETARIAN without any meat!
TWEET US: @SEX_FESSENJOON