KCET Departures asks, “What’s your or your family’s Los Angeles arrival story?”
Today, we hear from conceptual artist and writer Marjan Vayghan:
“My Los Angeles arrival story begins with my father’s departure from our lives.
“In the early 1990s my father traveled to Los Angeles [from our Gholestan home, by 16 Metry Lashghar, Majideh] in order to secure residency and a new address for our family in Los Angeles.
“As a young girl, distraught in a patriarchal society, I pitied myself for being one of only two girls in my school that didn’t have a father figure present at home.
“I dreamed of the day my father would return and make our family whole again. I imagined L.A. and Tehran, Iran becoming one upon his arrival.
“At the time, most of my days were spent forging memories of home at my maternal grandparent’s with my aunt, uncles, cousins and friends.
“After three years, my father returned to Tehran. He was no longer the person I had built up in my head, I hardly recognized the man “back” in my life and trying to retrain my actions based on his expectations.
“Gone with his mustache were my father’s days of fighting authority figures, railing against the Islamic Republic and helping me forge alternative paths to that expected of my gender in Iran. He no longer believed in having a dog, because they were “najes” and un-Islamic. He expected me to wear a hijab (which I never did before), and expected me to act like a “lady,” “keep my tongue and don’t be so cheeky.” He took offence to his brazen little girl and expected an explanation on what went so wrong in three years. I had similar concerns: What was L.A., and what had it done with my “baba Hossein?”
“The most radical expectation came as we began packing up our lives. Before I knew it we were at the airport and I was supposed to say farewell to the only life and family I knew. I recall begging my aunt Nayer to get on the airplane with us. Suddenly someone decided I should also say goodbye to my paternal aunts, uncles and family friends whom I had not seen in three years. My body was ripped away from Nayer’s arms and I remember crying in a haze as I was handed from one set of strange adult hands to another.
“I don’t wanna call it a sense of violation or loss of control, but each embrace seemed to take away more and more `til I was left sitting on a plane alone and empty inside. I recall sinking into a seat two sizes too big, on a plane full of passengers and happy families setting out on exciting journeys and travels. I sat next to my mother, using her body as a shield against my father. I sat next to strangers I shared a passport with and cried for my family “Momanni,” “Nayer” and “Baba Javad.”
“By the time we arrived at LAX, I had no more tears to cry. The smog was thick, the city felt upside down and I felt like a piece of luggage. Everything I had in me was lost, misplaced and impossible to translate into my new surroundings.
“We spent a couple of months with my dad’s friend “Amu Kareem” in Orange County. Shortly after our arrival we were able to find a small place on the second floor of our current West Los Angeles apartment building on Brockton Ave, a half a block away from Brockton Elementary School and a block away from my High School, University High.
“For the first few years I remember locking myself in the bathroom, sinking into the tub and crying it all out. The voice of my aunt in the morning, the touch of my grandmothers healing hands, days spent painting and drawing with grandpa – it all turned into knots and lumps I would clench onto memories of home `til it all burst, pouring out of every orifice. Sweat, tears and snot – that’s what L.A. meant when confronted by my mother’s bloodshot and tear-filled eyes as she came out of the kitchen.
“I cried every Fall, Winter and Spring `til I could be with my family for the summer. The first summer I returned to Iran, I wiggled in my tight airplane seat the whole way home. Upon our arrival at Mehrabad Airport, most of our friends and family members didn’t recognize me. Los Angeles had made me a stranger like my dad, in nine months my body had developed into someone else. A double D, taller, sadder L.A. version of who I used to be.
“Each year we returned to Los Angeles to save, buy gifts and plan our summers in Iran.
“My existence was shaped by our annual trips to LAX. Every journey began and ended with my father driving us to and from the airport. (“What did you do?” he would say. “What did you learn? What’s the plan?”)
“Every Los Angeles Arrival Story was different, except the usual aroma of smog and the summer sun bouncing off every surface. The heat generated and energy created had a distinct L.A. feeling, turning rituals into schedules.
“The first summer I spent in Los Angeles, 2001, was also the Summer I fell in love with my current partner of ten years, Jesse, in the city I was already secretly in love with. All subsequent LA arrival stories were altered, shifting my perspective of home and belonging.
“My annual trips to Iran continued as I lived alternately between Teheran and Los Angeles. My life and artistic practice proceeded to be informed and shaped by this context of movement and flexible citizenship across both geographical and cultural spaces and the multiple realities these spaces engender.
