After The Revolution
Barry Sedhagt stands around the entrance of Wheatley Kosher Bakery and laments a standard dilemma: “Now we are losing our traditions. I speak Farsi. My children speak much Farsi, but I am certain that their children will not.”
Nearly every immigrant community repeats this refrain in some way after a generation, and at 30 years, the Persian community is now right at that generational shift.
“We decided to teach our children English as their first language,” says Mina Rabbani Babazadeh. “Farsi became the mysterious ‘secret language’ to them.”
The Iranian-American generation first born and raised here is grown. They’re now deciding where in the space between Iranian and American to identify.
David Sadeh explains that his children and wife have taken on far more religious lifestyles than he. Sabi’s antique shop is a quiet realm of abstract values, and his two grown sons now work stocks. (“I never understood why,” he says as he shakes his head and laughs. “I don’t know anything about it.”)
In Iran, Babazadeh was a product of the liberal, secular pre-revolution environment—a Jewish female painter, a single young urban woman, a university student—and now watches with interest how many of the Iranian immigrants have grown more Orthodox in Great Neck. Some of her children, like her son Alex, picked up a real interest in their heritage as they entered adulthood.
Others, not as much. Some of the young generation has followed Iranian cultural tradition by staying close to home and marrying within the culture. Others have branched out.
In December, Babazadeh was part of a national conference put on by the organization Thirty Years After, whose focus is to get Iranian-Americans more active in the politics of their new nation.
The challenge of this transition became especially complicated last Monday, when protests in Iran sparked by the recent turnovers in Egypt and Tunisia broke out against the current regime. These protests were put down violently by the Iranian government, but they didn’t fail to flare up attention.
For many of the younger Iranian-American generation, these protests are more familiar than the 1979 revolution. Mina Rabbani Babazadeh’s son, Alex, watched the events in Egypt, and now in Iran, with great enthusiasm.
“My peers and I want to be optimistic,” he says, “while we have the pessimistic views of our parents hindering us from really thinking there is a chance the regime could be toppled…[our parents] are more skeptic and cynical about these peaceful uprisings ever making an effect on such a harsh and brutal regime.”
A change in government could create mixed feelings within this community, which left Iran behind 30 years ago. Still, none of the Iranian-Americans interviewed for this piece expressed a desire to return to Iran. Alex Babazadeh has asked his relatives many times if they would go back, and he says the answer is routinely “No.” Says Alex, “They saw their country that they grew up in transform into something they no longer can identify with.”
To the older generation of Babazadeh, Sadeh and Sabi, the concept of watching another revolution may not be an exciting one, regardless of who’s revolting. They have seen a “people’s revolution” before and where it can go.
On Tuesday morning of this past week, activists in Tehran were working to drum up larger protests against the government.
On Long Island, Babazadeh was teaching an art class, Sabi was manning his desk, and Wheatley Kosher Bakery was working to repair their broken oven.
“I knew when I left Iran I would never go back,” says Mina. “It was strange, but I was ready.”