I finally got around to reading Funny in Farsi by Firoozeh Dumas. This Iranian-born woman regales her readers with tongue-in-cheek stories about growing up in a family of immigrants struggling to make sense of the U.S.A. From getting her reputation as the best key-chain maker in the family, to being horrified by her Muslim father’s dreams of ham, to discovering America – Land of the Abundant Free Samples, the author lovingly portrays the oddities of her family as they make their way in a country so foreign to their roots.
Beyond sharing laughter and culture, though, Dumas’ stories include serious illuminations such as when father Kazem expounds about religion – “You have to look and see what’s in their hearts. That’s the only thing that matters, and that’s the only detail God cares about.” Or when Dumas writes about her father, who couldn’t find a job in the U.S. because of hostilities after the Iran hostage crisis, and how he loved his native country but believed in American ideals – “He only said how sad it was that people so easily hate an entire population simply because of the actions of a few. And what a waste it is to hate…” He sounds like my Japanese grandfather whose similar words are immortalized in Cherry Blossoms in Twilight.
Yes, Funny in Farsi reminded me of growing up with my Japanese mother who survived WWII, married an American and moved near Chicago. Like Firoozeh, I thought my immigrant parent was “not with it.” How odd were her ways compared to my friends’ mothers! Unlike Firoozeh, I did not know much about the “old country” social ways, nor did I completely understand how poverty had affected my parent. It wasn’t until I was an adult that my mother’s stories went beyond simple childhood fun and festivals. It wasn’t until then that I heard the wisdom of my long-gone grandparent’s – “It doesn’t matter what your religious belief, as long as you are facing your god. That’s more important than my religion or your religion.” And “Don’t hate anyone, it doesn’t do any good. They are only doing their duty. This is war.” We may think our parents and older relatives are “not with it,” but pearls come in unlikely packages.
Perhaps this is why I love memoirs of those from different cultures – yes, “those people” seem so foreign, those immigrants seem backwards and funny as they make their own paths between countries – but beyond the differences is the commonality. Reading about others’ experiences is a way of sharing lives and growing bonds. And we all know this world could use more bonding!