Residence: San Fernando Valley
Date of Performance/Collection: April 15, 2020
Primary Language: English
Other Language(s): Farsi
Here is a transcription of my (CB) interview with my informant (AM).
CB “Okay, start by telling me why you participate in this event, what you call the event, and who you participate with”
AM “I celebrate Persian new year every year because I am Perisan and both of my family members that I live with are also Persian. And they grew up in Iran. And because of that they grew up celebrating certain religions and certain customs throughout their lifetime. So now they also allowed me to grow up in their roots and experience that Iranian culture that I wasn’t really able to experience because I live in the United States now.
“So one of the small events that I celebrate with my family is when we go to a park to celebrate Persian New Year., also known as Nawruz. At this park there are normally other Persians who agregate here and there’s various events that they do for customs, and one of them is that at night time they build a fire, a nice big fire, and they play Persian music and everyone sort of lines up and they take turns jumping over the fire. [laughs] Yeah, that’s one particular thing that occurs a lot
. . .
CB “Can you talk about the fire jumping thing? Is that supposed to symbolize anything do you know”
AM “Hmm. I’m sure it symbolizes something, I don’t know the finite definition of it but I can give you my interpretation of it because that’s sort of what folklore revolves around, right? So my vision of it is a renewal of life, kinda like when a phenix dives into a fire and is reborn, and so its a meaning of a new year; a new life. So when you jump through it you’re kinda saying this is a new me now. And this is a new year as I branch into my new life.”
My informant is a Persian-American, first generation American citizen. He lives with his mother, father, grandmother, and aunt who all spent a majority of their life in Iran, and all communicate mainly in Farsi. A large amount of his extended family still lives in Iran, and so he has often talked about feeling disconnected from Persian culture. The Nowruz celebrations that he described happen every year in a park in the LA area. He and his family drive about 2 hours to get there, and it’s one of the only times during the year that they are able to connect with the larger Persian community in the area. The fire-jumping tradition that he spoke about seems to be a way to actively initiate a fresh state. I think that he and his family value this event so much because they are separated from the rest of their family, and their culture. By meeting with other Persians every year to celebrate a new beginning, at the same time that their family in Iran is celebrating Nowruz, they are able to bring their Persian culture, and family by extension, with them into their new year.
I know this informant fairly well, and we have often talked about his culture. When I was given this assignment, he was the first person I thought to ask. I interviewed him over Zoom, and we chatted a lot about the role of culture for immigrant Americans. We had a very comfortable conversation, as we had many times before.
I was really interested in the fire-jumping aspect of Nowruz. Many different cultures emphasize the idea of new beginnings around the new year. However, for my informant, his Nowruz celebration gave him a ritualistic way of acting out this new beginning. It made it so that it was almost the action, not the holiday, that symbolized this rebirth. I also thought that it was especially interesting that he referenced a popular piece of western folklore, the phoenix, when describing his traditions. I think that this represents a large part of his assimilation to American and western culture. While he is still distinctly Persian and tied to his roots, the way he thinks of his celebrations is defined by both his heritage, and his surroundings. This exemplifies the development of Persian-American culture as a separate unit from either culture.