How immigrants are redefining 'American' in Southern California

'Yes, he is Mexican...here in Tehrangeles, even the Mexicans speak Farsi'

In the run-up to an event at UCLA tonight titled "What Would a Persian Spring Mean For L.A.?," Zócalo Public Square has published a lovely essay from Iranian American journalist Ashfin Molavi, who writes about how immigrants from Iran have helped shape Los Angeles, just as it has shaped them. And how within the city's vast human mix, the cultural interchange crosses diaspora lines, with different groups influencing each other in ways they may not realize.

Molavi writes about visiting a local Persian restaurant with friends years ago and being greeted by the mustached maitre d', who bowed in the customary way and spoke easily in Farsi, but with an accent Molavi couldn't place. It was then that he learned the man was not from Iran, but Mexico. Not only was Molavi impressed, he writes, but he felt a special sense of acceptance:

I detected an accent in his Persian, but I could not place it. The "khosh amadeed" gave him away. The "Kh" sound"imagine a snore, or someone faking a snore"was the bane of non-Persian native speakers. It came out as a "K" as in "Komeini," or an "H" as in, well, "Homeini."

Back then, I was a journalist with the journalist"s license (or presumption) to ask questions, so I discreetly asked our waiter"a native Persian speaker"about the maitre d". The waiter laughed: "Yes, he is Mexican, but here in Tehrangeles, even the Mexicans speak Farsi." The waiter called him over. The maitre d" smiled, his mustache widening across his face, and came over. He likely knew what was coming: a table full of Iranians and Iranian-Americans"both bemused and beaming"as the Mexican performed his tricks of Persian.

...What he likely did not know was this: for many at the table, a collection of recently arrived immigrants, others who have lived in the U.S. for decades, and visitors from Iran, listening to a Mexican speak Persian and praise the refinement of Persian cuisine and the beauty of Iranian women meant something deep and profound: it meant, at least at this moment, in this restaurant in Westwood, Iran was not equated with terrorism or revolutions or Ayatollah Khomeini or hostage-taking.

Read more at: zocalopublicsquare.org

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