How immigrants are redefining 'American' in Southern California

L.A. through an Iranian American poet's eyes

Photo by Bobby-Lewis/Flickr (Creative Commons)


As filtered through the eyes of immigrants and refugees, Los Angeles can be many things: frightening, beautiful, confusing, a storied paradise that is incredibly difficult to live in. And as the years wear on and their American-born children grow up here, a place that becomes home nonetheless.

Here's one glimpse of the city as seen by Majid Naficy, an Iranian American poet who fled Iran in 1983, four years after the revolution, and wound up in Venice Beach.

Naficy was profiled on KPCC today by my colleague Ruxandra Guidi. After more than 30 years in the United States, Naficy said in the interview, "I have both worlds within me.” He also provided us with a few of his poems, including this ode to the city, written in 1994.

Ah, Los Angeles

Ah, Los Angeles!
I accept you as my city,
And after ten years
I am at peace with you.
Waiting without fear
I lean back against the bus post.
And I become lost
In the sounds of your midnight.

A man gets off Blue Bus 1
And crosses to this side
To take Brown Bus 4.
Perhaps he too is coming back
From his nights on campus.
On the way he has sobbed
Into a blank letter.
And from the seat behind
He has heard the voice of a woman
With a familiar accent.
On Brown Bus 4 it rains.
A woman is talking to her umbrella
And a man ceaselessly flushes a toilet.

I told Carlos yesterday,
"Your clanging cart
Wakes me up in the morning."
He collects cans
And wants to go back to Cuba.
From the Promenade
Comes the sound of my homeless man.
He sings blues
And plays guitar.
Where in the world can I hear
The black moaning of the saxophone
Alongside the Chinese chimes?
And see this warm olive skin
Through blue eyes?
The easy-moving doves
Rest on the empty benches.
They stare at the dinosaur
Who sprays stale water on our kids.
Marziyeh sings from a Persian market
I return, homesick
And I put my feet
On your back.
Ah, Los Angeles!
I feel your blood.
You taught me to get up
Look at my beautiful legs
And along with the marathon
Run on your broad shoulders.

Once I got tired of life
I coiled up under my blanket
And remained shut-off for two nights.
Then, my neighbor turned on NPR
And I heard of a Russian poet
Who in a death camp,
Could not write his poems
But his wife learned them by heart.

Will zad read my poetry?
On the days that I take him to school,
He sees the bus number from far off.
And calls me to get in line.
At night he stays under the shower
And lets the drops of water
Spray on his small body.
Sometimes we go to the beach.
He bikes and I skate.
He buys a Pepsi from a machine
And gives me one sip.

Yesterday we went to Romteen's house.
His father is a Parsee [1] from India.
He wore sadra and kusti [2]
While he was painting the house.
On that little stool
He looked like a Zoroastrian
Rowing from Hormoz to Sanjan.

Ah, Los Angeles!
Let me bend down and put my ear
To your warm skin.
Perhaps in you
I will find my own Sanjan.
No, it's not a ship touching
Against the rocky shore;
It's the rumbling Blue Bus 8.
I know.
I will get off at Idaho
And will pass the shopping carts
Left by the homeless
I will climb the stairs
And will open the door.
I will start the answering machine
And in the dark
I will wait like a fisherman.

January 12, 1994
>>>Also in Persian
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NOTES
[1] The Parsees are the descendants of Zoroastrians who emigrated from Iran to Gujarat (in India) during the Arab conquests. In 1599, Bahman Key Qobâd, a Gujarati Parsee, wrote an epic poem in which he depicts such an migration on a ship from the Straits of Hormoz in the Persian Gulf to the port of Sanjan in India.
[2] The sadra and kusti are special tunics and belts worn by Zoroastrians after puberty.


The Azad featured in the poem is Naficy's son, now the hip-hop artist Azad Right. The entire profile with audio samples of both men's art can be downloaded here.
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