“Still I continued to introduce myself as Marjan, an Azeri-Iranian, American artist in diaspora, `til August 5th, 2009, when for the first time, under duress while being interrogated I screamed: “My name is Marjan and I am an American, Azeri Iranian.”
“Earlier that day my partner and I had been pulled out of a moving vehicle, accused of being CIA agents and arrested beneath blindfold. After hours of interrogation into the early hours of the next day I realized I was an outsider in my Tehran home. Even the little lost girl inside was a proud Angelina.
“This Angelina has spent the last two Summers jonesing for new L.A. arrival stories. Arrested in memories of summers past, I have been bonding with my father over the manifestation of my latest series of Art as Healing, kinetic installations titled, Break the Lass and Fall into the Glassblower’s Breath. I am also still waiting for the longest nine months of my existence (Aug 2009-2011) to deliver an embrace from grandma, the latest gossip from Nayer’s lips and one last journey through Grandpa Javad’s fleeting memories.”
— Marjan Vayghan
(as emailed to Jeremy Rosenberg)
September 29, 2011 10:00 AM
Conceptual artist Marjan Vayghan describes the joys and difficulties in living in two different cities at once – Tehran and Los Angeles.
A few clarifications on our “Arrival Story:”
In the writing of this article, I put myself back into the mindset of my nine year old self. Going through the motions of uprooting my life and starting over in a new home on the opposite side of the planet. Altogether “Our Arrival Story,” was an extremely positive one. Yet for this article, my writing did happen to go to a dramatic place of bumping heads with the authority figures in my life and pushing every and all boundaries possible. In reality, everyone in my life was treating me with kitten gloves at the time and I was completely wiling out. My father never asked his nine year old daughter to wear a hijab, nor did he expect me to wear one. Even when we were in Iran he fought for my right not to do so. That’s actually half the reason why we moved. I was always an opinionated artist and instead of trying to stifle my creativity, he moved and moved till he found the perfect place for me to be me. He sacrificed three painful years away from us, while creating a new life for us from scratch, prior to bringing my mother and I over to a comfortable and wonderful life. During these three years, I was back in Iran resenting my best friend for being away from me. I felt abandoned and I punished him for it, viciously, as soon as we were reunited. I had become a bratty, belligerent, nightmare of a demanding monster. For the three years my dad was gone, I had ruled my family in Iran as the only child and grandchild. When I met up with my father after three years, neither one of us could recognize one another. It took a few months, for the resentments over feeling abandoned to turn into guilt for having now given up on interdependent time with my family and friends in Iran for a great independent life in LA. My father and best friend understood this guilt better than anyone and worked hard in providing my mother and I with two annual European and Iranian trips a year. Three sublime yet expensive months in the Summer and a month during the Iranian New Year. I don’t know if by then my father was over Iran and didn’t like traveling back there as much or if he was making another sacrifice, yet again and staying back in LA to feed and take care of my many pets and we traveled a couple of times a year. He is the most patriotic person I’ve ever met, every key he makes me has the American flag on it, as is every stamp he ever buys, his default shopping trips end up resulting in red, white and blue objects. He is pretty proud of my parents decision to migrate to LA, I’m proud of them too. He has rebuilt the construction company he had in Iran, in America. My mother finally gets to follow her dream of being a teacher and I get to be my self, an eccentric artist, that gets to make everything she wears and be dramatic in her art, writing and fashion choices. I think that’s what our “Arrival Story” boils down to “choices.” To be our selves, to start over and to follow our independent dreams, while still keeping our interdependent love for our family and friends. At first, specially during the first three months of our reunion, my father and I didn’t recognize the changes in one another. Which made us run to opposite sides of the scale from one another. That initial shock actually helped us find our selves even better. My dad went from wanted to hide and protect me to “why am I trying to control her, when this is the reason I worked so hard to move her away from Iran?” And I went from being a brat and making fun of my dad for his matching keys, stamps, letter heads and life full of red, white and blue American flags, to appreciating the hard work it had taken him build us a new “free” life, that had come at great cost to him and our family. I now appreciate that freedom to be myself more than anything on earth and thank my parents for always being there for me and allowing me to experiment, make art and follow my creative path. Not only do they encourage me to dream up art projects bigger than my own abilities to bring them into fruition, they are and have always been my favorite collaborators in manifesting creativity, love, light and magic!