INTERVIEWED BY ELEANOR PARK
Parastoo Aramesh is a rising freshman at Kent State University, where she will be studying fashion design with a possible double major in ESL teaching. As an immigrant who is in touch with both Iranian and American culture, Parastoo has noticed many cultural differences and similarities between the two cultures. In this interview, she also shares some of the challenges she faced/faces as an immigrant and how she overcame them. Some of her interests include fashion design, sewing, and cooking, which she also discusses through a cultural perspective.
When visiting Iran, what cultural differences are most prevalent?
“Biggest thing is of course the mandatory hijab for women which the government enforces and they have agents throughout the city to check for this”
What smaller differences exist between Iran and the U.S. that most people may not notice?
“[In Iran, it’s clear] how much more people interact with each other. When you know the shop owner, you greet them in a more trendy way than you would in America where you don’t really know the person checking out your items at the store.”
What are some cultural similarities?
“People in both the US and Iran talk a lot about politics and sports. We both talk about the politics of the US government, but we talk about soccer, not American football or baseball.”
When you first moved to the US, what were the hardest things to adjust to? And what were some similarities between the US and Iran that were easier to adjust to?
“The education system here was a big adjustment. I have found that in most countries, the education system reflects the government system. In Iran, teachers ruled like tyrants; they had absolute power and were feared. I was so scared when I forgot my homework the first time here in the US, and I was surprised when the teacher did not yell at me or kick me out of class. It was also hard because I did not know what to expect or how to plan my academic future. While other students were planning to take courses that would help them in college, I did not even know what things like honors or AP classes were until much later.”
Do you feel that being in the U.S. prevents you from being in touch with your culture?
“Definitely, especially in Pittsburgh where there isn’t as big of an Iranian Community as many other US cities. Here, it’s harder to keep the same [Iranian] language skills or keep updated on everything. I recently have been told by other Iranians that I’ve developed an American accent and am losing my Iranian accent when I speak English, which I’m not very happy about.”
What are some ways you and your family are staying in touch with your culture while being in the U.S.?
“We try to find and interact with as many other Iranians here as possible, and I even found an Iranian friend close to my age. We also visit Iran every summer, but because of COVID-19, this is the only summer we have not visited, making this my first full year in the US.”
What is traditional fashion like in Iran?
“Traditional fashion is not at all what is enforced by the government which is sometimes what people think. Our traditional clothes depend a lot on the region but they are very colorful and bright with lots of ornamentation. In the north for example, women wear long gathered skirts with colorful stripes”
What are some fashion differences that exist between the U.S. and Iran?
“Iran is a very conservative country, and the government enforces conservative policies on the people with an iron first. In school, earrings, bracelets, nail polish, even puffy hair ties and low socks were forbidden. It was an adjustment for me to see people in the US who were my age with dyed hair, lots of makeup, and relatively revealing clothes.”
What is modern fashion like in Iran? How does it compare to fashion in the U.S.?
“Iran’s theocratic government enforces a mandatory hijab for women and some looser restrictions for men. Women have to cover their hair and body when outside or in the presence of men (who are strangers). There actually have been protests recently with young women taking off their head coverings and tying them on a stick, but sadly they were all imprisoned for it. There are different levels of hijab, however, and not every woman wears a burqa as some people in the US think. There are more religious women who wear black chadors head to toe, and there are younger, more liberal women who wear loose scarves. There are special morality police in Iran who patrol the streets looking for people (mostly women) who violate the dress code to arrest them. I personally have been warned by these agents before to cover up when my scarf was sitting too far back on my head. In fact, one time at the airport, the agent said I was showing too much of my ankles so I needed to change into longer pants.”
What’s your favorite Iranian dish to make?
“The most famous and universally loved Iranian food is the Kabob, and koobideh kabob is the best. I personally really like koffteh, which is a ball made with rice, meat, herbs, and split peas with dried plum and walnuts in the middle and cooked in a tomato sauce. We also have a lot of stews that we eat over rice and use lots of herbs/greens like cilantro and parsley. There are not any Iranian stores or restaurants in Pittsburgh, so we get our supplies either from Iran or from Washington D.C. Deserts often use cardamom powder, rose water, and saffron. Iran (and specifically the city I was born in) actually supplies 94% of the world’s saffron.”
Have you ever made any fusion-type foods?
“My mom once made kookoo-sabzi (made with parsley, green onion, and dill) but used broccoli instead and we all got very mad at her.”
TEACHING ESL AND INTERACTION WITH INTERNATIONAL FRIENDS
Do you think your cultural background has helped fuel your passion for helping ESL and international students?
“Definitely. 90% of my friends here are Asian immigrants. It’s easy to become friends when you have a shared background and experience. I’m actually thinking of becoming an ESL teacher too. I always help my friends with English essays or emails, so I really enjoy it.”
How do you stay in touch with your international friends? What are some of the most notable differences between your experiences and theirs?
I still keep in touch with my Iranian classmates and childhood friends through Instagram. We used to have a group chat on an app called Viber but it got blocked by the Iranian government so I lost touch with them. A lot of those Iranian friends have also moved to other western counties. The school I went to in Iran had a highly affluent population, so most of them who could afford it moved from Iran or have sent their children to study in the west.
Lastly, to learn more about culture, books are always a great resource!
What books or movies would you recommend to anyone who wants to learn more about Iranian culture or history?
“Persepolis is a must read! It’s a graphic novel and it’s about a girl who grows up just as the Islamic Revolution changed everything in Iran. They made an animation about it too, so I highly recommend it. Funny in Farsi is a more lighthearted and funny novel about the memoirs of an Iranian girl growing up in America and each chapter is about one of her experiences. It is really funny and has a sequel called Laughing without an Accent.”