This weeks reading “The Visual Culture Reader” by Nicholas Mirzoeff, examines cultures of diasporas in relation to Africans and Jews. This piece has allowed me to reflect on many things that relate to my own Iranian-Jewish heritage, where I stand as a first generation Iranian American, after my parents fled Iran during the Revolution of 1979.
The Iranian Revolution of 1979 was a moment in history that forever changed the face of Iran’s culture, and the way the country functioned. The Islamic fundamentalist government that overthrew King Mohammad Reza Pahlavi embarked on severe tactics that suppressed the old regime and removed any practice of Western culture from Iranian society. This new supremacy disconnected it’s citizens from television, music, women’s rights, and drew them further into an ‘old regime’ of religious radicalism, and anti-Semitism.
I find it difficult to ask the question of what it means to be in Diaspora? It is suggested that it is desired by a sense of renewal but Mierzoff tells us that Diaspora, by its very nature, cannot ever be fully known or understood because of a paradox between Diaspora and visual culture. This reading emphasizes the racism that is presented in the paradox between Africans and Jews and allowed me to reflect on my own heritage as a Diaspora in the United States. This reading reminded me of a piece I read by Hamid Naficy, called “The Making of Exile Cultures,” where he uses a case study of Iranians living in Los Angeles to analyze theoretical constructs such as: nostalgia, transnational self, and symbolism. He continues to contextualize and demarcate the terms used when examining migration studies. He states, “The exiles as defined here are not ‘native’ to either their home or to the host society. They are no longer legally ‘foreigners,’ neither are they bona-fide ‘citizens’” (Naficy, Hamid p.16).
Los Angeles inhabits about 800,000 Iranian Americans, and a large portion of this number is filled by Jews who fled Iran. When trying to examine this exiled culture, now in the West, looking upon their ways of assimilation into a new country reflects the adoption of “Americanness.” Iranians have established protuberant careers in the television and music industry of today’s society, with several broadcasting networks, and radio stations. Even though this is a common effort made my many across the world, I believe this connection that so many of them made is due to a longing for nostalgia, a way of life, and a connection to the old life.
Music has long been a driving force in the Iranian-Jewish culture because of it’s poetic and spiritual expression through lyrics, tunes, and instruments. Before moving to Paris, I visited an exhibition at UCLA, which was created and organized by Beit Hatfutsot—The Museum of the Jewish People, Tel Aviv, Israel (web). I remember viewing antique instruments that were used centuries ago, that represented this exiled culture before its initiation, and as I reflected I realized how my own family holds on to instruments of all kinds. I believe this symbolism to be just one of the many identifiers of this Diaspora. It was what Mierzoff describes as extensive museum culture. In the reading Diaspora cultures are described as marginalized, in regards to the display of visual culture in museums, because of a representation of loss and belonging (nostalgia), but this museum visit seemed quite the contrary for me. Yes sure, I learned about the struggles of the Diaspora, and the immense history that is enriched in its roots, but mostly, what I gained from it was a new look on my own culture. I also realized how the Iranian Jewish people use certain signifiers to keep culture and tradition strong and prevalent through generations by music.