Bringing American culture closer to new immigrants
Every single person has at least one good story to share, so make sure you talk to one another, a best-selling Iranian-American author told a diverse audience of Bunker Hill Community College students and faculty.
Firoozeh Dumas, the author of Funny in Farsi: A Memoir of Growing Up Iranian in America and the recipient of the Spirit of America Award 2008, spoke at BHCC on Thursday, April 18, as part of the College’s Compelling Conversations speaker series. Dumas, who was born in Abadan, Iran, and moved to Whittier, Calif., when she was seven years old, captivated the audience with her funny anecdotes about immigrant experiences in the United Sates and encouraged the students to keep an open mind.
“Everybody has a story to tell. And every story is interesting,” Dumas said. “In this culture we tend to think that only celebrities are interesting. But they are not more interesting, they are just more photogenic.”
The renowned author explained that her father, a former Fulbright scholar, was her main inspiration to write Funny in Farsi. According to Dumas, he was an excellent storyteller who would go grocery shopping and come back with such stories that made her think “Gosh, I should have gone with him”.
“So when I grew up, I discovered that I knew so much because of my father’s little stories. And when I became a mother, I wanted my children to know my stories,” Dumas said.
Firoozeh Dumas was a 36-year-old mother of two when she decided to join a writers’ group. There were 20 people in the group, and the average age was 76.
“I felt very intimidated because I thought ‘Who am I to be writing my life stories, when I’m sitting next to someone who actually served in World War II,” Dumas said.
She recalled the racism Iranians and Muslims in general felt after the 1979 Iran hostage crisis, a diplomatic crisis between Iran and the US, in which 52 Americans were held hostage for 444 days. Dumas said that, all of a sudden, she went from being from a country nobody knew to being from a country everybody hated, with T-shirts and bumper stickers that said “Iranians, Go Home” everywhere.
Dumas shared an anecdote from that post-Iranian revolution period about an American repairman who came to their house to fix the fridge. Young Firoozeh noticed a bumper sticker on the repairman’s car that said “Wanted: Iranians for Target Practice” and was terrified when the man, having heard them speaking a foreign language, asked where they were from. Despite being oblivious to the bumper sticker, her mother, Nazireh, without missing a beat, said “Turkey.”
“That was the only time in my life when I lied about being Iranian. But here was this guy standing in our house. He was way bigger than we are and had a tool belt on. And I remember thinking this is very wrong. This should not be happening in America,” Dumas said.
The writer discovered that for most Americans, Iran was a country they knew nothing about. Since it is not a vacation destination or the part of the world that is covered in general curriculum in schools, the first time most Americans hear about Iran is on the evening news. The problem, according to Dumas, is that only bad news makes news.
“I often tell educators to ask their students to pretend they have just come to America and know nothing about Americans. Have them watch the evening news for five nights in a row, and have them write an essay about what the Americans are like, just based on what they see on the evening news. No one would ever leave the house,” Dumas said.
When asked if her tense relationships with her French in-laws, described in Funny in Farsi, have improved, Dumas responded in her signature humorous way.
“Let me tell you a joke first,” Dumas said. “What is the difference between in-laws and outlaws? Outlaws are wanted.”
Dumas added that she has never said anything negative about her in-laws to the children, since it is really easy to turn children against someone and stressed that sometimes one just has to be patient.
“Just hang in there. It takes about 13 years,” Dumas said.
Image Credit: Amazon.com
Have you read Funny in Farsi? What do you think?