Being an Iranian American

Al Jazeera travels to Los Angeles’ ‘Tehrangeles’ to explore the complexities of being an Iranian American.

Los Angeles, California – Iranian Americans, like many other Americans with roots in the Middle East and North Africa, have been made to feel like outsiders in the United States

In addition to facing the stereotypes perpetuated by the media, they’ve also been targeted by the US government. 

President Donald Trump‘s travel ban has torn apart families and ruptured the limited exchanges that exist between Iran and the US, two countries that have not had formal diplomatic relations for nearly 40 years.

But over those decades, many Iranians have made the US their home. Their community is among US’ newer immigrant groups, with informal estimates suggesting a population of Iranian Americans that hovers around one million people. 

They have come to the US as students and economic migrants seeking opportunity, as well as refugees and exiles fleeing war, revolution and persecution.

Currently, Southern California is home to what is frequently referred to as the largest community of Iranians outside of Iran – aka “Tehrangeles”. 

As an Iranian American, I had been to Los Angeles a number of times, but I had not really had a chance to fully explore the Iranian parts, beyond perhaps driving past them.

In Part 1 of this latest Untold America series from Al Jazeera, I travel to Tehrangeles to learn about that tumultuous past. I pay a visit to the symbolic centre of LA’s Iranian community, along Westwood Boulevard, and in the process learn what it was like to live through the anti-Iranian sentiment that dominated the US during the Iran Hostage Crisis of 1979-1981. 

We speak to Iranian-American writer and novelist Porochista Khakpour, who came to the US as a child, and then head to an Iranian ice cream shop to speak to its founder about the challenges of starting a business at the height of the hostage crisis.

In Part 2, we travel to some lesser-known parts of the Iranian community in LA and speak with several young, second-generation Iranian Americans about the stereotypes that they have had to navigate while growing up, and how they have gone about constructing their own personal identities through the process.

In Part 3, I return home to Northern California to ask my parents about their immigration story and how they raised me as an Iranian American. While my parents built new lives for themselves in the US, leaving Iran was not an easy choice. 

In Part 4, we ask LA’s Iranian Americans about some of the myths and stereotypes their community faces on a daily basis.

Source: Al Jazeera