This incredible independent website offers links to a multitude of other sites—many of which are written by Iranian authors—giving an incredibly comprehensive history of Iran that covers everything from ancient history to mythology, language history, modern history, and beyond: Pars Times
This history from the Encyclopedia Britannica offers a detailed summary of Iran’s (Persia) ancient history starting with The Paleolithic Period (100,000 BCE) and ending with the protohistoric period (1,000 BCE): Encyclopedia Britannica
History World’s timeline offers a more concise understanding of Iran’s history, stretching from 3800 BCE to 1988 CE. It includes a year search function: History World
This page from MidEast Web offers a concise history of modern Iran, from the 18th century to 2009: MidEast Web
Immigration & Refugees
The first wave of Iranian immigrants coming to the U.S. has been recorded as occurring from 1950-1980 (Gills, 2015). However, true immigration began as early as 1875, when the first Iranian immigrant was recorded gaining citizenship in the U.S (2016). There were many from Iran who immigrated to the U.S. in the early 20th century as well, but their numbers are unaccounted for. For one, the west was considered “off-limits” in Iran at the time. For this reason, many people leaving Iran claimed to be headed for Egypt. In addition, those in charge of immigration in the U.S. often labeled them arbitrarily; “these immigrants were indiscriminately labeled ‘Arabs.’ After 1900, when the popular term became ‘Syrians,’ and as late as 1930, all Middle Eastern immigrants were both officially and unofficially designated as Syrians” (Gills, 2015). All those who were recorded coming to the U.S. between 1950 and 1980 are now considered refugees due to the tension leading up to and dangerous living conditions of the Islamic Revolution of 1979—though they weren’t always officially given the refugee label. Most official refugees from this wave came between 1978 and 1980, when annual emigration numbers rose above 100,000 (Gills, 2015). Another wave of refugees came to the U.S., roughly from 1995 until 2008. Unlike the previous generation of refugees, however, these immigrants fled Iran due to its economic crisis (Hakimzadeh, 2006).
Of the many immigrants who come to the U.S., many come voluntarily, whether it be for opportunity, education, or some other reason. A large wave of immigrants came voluntarily after the Revolution of 1979; it is estimated that one-third of physicians and dentists left the country post-revolution, apparently not satisfied with the conditions of their profession in Iran (Hakimzadeh, 2006). Additionally, along with more than 34,000 impoverished Iranians seeking asylum in the late 20th century, working professionals, including many professors, chose to immigrate to the U.S. Not everyone who came to the U.S. after 1979, however, was dissatisfied with Iran. One woman I interviewed stated that the only reason she came to the U.S. in 1984 was to follow her fiancé: “I actually got engaged and came to this country with Fiancé. I moved to San José.” According to her, Iran was a nice place to live at the time: “We had a very good time and a safe place to live. We didn’t have any problems back then. No problems at all. It was a very safe place to live, and we were happy. We enjoyed family gatherings most the time. We would go ask mom, maybe stay out late at night, and um, no problems—we were safe” (Anonymous, personal communication, October 24, 2016).
Hardships in the U.S.
As has been the case for most immigrants coming to the U.S., Iranian immigrants have dealt with their fair share of hardships. While many immigrants coming from the area have light enough skin to not deal with some of the hardships that come with being of non-Anglo-Saxon heritage, they have still dealt with (and continue to deal with) much discrimination and hate from other Americans—especially those from the Muslim religion, “who are often subjected to a kind of nationwide backlash that identifies all members of their religion as violent fanatics or terrorists” (Gillis, 2015). One large-scale example of this sort of discrimination was exemplified in Oklahoma in 1985, when plans to build a religious and cultural center for Muslims were cancelled after protestors contended that “the project would establish a site for a terrorist network in their midst” (Gillis, 2015).
On a smaller scale, one-on-one discrimination ranges from full-blow violent hate crimes to more subtle comments, based on cultural ignorance. Sadly, hate crimes against people of Middle-Eastern decent have gone up dramatically since September 11, 2001. According to the Washington Post, Anti-Muslim hate crimes are still five times more common today than before 9/11 (Ingraham, 2015).
Of course in a place as vast as the U.S., the climate of a community drastically affects how Iranians are perceived, even from state to state. Speaking on the discrimination he has experienced in California, Justin Ebrahemi, a second-generation Jewish Iranian immigrant, said,
In Humboldt I experienced just some very subtle phrases and implications that I was not really used to, but I think it’s because outside of Arcata I was a bit of an anomaly. But mostly just like showing acceptance—like, ‘I’ve seen your kind before.’ or like ‘Hey what are you doing for Ramadan.’ So like the assumption that I’m Muslim or like another culture. And uh, one time I got a haircut and my friend said, “Hey that’s a great haircut; you were looking too Persian”—implying that Persian is a negative connotation. I don’t want to look Middle Eastern. And I thought about it when I when to Isreal, because I looked more Arabic. I felt that I was targeted in many ways and had to prove my Judaism. [Also], pretty much when I fly—alone I’m fine—but flying with my dad who is like an old Iranian, Persian looking man. He was like, taken aside and they asked him a bunch of questions, and then they find out he has a wife and kids, so they’re a little bit nicer, but I do notice discrimination at airports for sure (personal communication, October 20, 2016)
Aside from dealing with discrimination, many Iranians also have a hard time becoming integrated into American society—adapting to a new culture and learning a new language (more on Farsi in the Language section). As most of the immigrants from Iran are Muslim, one of the biggest struggles can be in been finding a community with which to practice their religion, especially in more rural areas.
