I watch a lot of terrible reality television. I have no shame about it. But the past two weeks, I’ve found myself crying during Shahs of Sunset. And not because I’m watching grown adults act terribly while occasionally speaking Farsi.
For as long as I can remember, I have identified myself as Iranian American when asked my ethnicity. I was born in Indiana. I’ve only been to Iran once. I don’t look particularly Persian and I can’t speak the language outside of a handful of phrases. But, it’s always been something I’ve been proud of. Something I could latch onto and call mine. My mom read me The Hobbit has a bedtime story. My dad read to me in Farsi.
The past two weeks have shown the crew of Shahs heading to Turkey, because it’s the closest to Iran that several cast members could get. One a political refugee, one is gay. They will never be able to step foot in the country they were born in. Watching Asa and her family reunite for the first time since her family fled Iran was harder than I thought it would be. I’ve had that reunion. I may not be a political refugee, my father left Iran for college and has been back several times. But it took 20+ years before he was able to go back. It took 20+ years before I got to meet an entire side of my family that I’d only heard about in stories and whose voices I’d only heard over the phone. Who had only seen me in photos. It took twenty something years for me to be able to discover I had a piece of my heart across the ocean.
Listening to Asa and Reza talk about how the country they love so much is also a country they have so much anger and animosity towards and I understand the conflict. Saying that my dad is from Iran or even just saying the word Iran draws people’s defenses up. The majority of the United States only sees Iran as an evil country. And there is a lot wrong. But there is also so so so much right. My family lives there. Half of my DNA is Iranian. The culture, the history, the land. It’s magical and life changing despite all the war and misguided politics. My trip to Iran was, without hyperbole, the single most life changing event in my life.
I started watching Shahs because it was a reality show on Bravo about Persians. I kept watching because it was a reality show on Bravo about Persians. They looked like my friends and family. Listening to people speak Farsi is my single favorite sound in the world. Watching the show brought a little more of that into my life. But for all of the bad behavior and buying caviar out of a vending machine with $3,500 cash, they’ve done one thing right. They’ve shown that at the heart of this “scary” country is just people. Good people. With families and a history and a love for each other and the language and the food and the country that may not accept them anymore.