Letter from Irangeles

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This week's New Yorker includes fiction from T. Coraghessan Boyle and a piece on the Los Angeles Iranian community by Tara Bahrampour, journalist and author of the memoir To See and See Again. The piece, set mostly in Westlake Village and Westwood, explores why most Iranians here are Republicans and the wrenching question of whether to go back -- and where is home.

Excerpts:

Like Tehran, L.A. is a mountain-ringed, traffic-plagued, smog-filled bowl, where Iranian retirees putter in gardens and wait at bus stops. For exiles living elsewhere, visiting the city can feel as it might for an American who, coming across a U.S. military base in a strange land, suddenly finds himself awash in Kraft Singles and Lynyrd Skynyrd records. It can be comforting, but it can also be suffocating...
Although many Iranians have moved out to Orange County and the San Fernando Valley, those who live in Beverly Hills—where about a fifth of the population is Iranian—have come to embody the stereotype. Their American neighbors often see them as flashy and loud; other expatriate Iranians tend to regard them as caricatures—former royal ministers and other “Shahi” types who fled the revolution with bags of jewels, leaving their Tehran mansions and Caspian Sea villas in the care of servants. Their wives shop for designer clothes on Rodeo Drive; their children grow up to be, or to marry, doctors.

Of course, most L.A. Iranians were never ministers. Like Iranians anywhere, they are rich or poor, Muslim, Jewish, Baha’i, Christian, or Zoroastrian, secular or religious, conservative or leftist, highly educated or less so. But to some extent they are all Úlite. In Iran, they were not maids or shepherds but people who had enough sophistication and cash to get to America. Most are Shiite Muslims, but in West Los Angeles the Jewish Iranians are the most cohesive, connected through synagogues, marriages, and jobs. Few of L.A.’s mosques are Shiite, and, in any case, the last thing that most people fleeing the Islamic revolution wanted to see was a mosque.

[edited]

Some Iranians still refuse, on principle, to go back. Some, like a school friend of mine who came to America when I did, can’t bring themselves to go for fear of disillusionment. Others simply have no interest. I met a trim, bronze-haired Beverly Hills real-estate agent in her fifties, who grew up in Iran at a time when women were expected to be only wives and mothers. Here, she socializes with prominent Iranian academics, psychologists, and journalists. “L.A., to Iranians, is like the Kaaba, like Mecca,” she marvelled. “It’s our second homeland.” But Iranian men her age have been less ready to embrace American culture. “One of the grudges my husband is holding against me is that I brought him here,” she said. “He only reads Iranian magazines, he only watches Iranian TV. He had a much better life in Iran. His passion is teaching, and he lost that here. For him, life in L.A. isn’t that promising.”


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