While one survey in 2011 showed around 470,000 Americans of Iranian-Americans living in the U.S., the Congressional Research Service estimated in 2016 that their number is more likely over 1,000,000 (Kenneth, 2016). This is a result of underreporting, likely due to apprehensions with being tied to Iran. While Iranian-Americans can be found just about anywhere in the U.S., there are several areas in which a large concentration of them can be found. Around half of the nation’s Iranians can be found in California. There are also large communities of Iranian-Americans in New York, New Jersey, Washington, D.C., Maryland, Virginia, and Texas (Pars Times).
For a more detailed understanding of the history of immigration from Iran, you can check out migrationpolicy.org.
Public School System
Currently, Iranian school system looks very much like our own in regards to the age of students and duration of expected study years. Much like in the U.S, youth education is divided into two main levels—primary education and high-school education—with some areas offering middle school as well, which is referred to as Rahnamaei or Lower Secondary School. Primary school lasts from ages 6 to 12 in which students attend 24 teaching hours per week. The curriculum covers Islamic studies, Persian studies– reading, writing and comprehension — social studies, mathematics and science.while high school is attended from ages 12 to 18. Primary education is compulsory through grade 8 (Hazari, 2015). One of the more obvious differences between education in the U.S. and education in Iran is that schools are segregated by gender in Iran. This practice also extends to higher education. According to women’s rights activist and journalist Leila Mouri ,“Women and men’s mingling in public and private spheres .. been a concern for the government since the 1979 revolution” (2014). For this reason—while you should never assume anything—don’t be surprised if your Iranian students take a little while warming up to working with students of the opposite sex.
What to Expect Inside and Outside the Classroom
Education is considered very important in Iran, so teachers are highly respected in both the classroom and the community, though as in many countries they are underpaid. Iranian parents also tend to form relationships with their children’s teachers, and are very involved in their education. When teaching Iranian SLLs, you shouldn’t be surprised if they place high value on their education, and even get their families involved (including older students). Keep in mind that because the importance of relationships and trust are placed high in Iranian culture, Iranians tend to meet several times before engaging in business or personal discussions; it may be rude to ask any personal questions before establishing a solid rapport. Lastly, it is polite in Iranian culture to decline compliments and offers of help, so make sure to take the initiative if you notice a student who is truly in need of assistance; ask again or simply tell him or her that you are going to help (How to Teach, 2016).
Farsi/Persian ESL Implications
While the English language consists of 15 identified vowels ( including its diphthongs), Farsi only has 6. For this reason, ELLs whose L1 is Farsi are likely to run into issues pronouncing a number of English vowels, including long i, the long u sound you hear in words like “food,” and the ʊ sound found in the word “foot” to name a few. Additionally, while English differentiates between lax and tense vowels, depending on how strained the muscles of speech (including the mouth and tongue) are in uttering a sound, Farsi makes no such differentiation—this could perhaps account for the lack of tense vowel counterparts found in English such as /i/’s counterpart /I/ (as in “feet”). (Bakhtiarvand , 2005). See the charts below for more details.
While English is more complex in the arena of vowels, Farsi contains more consonants (see the charts below). Two of the more prominent English phonemes missing in Farsi that may need attention are the voiceless interdental (/θ/ or the “th” sound in “thick”) and the bilabial glide (/w/ as in wink). A woman I interviewed had this very issue when she was trying to learn the language: “I still have some pronunciation difficulty. Yeah, sometimes the word is hard for me to pronounce, like “squal” (squirrel) I cannot say it correctly. I cannot put “qur” together correctly. I don’t know, it’s hard for me to say” (Anonymous, personal communication, October 24, 2016).
In addition to vowel and consonant considerations, we can look at some phonemic patterns that differ across Farsi and English. For instance, in Farsi, beginning a word with a vowel is not permitted. Also, while it is common to see double consonant clusters at the beginning and ending of English words—such as “spike” or “wasp”—this does not occur in Farsi.
Beliefs, Society, Values, and Customs
The official religion of Iran is Shi’ism—the larger of two major branches of Islam—with around 90 percent of Iranians practicing Shi’ism. While the vast majority of Iranian-Americans are Muslim, it is important to remember that some are not, such as my interviewee, with many identifying as Baha’i, Jewish, Protestant, and Roman Catholic (Cortés, 2013).
