Persian traditions stay strong

Published 2011-03-28T22:07:00Z”/>


Student celebrates Iranian background, builds bonds in quiet, proud community Serena Cervantes

Last semester, Sabrina Derr, a graduate student in English literature, wrote a poem depicting a picture of her mother after the Iranian Revolution that occurred in 1979.

The poem tells the dynamic relationship between Derr and her mother who have had to face challenges stemming from cultural differences.

The poem is reminiscent of who her mom was before she immigrated to America from Iran in the 1980s, the 21-year-old Derr said.

In America, where immigration is a pervading theme for lots of members of society, new land means traditions get lost, identity gets cloudy, and first and second generation kin are often like the splitting off of different tribes.

Derr, an Iranian-American who grew up in Chico, is one of many other Persians in Chico who continue to celebrate their culture.

After her mother came to America, she married a German-American then gave birth to Sabrina and her younger brother, she said. Her parents are since divorced but the relationship between Derr and her mother is now strong and rewarding based on their mutual search for independence.

Derr’s mother was a free woman for most of her life, Derr said.

As a teenager she was able to wear nail polish and makeup and go to discos, she said.

But after the revolution, the veil was enforced as well as other strict standards for women, Derr said. It turned her mother’s life upside down.

For Derr, her identity is crystal clear because of how greatly Persian culture has been an influence throughout her life, she said.

The cultural division that often separates first from second generation is a subject that is not taught in school, but one that has caused Derr to learn the meaning behind her life’s paradox, she said. The contradiction is that the differences that caused the separation between Derr and her mother have actually shown to reveal how similar they are.

Derr left home at 17 and began college early. She struggled to get through her education and to reach an independence that was unattainable while living under her mother’s roof and her stepfather’s abusive tactics, she said.

“And when I felt that I was being put in danger, I ran away,” she said. “And even though I resented her for not fighting back for me, in many ways she was letting me go the way she was let go – so that we could both grow from it.”

Amid the violence spun by the phenomenon of protests springing up across the Middle East, Derr is making her identity more actualized by planning a trip this summer to visit Iran for the first time, she said. She’ll be traveling with her mother to visit her aunt and uncle.

Derr is not scared to go overseas because the protests are only occurring in certain pockets throughout the nation, she said in an email interview.

“If I was a youth having lived all my life in Iran, I would resolve to muster up all of my courage and protest along with the others,” she said. “Without demonstrations of disapproval, nothing will change.”

Over 60 percent of Iran’s population is younger than 30, Derr said. If all of the younger individuals demonstrated in unison, change could actually be a realistic aim.

“I want nothing more than democracy for Iran,” she said. “It is something they were striving for many years ago, until the Shah’s downfall in ’79.”

The Persian New Year, called Norooz, usually begins on March 21.

Although Derr is proud to be Persian, she tries not to get too involved with the Persian community in Chico because it’s very competitive academically and socio-economically, she said.

But she enjoys Norooz and the Persian community in Chico hopes to celebrate the holiday around April 2.

One of the leaders in Chico’s Persian community, Farshad Azad, who teaches martial arts on Walnut Street and is also a kinesiology lecturer, said that the general public is free to contact him at [email protected] for more information regarding the free event celebrating the day.

Master Azad, also an immigrant from Iran, hopes that his country will one day achieve democracy, he said. Iranians are notorious for wanting to deny their ethnic backgrounds and quickly assimilate into American culture, he said.

“Because Iran is such a negative light right now in the media, a lot of Iranians don’t go around saying they’re Iranians because they’re self-conscious,” Azad said. “To me it’s a lost race, a lost generation because they don’t know to walk like a lion or walk like a duck, because they are neither.”

Norooz is therefore a time for all members to come together and be proud that they are Iranian, Azad said.

Iranian-American author Laleh Khadivi gave a fiction reading in Trinity Hall Room 100 at 7:30 p.m. March 10, for her new book “The Age of Orphans.”

Derr and Master Azad both attended the reading for Khadivi’s book and were enlightened by its opposing themes of loyalty to land and orphanhood.

Derr said that the book focuses on a character whose identity is fractured after being adopted by soldiers who killed his family. He is then forced to become a soldier and to forget his identity.

“For me my identity is so clear,” Derr said in reference to Khadivi’s book. “Like on a financial aid packet or on an application they ask you, ‘What is your ethnicity?’ I always put ‘Persian.'”

Serena Cervantes can be reached at

[email protected]


  1. Photograph of my mother after the Iranian Revolution