September 20, 2016

Where Are You From?

We are celebrating UWC day this Friday and as part of the celebrations we are having a wear a National Dress Day. It is meant to be a low key way to showcase our diversity and give kids a chance to revel in the rainbow pageantry that is our community.

Kids can wear flag colors, national costumes or even sports jerseys of any country to show their internationalism. I get it as a concept, but I have never really been a fan of things like UN day or National Dress Day, because I see these events more as a way to focus on national pride that international diversity. As a third culture kid, I don’t really identify with any one culture or flag or dress and that is the way I think it should be.

Where are you from?

That questions gets harder and harder to answer every year. Is it where I was born? The country that issues my passport? Where my parents are from? My first language? The place where I have lived the longest? The place that changed me the most? Taught me the most? Where I went to High School? Got my degree? Is it the sport team I cheer for in the Olympics? World cup? The place I visit in the summer?

You see it is not easy. To answer for me. My Kiwi fiends don't seem to have any trouble being proud of the country and let's face it, it is a Canadian pastime to be proud of Canada.

But it has never been simple for me. Here is where I am from. You make the call. Then tell me what national dress or costume I should wear?

I was born in Tehran, Iran to two Iranian parents. Farsi was my first language and Iranian culture was a big part of my life growing up. The music, the food, the knowledge of history, geography and cultural norms like Tarohf.

We moved to San Rafael California in 1979 when I was five years old. I went to elementary, middle and high school in Marin county. English quickly became my go-to language, and while I tried to hold onto what it meant to be Iranian, and much to my parents distress, I quickly became an average American kid. Played football. Drank at keggers. Had a girlfriend. You know the drill.

After high school, I moved to San Diego for a short stint at university life at SDSU, because that is where all my friends wanted to go. Decided quickly that frat life wasn’t for me and returned “home” to San Rafael where I lived for a short time before I moved to Novato. I sat in hospitals and I went to a Rainbow gatherings. I found out that girls might actually like me for me. I explored those avenues. I lived on and off there for a few years, occasionally making it back to San Diego, before I finally moved to The City.

San Francisco is where I learned to be an adult. I worked. I went to school. I learned I wanted to write. I learned to stop being homophobic. I got a BA from SFSU and lived my early twenties with a certain self-destructive aplomb. I traveled across the USA twice. Camping in Montana, a week in The Big Easy, Eastern Arizona. Upon graduating, I moved to Mozambique.

Where I lived for two years, teaching English in a beautiful Indian Ocean side village, where I learned to be alone, until I met my future wife Mairin. Mozambique taught me to be empathetic and see the world beyond myself. I learned to be patient and bored. I learned to travel and scuba dive and read for twelve hour sessions. I found the parts of myself that I had lost in SF. I learned how to love and compromise. Well, I started to learn those things. Still working on it. I learned to really travel- Zimbabwe, Malawi, Mauritius, South Africa. I rode trains and flat bed trucks. I saw poverty like I had never seen before, but also joy and song and dance.

After Africa, we were off to NYC where I learned to dream. I taught in the Bronx whilst getting a master degree from Columbia. I lived with Mairin and Ari and we worked hard at living. Study. Teach. Party. Soak up NYC. I learned to love and hate the snow. I commuted and explored. Eyes wide open, I walked the streets with more confidence than I had ever had. I was thirty now and had a finance. I became a socialist and sold newspapers on the streets. I protested wars and went to Paris and the Dominican Republic. I visited friends at Yale and Harvard. I took trains to DC and ate at diners in Adam’s Morgan.

We were ready to be truly international. We moved to Kuala Lumpur. We made friends with adults and had kids. I traveled to lakes and islands and Thailand. I learned to be a dad, sitting up late into the night with the quiet voice of Ben Harper and Kaia’s gentle breath. I stopped drinking because it felt necessary. I owned a scooter and played poker.

Then off to Qatar. Biggest mistake of my life. I felt anguish and pain. I became slightly racist and mostly hated myself. Skyelar was born there. I subdued my hatred and thew out my back.

Next Jakarta. New home. New school. New job. Performing monkeys wearing doll masks and begging children. Trains packed with people and traffic like you wouldn’t believe. Bali and Lombok right next door. By this point we had explored Vietnam, Laos, China, Japan, Thailand, and Tunisia. I had been to Kenya several times and connected with Daraja. A summer workshop in Ireland, layovers in London and Amsterdam.

Finally Singapore. Stability. Doing what I love. Safe. Great friends. Lovely school. Perfect match. Traveling home to California and Wisconsin. Middle age and marathons. Started drinking again. White hair and sore joints. Wisdom of sorts.

So where am I from? What T-shirt or costume could possibly come close to reflecting my identity. I do not believe in flags or anthems or cultures. I am a citizen of the world and no grouping of colors or special hats will ever come close to representing me.

And honestly, I find it slightly disrespectful to try and limit myself to one place. What about all those other places? To finish the phrase, "I am from...." with one place feels like cheating.

I was born in one place, while I learned from so many others. I have fathered children in different countries and have been to nearly every continent. Damn you South America! I have family in Sweden and friends in countless countries. I feel more comfortable roaming the streets of an unknown country than strolling 4th street in my home town.

So come Friday, I will not wear an American flag or an Iranian one, while those two nations are my hyphenated birthright. I will not wear anything from Kenya although I think my heart will always sleep in Africa. Honestly I don’t know what to wear.

I am still thinking about it. I was going to wear a borrowed Raider jersey and claim Raider Nation, but I do not have that jersey. I do have a Pat Tillman jersey that I have worn in the past. And although he was the typical All-American on the surface, he was a much more complicated citizen of the world underneath. A man I can relate. One who I admire.

But if, you have any other suggestions, I am all ears.


  1. Loved every word, the essence of what it means to be a citizen of the world beautifully captured. You should wear a Lion King shirt, Simba and Rafiki on the front to showcase the roaring of your heart over the years and the beautiful friends who sourround you now. And of course, Kenya. My love, too. Nzuri.

  2. "Earth" might work.

    A more decisive answer would be to take the question of "where are you from" as where you started life, Iran. There's much to be proud of there. If you tried to mix all of those rich experiences into one answer, you'd get something bland like when you mix all the paint colors together. But thanks for the Jabiz map, some of which I've read, but not as a whole. Out of curiosity, on your cross US travels, where were you in Eastern Arizona? Springerville? Morenci? Chinle? Thatcher? Bisbee?

    You could wear a solid blank shirt, hang a pen around your neck, and ask people to write where *they* think you are from. Maybe not.

    Although you said you've worn it before, I agree that you could do no wrong with an ASU number 42 jersey.