I started speaking english when I turned 3.
I started preschool with only the ABC's and reruns of the Little Mermaid under my belt, which weren't enough to get me by even "What's your name?". Until that day, I'd spent my first three years speaking Farsi at home, learning what English I could from Disney Classics, roller skating in dresses and playing with my baby brother. Preschool was the first American culture shock in my book.
My parents immigrated to Los Angeles separately in their early teens (my dad at 15 in 1977, my mom at 14 1981) without much English under their belts ether. My mom didn't have it so bad. She'd spent 5th Grade in LA for a year, 6th and 7th at an English school in Iran before moving on to boarding school in Switzerland (long story) for 8th and finally back to LA for high school. Her english wasn't all that bad, and she'd even started becoming fluent in French in her one year in Geneva.
My dad though had a rougher time. Sent to LA alone to live with his older brother, my dad had to go through 9th grade a second time as an ESL student since his English wasn't ready yet. 15 years old, 90 pounds, straight off the plane from Iran, with nothing more than "Hello, how are you?" in his English vocabulary. Yikes.
Fast forward some years, and my parents are dating, in their 20's, and have a solid group of Iranian friends who'd immigrated to LA around the time too. Some had gone back to Iran (my mom was going every summer), some had never gone back since they'd left. This new circle of 20 something year old Iranians living in LA's South Bay had to create their own new culture, something in between the lives their parents had lived and what their American counterparts were living. Stuck somewhere between the culture they knew and the new place they found themselves in, my parents and their friends had to wing it.
Let's fast forward some more. It's June 23 1992. I'm born in San Pedro as my family's first generation born in America (well, technically, my dad's brother had my cousin a year before but hey, who's being technical?). My parents start my life by speaking to me in Farsi, feeding me lentil rice and eggplant stew, and taking me to Tehran every year once I turned 3 months old. Regardless though, we lived in West LA. We had a TV. We shopped at Ralph's. I was watching Disney Classic movies, singing Twinkle Twinkle Little Star, roller skating at the park while my mom watched in her shorts and tank top. Soon I started preschool, then off to the Lyçée Francais de L.A. where I would spend my Elementary, Middle and High School years in a European bubble.
Somewhere along the way, from the moment my parents arrived, to this precise moment where I'm typing this, the Iranian culture that my parents knew for the first part of their lives ebbed and transformed into something new, a little confused, a little refreshed, a little something of its own.
I can't tell you what it's like being a local in Tehran. I can't tell you what it's like being a tourist either. All I can tell you is I am who I am thanks to 13 years at a French Immersion school, 19 summers in Tehran, the lady bugs I collected in our backyard, the lemonade stands we had on our vacant Westwood street, and whatever life my parents and circle of friends had created for themselves and us. I like going to Iran as often as I can to see my family 2, 3 maybe 4 times if I'm lucky, before I have to say 'goodbye until next time' for the billionth time. It won't ever not be this way, and that's life, man.