When Your Name Is The Name Of A Dead Woman

Map of Iran i i
iStockphoto.com
Map of Iran
iStockphoto.com
Neda Pourang

Neda Pourang has worked as a costumer, designer and public radio reporter in New York and Los Angeles. She is included in an upcoming book of short stories called Lost and Found: Stories of New York and is editing her first novel. She lives in Los Angeles. Courtesy of Neda Pourang hide caption

itoggle caption Courtesy of Neda Pourang

My name is Neda, and I am one of the many people who left Iran as a small child after the revolution of 1979.

I spent my early childhood in Oxford, England, my teens in Southern California and most of my adult life in New York City. I returned to Los Angeles just a few years ago to rejoin my parents and siblings.

And that's really all I ever have to say about "where I'm from."

I don't have many Iranian friends, I speak Farsi with a broken accent, I have never thought I'd go back to Iran to visit, nor have I really cared.

But all that has changed in the past two weeks.

On June 22, CNN aired a YouTube video, the authenticity of which, like so many of the videos and images coming out of Iran these days, cannot be verified. But it purported to show an Iranian girl, also called Neda, bleeding to death on a street in Tehran. I watched this video along with millions of Americans, and I would like to say that watching it has helped me understand who I am, but that is only partly true.

The bigger reality for me is more convoluted.

I am suddenly overcome with personal grief over leaving Iran and missing out on knowing what it's like to belong in the country you live in, and to be a part of a movement for change.

In Farsi, the phrase "Delam Tangeh" means "I miss." Translated literally, it means "my heart is tight," and you can add the noun explaining what it is that your heart is tight for — what it is that you miss. But, unlike in English, you don't have to have a noun to pair with the phrase. You can just say "I miss" without having to explain what it is you're longing for. It's simply culturally understood that you can feel that something is lacking and not know what that something is — an empty melancholia for an unnamed want that the language allows for.

It was absolutely awful being an Iranian kid outside of Iran; and I have spent the past 30 years trying to not be Iranian — trying to disappear when walking past the English schoolboys when I was a little girl so they would not call me names, or say things about hostages and camels and all the words that made me pray to wake up as someone else. And when I finally became comfortable in England — after years of practice, morphed into a local schoolgirl who played cricket, we moved to the U.S. and the whole thing started over again.

In high school in California, I was an Albert Camus-quoting Iranian girl with a British accent and strict parents amid a sea of curling-ironed, lip-glossed girls in varying stages of losing their virginity.

So I practiced my California dialect and lost the British accent quickly — it only came back when I had my first cocktail years later. Nothing stays buried.

I was saturated with English and American pop culture — Western music, books and movies. Everything I heard, saw and read, I assimilated into my persona. I am the first generation immigrant dream — a citizen who is rarely considered foreign.

Once in a while, I'll meet other Iranians who left as little kids, and I'm amazed. Some of them seem like they just got here. They speak, eat and dance Iran! They are proud and involved and surrounded with one another and look at me with vague pity and bemusement. I am sooo American to them.

But these past few days, as I've seen and heard my own name all over the internet and on TV, I have gone into a cultural tailspin.

Mostly, I feel like a fraud.

I lost a big part of myself, which I no longer feel I have a right to. The media made me feel ashamed of being Iranian when I was a child and now tells me to be proud. My weird name is suddenly full of meaning.

Along with the hope and concern I feel for the people of Iran — my people — I also feel a huge sense of loss.

I will be morphing again now, back to whatever sort of Iranian woman it turns out I am. Whatever is left of Neda inside me will be reexamined through all the Shakespeare, Tennessee Williams, film noir and Madonna that has been piled on top of her.

It's the start of a new era but the end of another, and so goodbyes have to be said.

Goodbye to all the disguises and twisted shapes we have taken to make ourselves convenient.

Goodbye to saying you're Persian instead of Iranian when somebody unexpectedly asks your nationality. Goodbye to explaining that you are not a practicing Muslim (in case someone associates you with terrorists).

Iranians take ages to say their goodbyes. They — we — permit ourselves to not like parting. We don't think it's the least bit codependent, just normal not to want to end an embrace or wrap up an era. Normal to miss something you don't have the words to describe.

There is only one way to describe that glowing, windy space that all departures leave behind themselves.

Delam Tangeh.

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