Flooding my Twitter trail and buzzing in my ears is all this noise about Iran. From celebratory photos of Tehran's streets following the news of a historic nuclear deal to fearful anti-Iran speech to cultural icebreakers like Shahs of Sunset -there is an effort to show the world the "real" image of Iran.
I have seen a surge of articles capturing the beautiful landscapes, the savory cuisine and most importantly -- the humanity of the Iranian people. With the help of Anthony Bourdain and HONY's Brandon Stanton, I feel confident that the world gets to see a glimpse into an Iran that has until now been overshadowed by political tensions.
As a millennial Iranian-American, I too find myself constantly learning about my own roots. I was born in Los Angeles and raised in Atlanta, but I spent many summers visiting the land my parents called home ages ago. Just as the international community struggles to understand their feelings towards Iran, I have grown up watching my peers do the same.
Why do women wear headscarves? What does our culture stand for? Why can't the two halves of my identity get along? When I was in middle school, I had a tendency to reject the parts of me that were Iranian, because I felt that my parents' traditions did not always align with mine. I wanted to be a "real" American. I'm pretty sure one time in sixth grade, I actually cried staring at a cover of an Olsen twins Christmas album -wishing I looked like them.
Looking back, I think I just wanted to be Mary-Kate Olsen, because I thought she was, you know, super cool. But, this battle between my American lifestyle and Iranian heritage still remained nestled in my mind.
I remember my trip to Tehran when I was a teenager. My mom had been taking me to visit so our family could see us, but this was my first time understanding my surroundings. Walking around the bazaars, everyone took just one look at me, and they knew I was not from there. The man selling corns bathing in saltwater called out to my family in Farsi, "Our American friends! Come, come, welcome!" I was taken by surprise.
How did he know? I looked just like the stereotype -black hair, thick eyebrows, everything.
What was even more surprising was how genuinely excited he was to speak with us, because we were from the United States. This warmth was what I always associated with my visits.
When I think of Iran, I think of drinking chai while overlooking Tehran's city lights, fresh cantaloupe smoothies and the ice cream cones -swirls on swirls on swirls. I think of couples flirting in the park, the smiles of children playing soccer in the neighborhood and business professionals racing back and forth like true New Yorkers.
If all this sounds cliché, it is because -- it is. And that is what I have learned the most about my relationship with Iran -that the "real" Iran is really like anywhere. It is a state of contradictions with a history of dark shadows and modern day challenges. I care for Iran too much to pretend that it is a place without flaws.
But, I also believe it is a state with an ever evolving culture, vibrant citizen body and progressive hope -- a civilization with roots in poetry, philosophy and the arts. And from the looks of Instagram and Facebook, I'm not sure if that same man selling corn could again distinguish me from today's Iranian youth. The last time I checked, there are kids bumping Kanye, rocking espadrilles and posting selfies from Tehran to ATL -- a reflection of global pop culture.
To explain what is the real Iran is like trying to explain what exactly is the real America. There is no standard definition, and as a proud Iranian-American, I think there's room for improvement and appreciation for both.
Let's give pro-peace a chance to find out how the two can grow together.