Women and men in Iran are given a different status as citizens. Gender roles fall more into what we in the West would call “traditional,” with women being considered homemakers and caretakers while men are seen as more professionally ambitious (Kazemi, 2000). Additionally, women are required to wear a mandatory hejab. Despite this, much has changed in the past fifteen years regarding gender in Iran. Women now make up most of University students, comprising around two-thirds of the college population. Additionally, women make up around 30% of the workforce, rising from 13% around 2001 (Women’s Lives in Iran, 2011).
Values and Customs:
Iranian culture puts a high emphasis on family and the family unit. Unlike some Islamic families, Iranian families tend to be smaller, with one or two children. This number is not representative of an Iranian “family,” however, as the large extended family is also considered very dear, and even family units can grow when elderly relatives are kept at home—as it is not custom to place them in a nursing home (G Gillis, 2015). Because family is so dear to Iranians, they tend to show up to places in large numbers—especially important events such as graduations or weddings. In her memoir Funny in Farsi, writing about her own wedding and Iranian family, Firoozeh Dumas writes, “We invited 140 people, 163 accepted; 181 showed up” (145, 2003).
Introductions and greetings are generally restricted to members of the same sex outside of the home and family—though in the acceptable contexts greetings are quite affectionate. Both men and women kiss, although on the street, a handshake is more common. A common greeting in Farsi is “salaam,” translating as “peace” (Iran, 2016).
When entering the home of an Iranian, one should removes his or her shoes if the host is not wearing shoes. Punctuality is also repsected in Iranian culture. Elders are highly respected, and should be greeted first. If you are attending a meal, it is polite to offer any food or drink offered, and to wait to be told where to sit for the main course (Iran Language, 2016).
There are a great many holidays celebrated in Iran, including all the major Muslim holidays. Some of the highlights celebrated in Iranian culture include the following:
No Ruz (Iranian New Year)
No Ruz is a celebration of the spring Equinox that has been celebrated by all the major cultures of ancient Mesopotamia from as early as over 3000 years ago. It has roots in the Zoroastrianism (Price, 2016).
This is the “festival of breaking of the fast.” The Eid is the only day in the month of Shawwal in which Muslims are not allowed to fast, as it celebrates the conclusion of the 29 or 30 days of fasting during the entire month of Ramadan (From the end of May to the end of June this year—2016) (Price, 2016).
Yaldā is the night of the Winter solstice, which is the longest, darkest night of the year. This has been celebrated in manifold cultures and places since ancient times. People came together to warm one another and also to celebreate the fact that it would not get any colder or darker than this. The forces of evil were also said to be the strongest during this night (Price, 2016).
Here’s what an Iranian woman I interviewed had to say about Yaldā Night and her observation of attempts to keep it alive in the States: “We have something going on before the winter solstice, the longest night of the year we have a special celebration with different foods and nuts that symbol of something. They burn some something from the last year and they jump over that. And they jump over the fire and say that this is good luck and you have a good luck for the whole year, so there is different culture there is different beliefs, different ceremonies that symbol something for them. One of the custom that we have. Before, when we came here, in some Persian neighborhoods they did that in the parking lot when I took the kids and I don’t now if [my son] remembers or not, and they jump over the fire, they say something—and that was for the good luck. But we still keep that custom. The people used to cook it overnight. They danced, drink—not alcohol, different drinks, they sing, get together as a family the whole night. They had fun together as a family. I don’t see this here. They tried to keep it here—the Persian people—but is not the same. It’s different” (Anonymous, personal communication, October 24, 2016).
Some of the staples in Iran include rice, bread, and kebabs.
Rice is traditionally prepared in three ways: Chelow/Polow, Kateh, or Dami. Chelow is plain rice, usually meant to accompany stew or a kebab. It is soaked in salted water and then boiled, strained, and steamed in the leftover moisture. Polow is cooked in the same fashion, but is mixed with meats, nuts, vegetables, or fruit. Kateh is cooked more similarly to the way we cook it in the states—until the water is absorbed completely. Dami is cooked in the same fashion as kateh, except other cook-able ingredients are added at the start—such as grains or beans. One celebrated form of dami is called tachin; it includes a mixture of yogurt, lamb, with saffron and egg yolks. Chelow, Polow, and Kateh all tend to result in a delicious golden rice crust, or tadig, which is served plain, with thin bread or slices of potato.
Iranian breads tend to be flatbreads. Some of the more common types include the lavash, sangak, and barbari. A lavash is thin and flaky and oval or round in shape. Sangak is a stone-baked leavened flatbread, usually in the shape of a rectangle or triangle. Barbari is thick, fluffy, oval flatbread that looks somewhat like a flattened French bread.
A Kebab consists of pieces of meat, fish, or vegetables, lined up on a skewer and roasted or grilled. Kebabs are prepared in a variety of cultures. In Iran, the national dish is chelow kebab—or a kebab served with chelow prepared rice. Other popular kebabs include the Kabab Koobideh, which consist of ground lamb, beef, or chicken with chopped onions, and the Joujeh Kabab, which is barbecued chicken coated in olive oil, and accompanies by tomatoes and saffron (dreamofiran, 2016).
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