Grad school’s been hard.
Not because of the amount of readings and assignments, not because of the deadlines and grant applications, not because of re-orienting myself in a new faculty and becoming acquainted with the academic culture of my university.
It’s been hard because I’m investing so much of myself in my research subject. I know that everyone in grad school doing research invests a big chunk of them in it and there are many folks doing work based on their lived experiences and identities. But sometimes, doing this work is really, really emotionally hard and de-stabilizing.
My working research title is:
”Mahn ahz enjah hastam (I am from here): Diaspora and citizenship through the lives of Iranians in Canada.”
I’m doing work on a community I grew up in, a community I am a part of but part of my studies is trying to do a huge catch up on learning the geopolitics of Iran, the history of Iran (pre and post 1979 revolution), how the current regime works, what kind of migration patterns out of Iran there are (pre 1979 revolution, immediately after the 1979 revolution, and current migration) all in efforts to understand what caused the Iranian diaspora to form, how it was created and how it is maintained. For this, I’m looking at everything from activism (transnational networking, solidarity building), the importance of having cultural hubs like Iranian grocery stores and bookstores, how diasporic Iranians understand themselves and express this through mediums such as short stories, music videos, etc. A whole slew of things that require a comprehensive understanding of the various political factions that came out of the 1979 revolution. But most of all, I’m desperately trying to quickly improve my language skills and this, above everything else, is the most emotional and frustrating part of my research.
I was born in Canada, English is my first language and I speak Farsi at home but it’s a hybrid mix of Farsi and English (Fargilisi). When I was a kid an my mama wanted to put me in Farsi class, I refused. I’m regretting this so hard right now. Why didn’t I just go to the weekend classes? Learn the alphabet, learn the script, learn how to read and write in Farsi? I’m really lucky that I have a supportive partner. He’s non-Iranian and is learning the Farsi alphabet (there’s a bunch of cool apps for this) but he’s learning so fast that I can’t keep up! At a family party we were sitting with some of my Iranian girlfriends and Trevor was reading the label of some dried fruit and he said “Toursh” (sour) and we all started laughing and shouting about how we can’t believe he can read it and we can’t!
I’ve taken Rosetta Stone-like CDs from the library to kick-start my language lessons and I know this is going to be a long process and I’m okay with that, it’s an important part of my studies. But there’s something about having to ask your parents for definitions of words, to explain the context of a Farsi video you watch on YouTube that gets really tiring and draining. I wonder am I bugging my parents too much about this stuff? Should I even be doing diasporic Iranian studies if my language isn’t up to snuff? This is the first time in my academic studies I’m relying on my folks to help me, to be an important support, to help guide me with language and cultural references and sometimes, I feel small. I feel small that I have to google translate the Farsi Facebook statuses my friends post. I feel small that I can’t understand the lyrics of my farvourite Iranian rappers. I feel small that I can’t easily talk to my grandma and cousins over the phone on our weekly calls. I feel small that I’m being so self conscious about this and I get frustrated that I won’t allow myself to just sit with this struggle, to recognize how much privilige I hold as a diasporic body and how privileged I am that I am choosing to learn a second language. It’s not something that was forced on me. It’s not something that I have to do in order to survive like my parents did and so many other immigrants and other folks have (especially colonized folks). When it comes to learning Farsi, I have to take a step back and unpack what it all means. I have to remember that there is so much world-wide history of not learning your mother tongue and how many folks were (and still are) systematically not allowed to learn their mother tongues or speak it on a daily basis and how much trauma this has caused people around the world.
I have to remember that Farsi itself is a language that is forced on folks in Iran. As the official national language, it trumps regional dialects and minority languages. I have to remember that Farsi is something my grandmother had to learn when she moved from Northern Iran to Tehran. I have to remember how my grandfather forced her to practice a Gilaki-free (Northern-Iranian dialect) Farsi accent.
I have to remember that I’m not alone in all of this. At the 2013 Allied Media Conference there was a session on (Re)Connecting to our Mother Tongues I wish I had attended (but alas, I was on the bus to Detroit). The description itself sums up so much of how I feel:
We’ll be writing about our experiences as people of color who have been either been told to not speak our language, have been assimilated and are no longer fluent speakers, or have never had the connection at all. We will have time to write about the possible grief that comes with losing connection to mother tongue(s) as well as sharing our words in a safer space open with people of color. Our hope is that participants leave having hope for relearning their language or healing from assimilation.
But unlike many, many folks, I did not experience the kind of state and colonial violence that enforced people to stop using their mother tongues.
These are the multiple thoughts that are constantly swirling through my mind as I delve deeper into my studies.
In my program, we have to draft a program plan that outlines what we plan to research. In this document, I added a footnote as to why I felt it was important to include Farsi in my title ”Mahn ahz enjah hastam (I am from here): Diaspora and citizenship through the lives of Iranians in Canada” and I want to end this post with an excerpt from it:
I felt the need to use Farsi in my title as this program plan is not only an academic endeavour, it is also personal. Growing up, I was never able to master the Farsi language and instead at home would switch between Farsi and Englisi (English) and spoke in a hybrid way called “Fargilisi.” As Eva Hoffman writes, for immigrants (and I would add anyone who has to speak a language which is not their mother tongue) “much of our inner existence, our sense of self, depends on having a living speech within us” and when one is not allowed to or able to speak their own language, they become “alien” to themselves (Gunew 46). For me, integrating Farsi in my work grounds me and reminds me what I am doing here in the academy. My grandmother never had the chance to pursue any kind of education and my mother and father were not able to complete higher education in Canada. It is because of these three life forces and their constant encouragement to pursue education that I am here. And so, I feel I am not only doing doctoral studies for myself, but also for them. Having Farsi in the title reminds me that I am from “here”—Canada, Iran, and my family.
Gunew, Sneja. “The Home of Language: A Pedagogy of the Stammer.” Uprootings/Regroundings: Questions of Home and Migration. Eds. Sara Ahmed et al. Oxford, UK: Berg, 2003. 41-58. Print.
Excerpted from: G., Ronak. “Mahn ahz enjah hastam (I am from here): Diaspora and citizenship through the lives of Iranians in Canada.” York University, 2013.
Thank you for reading.