Iranian In L.A.: More Than Just A Stereotype [Becoming Iranian-American, Pt. 2] | AJ+

“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.

Maurice Vega

100 Responses

  1. What the hell happen with integration then? What message does it send when a person who has lived in LA for more than decades identifies as Iranian??

  2. A Persian who is Muslim is no Persian and a Persian who is surrounded by no-more-muslim Persians is a traitor. Especially Persians should know that this religion came with violence to Iran and has ruined the country.

  3. I think this is the future, the mix that I bound to come. A respect for history, a new identity with he allowance of culturally specific hubs 🙂

  4. I never understood why so many people want to go to LA. I thought it was just game and fortune. Watching these episodes of these different ethnic series I get it. It’s so much more and now I have a part of me that wants to go even though I know of the environmental problems LA is plagued with

  5. Good 2 see some western iranian still proud 2 be Muslim. I know the current iranian regime is corrupt. But Iran itself had many glorious iranian islamic dynasties other than zoroastrian ones like ghaznavids, safavids, qajars, samanids, saffarids, tahirids, buyids.

  6. Zoroastrians in India are actual authentic Persians than Iranians anywhere. Why?They did not convert to Islam during Islamic invasions and came to India . The most important texts of their religion are those of the Avesta which includes the writings of Zoroaster known as the Gathas . In Sanskrit (ancient vedic language ) , "Kathas" means tales/stories ( I guess same is meaning of Gathas). In fact, vedic texts are similar to Avesta but Vedas are much more extensive and there are many scriptures. Aryans means knowledgeable learned who know vedas.
    Zoroastrians in India are very successful and rich, The Tatas, Godrej etc are all big Indian corporates employing many people and they are owned by Zoroastrians .
    It is very good to know that Iranians still know their roots and preserve them even though Islam is their religion. It would be good if they go back to their vedic roots as Indians. Islam has done no good to them .
    Even the Jews came to India . India is home to so many migrations. Tibetan,Jews,Zoroastrians have peacefully mingled in Indian culture. Something in Islam which does not allow to mingle!

  7. Excelente video. I'm surpised that some Iranians speak Spanish, too. I already feel loved by them. Thank you for sharing this. Greetings from Mexico.

  8. Syria also has a lot of Jews. People don't realize that the Mid.East and N.Africa have a lot of Christians and Jews whose heritage there predates the some Jews and Christians in Europe.

  9. My Mom and Dad are from Italy. This is how I feel about Italian-Americans and their portrayal in the media. We are "greasy" "mafioso," etc. I am not like that. Again… this is how the media destroys us.

  10. Persian and Iranian isn’t the same thing. Persian is an ethnicity and Iranian is a nationality. Roughly 54% of Iranians are Persians. Not a case of what’s better or worse but just facts.

  11. you feel love around Iranian only when you forget how selfish ,lier ,jealous and fishy we are .
    was a bad luck to be Iranian myself!

  12. I am a Muslim Iranian and I have to say that I am so proud of our Jewish Iranians. The Jewish Iranian lady in this show was a prime example of it! Very proud of you

  13. Whatever you all checked "white" when you needed a If you really want to feel the struggle check "black or African American". I do respect your community for sticking together and prospering unlike the black community.

  14. Very good documentary so far but I totally disagree with the parent who wants her son to "identify as Muslim" — you shouldn't want your children to identify as anything. If they CHOOSE to be religious then they can be religious, if they CHOOSE islam over other religions, they can do so but don't push anything on them.

  15. I thought Iranians would've identified as Asian-American on the census. For that matter, that's what I would've assumed for every Middle Easterner outside of North Africa. They're basically West Asians.

  16. I think the influence of the Iranian American community can be felt by iranians anywhere outside of Iran. I `ve lived in Malaysia for 15 Years now. And this video just resonates so much. I remember growing up and at times of insecurity i wished i was not so tall, had a smaller nose and just simply blended in better. I hated that people kept pointing me out from my group of friends. And the media created by the iranian amarican community has always been a great help and a way to somehow find your voice. So Thank you very very much!

  17. You sound as narrow minded as the Americans. Persian first is no different to American first. You are creating as much a divide as that idiot Trump is. Does Fatemah break dance,(obviously not) but would she be able to do it in Muslim country? Its all relevant and really people have a right to choose who lives among them, don't you think? I agree its tough and if Americans have turned out so disappointing to you why don't you tell your parents that they made a mistake. In fact people may ask why did they have to leave Iran? What had they done to make it so necessary to leave. That's always what I think about people from dodgy regimes ( as opposed to countries, there is a big difference). I think you need to ask questions about everyone, not just Americans mate.

  18. I GASPED when I heard Yara mention Zoroastrians! I’m Zoroastrian myself, and we’re such a small community, I wouldn’t have ever thought it would be mentioned! Thank you Yara!! Zorastrians represent!!! I need to go visit “Tehrangeles” some time.

  19. Living in LA it was fascinating to explore the various ethnicities that have settled there–Iranian, Armenian, of course Mexican and Latino. A very interesting part of the world.

