“First off, I want to know how you guys identify yourselves.” “How do you identify?” “Depends if we’re at TSA or not.” Hi, I’m Yara. In episode 1 of this series, I explored a slice of Iran in Los Angeles, also known as “Tehrangeles.” But now, I want to see how young Iranian-Americans are breaking down the stereotypes and assumptions a lot of other people might have about us. There’s a certain stereotype about Iranian-Americans, especially those in Los Angeles. “White BMW.” That they’re rich, shallow and made for reality TV. “Ohhhhh, like a Persian.” But I personally don’t relate to those depictions at all. I’m definitely not flashy. I mean, I wear the same pair of black pants every single day. But I do change my socks. And many young Iranian-Americans don’t relate to these stereotypes, either. Like Alex Shams, who grew up in L.A. He showed me a side of the Iranian-American community here that you don’t see on TV. And, surprise, he doesn’t have any gold chains or drive a white BMW. “We are in downtown Los Angeles, in the jewelry district. So there’s a lot of gold shops everywhere around us, and jewelry shops of all kinds, with a lot of Iranians working around here.” Alex showed me how Tehrangeles extends far beyond its symbolic center in Westwood, and into downtown L.A.’s jewelry and garment districts. “Many Iranian merchants here, in the valley and many other places, they end up learning Spanish because most of their clients, for example, are Spanish-speaking.” “Oh my god.” “I just want to hear a mixture of both: “I found two Iranians who speak Spanish!” “What do people misunderstand about the Iranian community in L.A.?” “I think there’s a certain image that many people outside of Los Angeles have of Iranians, particularly because of shows like Shahs of Sunset which show this kind of really particular Westwood, rich Beverly Hills, L.A. Iranian that I think is definitely a part of the community, it’s definitely a part of what’s happening, but it’s so much more diverse than that. Both in terms of the neighborhoods that Iranians live in across the city, and the kinds of jobs they’re doing, the kind of lifestyles they have, socio-economically.” Alex is right. There are wealthy and working-class Iranians. Secular and religious Iranians. Muslim, Christian, Jewish, Zoroastrian and Baha’i Iranians. Just about every kind of Iranian you can think of lives in L.A. Including some incredible artists and musicians. “Sometimes I’ll hear a melody, and it’ll be a melody that needs voice, but it won’t sound good in English. So it needs to have Farsi words on it. Because the Persian language is so sweet and melodic.” This is Chloe Pourmorady. She’s an Iranian-American Jewish musician who’s never been to Iran, but she’s fully in touch with her Iranian – or Persian – identity. “I feel so, so blessed to have been brought up here, because I think this is the closest place outside of Iran that you can get to Iran. If you want to really immerse yourself in Persian culture, you can do that very easily in Los Angeles. People call me American, but it’s still something in my heart that doesn’t resonate so much. I feel in my heart the Persian is first.” “Does your Jewish faith incorporate itself into your music?” “Spiritually it does. I sometimes use text from the Torah. Very beautiful, very poetic texts, much like you would find in poetry of Rumi or Hafez or something like this.” Chloe’s music is unlike anything I’ve ever heard. It’s part Persian, Jewish, Turkish, Greek and Balkan. “I remember I had a composition professor. He found out I was both Iranian and Jewish, he was very startled. He said, ‘You’re Jewish? I thought you were Iranian,’ not thinking that it’s possible to be both. Which it totally is.” The Iranian Jewish community is a huge part of the Tehrangeles story. They’ve opened restaurants, …supermarkets… …and even pharmacies. And that’s just a small taste of how they’ve shaped L.A. It was obvious to me the “Shahs of Sunset” stereotype is really blown out of proportion. But there’s also another stereotype that young Iranian-Americans also have to grapple with. That of the dangerous, scary Middle Easterner. [screaming] “Our biggest threat is now Iran.” To talk about this, I caught up with Justin and Fatemeh Mashouf, an Iranian-American couple who are also practicing Muslims. “Oh yeah, by the way, so Justin breakdances.” Justin is half-Iranian, and in 2007 he traveled to Iran to make a documentary about breakdancing. It was his way of trying to bridge the gap between Iran and the United States. “Coming back to the U.S., I was