Fidgeting my leg against a familiar school desk, the dreadful anticipation always washes over me while listening to roll call on the first day of school. As the teacher goes down the list of names as simple as Mary and Alex, my face darkens with a crimson hue as I await the familiar butchering of my name and the consequential embarrassment. Slowly, the teacher halts their flawless rendition of Marys and Alexs. Usually following this halt, there is the typical “I know I’m going to get this wrong,” or “I apologize in advance”. However, my seventh grade teacher didn’t apologize and instead made an audacious attempt at pronouncing my name. Confident, bold, and severely misled, this teacher assumed that “my hole” would be the most accurate pronunciation of my name.
My name, Mahgol, literally translates to “moon flower,” and surprisingly the beautiful concept of my name is nothing compared to the ugly pronunciation it often endures. I never go by my real name in the U.S. for the sole reason that I wanted to be Iranian in Iran and American in America. Denying my Iranian culture became an instinctive reflex; when people would ask me how to pronounce my birth-given name, I would aloofly reply, “it’s not important”.
Growing up as a second-generation immigrant was like chasing a cookie I could never get. I saw countless snippets of a “perfect” American life all around me, but it was one I could never achieve. Wherever I went, I was reminded of the other part of me I tried so hard to mercy-kill as it created a divide between the others and me. The shame made me yearn for accent-less parents, Thanksgiving traditions, and weekly church gatherings- not for Christianity’s sake, but to fit into the American mold. But Iranian culture ran through the blood in my veins and the pipes in my house.
I stopped speaking Farsi, didn’t go to the country for three years, and insisted that I didn’t have a middle name, which was just another reminder of Iran. I called myself an easy American name, didn’t go to any Iranian gatherings, and started identifying myself as Persian instead of Iranian because of the negative political connation the word has. Simply put, I was whitewashing myself. This cultural cleanse was less of a purification and more of a misled corruption. It was a waste.
Like Alice in Wonderland, I had been led astray in a deep hole of confusion, but soon I awoke from my dazed state when I returned to Iran after three years. At the beginning of my trip, heavy guilt and embarrassment crept in me and weighed down my heart like an anchor. All I could mutter to my estranged relatives were simple pleasantries that were nowhere near in substance to our previous conversations. Our reunion often resulted in incoherent conversations, awkward silences, and pitying smiles as they had immediately realized what I had lost.
By repeatedly calling me Mahgol for the first time in three years and forcing me to participate in a plethora of activities, my family made me fall in love with Iranian culture after years of fighting it. Like the moon, my Iranian culture shines brightly even when the rest of the world seems dark. Like a patient flower, my Iranian culture has taken my entire life to slowly blossom and enrich its surroundings. The newfound comfort of my name and the ease in which it rolls off my tongue has inspired me to drop the cultural shield I once had and instead be bombarded with full adoration for Iran and all of its gracious offerings.
The Iranian food that dances in my mouth symbolizes traditions passed down generations that finally end with me.
The Iranian sight carries sturdy mountains on the countryside that I would gaze upon while driving to see enchanting coastline of the Caspian Sea.
The Iranian voice subtly carries the beautiful hymns my mother would sing to me, as I would fall asleep and into my Iranian mold.
My Iranian voice proudly carries all of me. For I am not half-Iranian and half-American, I am a mixture of the two as they intertwine and embrace one another.
Accepting my culture has been a matter of learning to embrace its diversity, rather than viewing it as adversity. I still struggle with accepting the mixed background I have, but it has allowed me to see the beauty of the world. There is nothing wrong with my accented parents or my hard-to-pronounce name; in fact, there is a unique merit in these discrepancies. Often times, this beauty gets lost in translation- especially during roll call- but it’s one worth looking for.