  20. Iranian does not mean Persian.
    the large percentage of Iranians are not Persian. there are other nations living in Iran who are not Persian.
    it is a huge and wrong misunderstanding that is not many people are aware of! Unfortunately

  21. You fools threw out your king and brought in Imam Al Phaget Child Molestino in the name of love for money and Islam and now that dung hit the fan you are acting like Atheists or you want to come back to the time of Paganism of your Pagan fathers??? ? Instead of changing your wicked nasty mind which is in love with money and believing in the Lord God Jesus Christ! I'm Persian! Death to Islam.. God is destroying you and you idiots can't see it?

  22. Interesting how Iranians and other cultures yearn for culture identity meanwhile us Indians and Chinese create little Indians and Chinatowns in almost every city ? ps love the docuseries

  23. Stupid mom setting up that kid for failure. He’ll end up changing his name when he gets older. Never force your religion on your kids, they’ll hate you later for it.

  24. Glendale is more Armenians than Persians. The west side is more Persians.

    My people are all over. Mexicans <3

  25. 06:58 I wish more young parents would take these wise words into consideration and name their children cultural names instead of plain Americanized names.

  26. Wow! America has become so screwed up over race (which it always has been) white folk are ashamed to be classed as white? A religion is not a race. Many Muslims are white/caucasian. A number of European countries are predominately Muslim. Persians are Indo-European. I've never been to Iran but I've been to Turkey & Armenia (other Indo-European populations) & although there are plenty of Greek/southern Italian olive-skinned looking folk, plenty of them have blue/green eyes & blonde hair- they're white – what's the problem?

  27. Part of the Qatari effort to paint Americans in a bad light and steer up the hate and resentment with communities

  28. As someone who struggled w my dual identity on the Chinese-American spectrum, this was therapeutic to hear stories form another bi-cultural community. You have a beautiful thing going and I wanna try the ice cream one day!

  29. Lol I find it so hilarious listening to Iranians living in America talking about Los Angeles being close/similar to Tehran…any Iranian who has been born in Iran and brought up in Iran will know that Los Angeles will never live up to Iran if Tehran. Iran has its own culture. Something Los Angeles isn’t going to be able to just achieve.

  30. All of you are super hairy and do like wearing you're shirt buttons unbuttoned abit to low. Some things just stick with certain races.

  31. Persian is DNA.
    Iranian is geography.
    Persians ARE white.
    Integration is NOT ASSIMILATION.
    Embrace heritage, but be American!
    Give up the hyphens!
    I hope covers Zoroastrians at some point in this series.

  32. Salam Yari, che tori? ? Hello i am from?? but live in Scandinavia. Mamnoon kheyli khobi video ?❤️

  33. Iranian people and their culture are great. They are really proud nation and I love as well as respect Iranian people. The persian lsounds so sweet that I fell in love with the language.

  34. All my life had this stereotype that Iranians are close-minded, muslim fanatics, radicals, etc etc… until a year ago while I was travelling alone to Turkey, there I met with Iranian traveller couple, they are the nicest strangers I've ever met, the whole experience really changed my stereotype, and they also told me that its not Iranians that are close-minded, religious fanatics, etc, its just the Iran government that is control freak over its people and always use religion to stay in total power and control over its people

  35. Why do you move crazily your head, body, and arms while normal talking like a gay guy!! You are not gay, aren't you?!

  36. i never met an iranian in downtown LA while walking it never happenned in the jewelery store only once

  37. That guy is totally in love with the pretty singer girl. He's nodding a lot, with eyes wide open, totally held captive. I'm sure she mesmerizes many guys – and all people, in fact. She's a very comfortable and confident singer, and seems cool and artsy, too – kind of like Loreena McKennit.

    I didn't know there were working-class Iranians. Those LA Iranian areas look pretty ghetto. That guy in the red-white checked shirt has the most annoying Valley Girl voice. But he's surprisingly deep and interesting in how he identifies as "Iranian from Los Angeles," and how that has a whole dimension to it. They're all annoying LA hipsters.

    Iranians Americans really don't suffer from anywhere near the amount of discrimination, stigmas, and extreme stereotyping of Asian Americans. Iranians live much better and more comfortable lives in comparison to Asians in the US.

  38. They must have looked pretty hard to find those practicing Muslim Iranians.. I have yet to encounter one in SoCal…

  39. What Chloe Pourmorady says is so true: English cannot replace the poetic beauty of Farsi..Farsi is so special

  40. Iranians like all. Jimmy Carter killed Shah and later most of leaders in Iran to bring this Khamenei guy to power. The economy, government, culture and life of Iranians changed by USA (who owns Iran for 60 years) in the last 40 years to stop the growth, for the benefit of US economy. Iran connects the world in the middle. The centre of the world where Asia, Europe, Africa via Middle East, India and Russia meet. The future capital city of the United Earth where all nations will enjoy. Iran (land of Aryan) has the largest and the most mixed population in Middle East.
    Before the rapid growth of Iran (the largest accessible petroleum reserve on Earth with Persian Gulf) stopped in 1979 by the West, Tehran was planned to be the busiest international airport in 1976 being on a direct line from East to West. That changed to Dubai that is 2000 km away from the line, delaying passengers and adding pollution to environment. Thanks to USA controlling petroleum rich Iran and most of Middle East for the last 60 years. They can only delay the inevitable.

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