interrogated at Homeland Security, and all of the footage that I had shot in Iran was confiscated from me. And I had to do multiple, extensive interviews with the FBI in order to regain the footage. It was a huge kind of blow, I think, to my own sense of feeling, being an American because, all of a sudden, it was like, ‘What the hell are you doing? You’re treating me like a terrorist.’” Iranian-Americans and other Middle Easterners are marked as “white” by the U.S. government. But a lot of us don’t agree with being labeled that way. Many like Justin have grown up with constant reminders that they are not white, especially after 9/11 and the “War on Terror.” “College applications, job applications, Iranian-Americans are confronted with this question, ‘What race are you?’” “Even though I know I’m technically supposed to check ‘white,’ no, I’m not going to.” “My whole life, I’ve always just put ‘other,’ and then put, you know, ‘Iranian-American.’ Even though people would see me as, like, ‘Whatever, you’re white, just put the Caucasian box.’ I would just, I would always say I’m biracial.” “In the Iranian-American community, what is it like being, kind of, I guess I can say a devout or a practicing Muslim?” “I grew up in a Muslim household where, amidst all my cousins and aunts and uncles, we were the most Muslim of them. So I constantly had this struggle to figure out, like, well, how Muslim do I want to be?” While most Iranians have a Muslim background, those in L.A. are predominantly secular. So life as a practicing Muslim here can sometimes be difficult. “If I’m going to wear hijab, it really creates a bind for me to be able to connect with Iranians. For the first time, with the travel ban, I feel like Iranians are kind of coming together and saying no – as a people, we stand up and say that this is wrong.” “We named him after he was born. We decided for Sajjad Ali. And it became very important for us that just because he can pass off as white, because he is three-quarters Persian, and because we want him to identify as Muslim, that his name precedes all of that.” There was one more thing I had to do while I was in L.A.: get some amazing Iranian food. Alex recommended a place called It’s All Good House of Kabob, a restaurant you’d only find in Tehrangeles. Just look at the walls. This is the only place in America I’ve seen serve Isfahani biryani. It’s kind of like a really flavorful Iranian lamb burger with lots of herbs and spices. “This is what happens when you try to eat for a camera.” “Was there ever a moment in your life when you became more aware of your, sort of, Iranian identity?” “When the U.S. invaded Iraq, I was at a school where there were actually no Iranians. People would call me ‘Saddam Hussein’ and ‘Osama bin Laden’ in the halls.” “Oh my god.” “The difference between an Iraqi, an Afghan, an Iranian or anything else didn’t really matter. There was a kind of hatred towards Muslims, towards people who look Muslim.” “I very much wanted to blend in, I didn’t want to look different. I mean, obviously I had these eyebrows and these facial features. Interestingly enough, yeah, the mustache just came out very quickly, I should say.” “Hair developing quickly is a big theme with Iranians, I think. It’s the moment when you realize there’s something different about you. That’s when your whiteness suddenly falls apart.” “Here’s the big question. Persian or Iranian or Iranian-American or something else?” “I prefer to identify myself as Iranian, and often I specify Iranian from Los Angeles because I really do feel like the fact that I’m from Los Angeles adds a certain dimension to my Iranian-ness that for me is like powerful. This combination of people, this diversity that exists in Los Angeles, I think, has really shaped how I think about being Iranian.” Talking to young Iranian-Americans in L.A., I’ve realized something: Despite all the stereotypes and discrimination, a lot of us are actually embracing our Iranian-ness. It made me think about my own dual identity, as someone who didn’t grow up in Tehrangeles. I wanted to talk to my family about what they went through. And how that’s helped me become my own version of Iranian-American. So we’ve given you a little taste of L.A.’s Iranian community in the past two episodes, but the truth is, there’s little pockets of Tehrangeles all over southern California — in Glendale, Irvine, Palos Verdes — everywhere. In the next episode, though, we’re heading back to northern California to interview my own parents. Don’t forget to subscribe for more stories from Untold America.