Is there a generational split in the Iranian-American community?
Porochista Khakpour was born in Tehran in 1978 and raised in the Greater Los Angeles area (South Pasadena, to be exact). Her first language was Farsi, her second (and luckily mostly forgotten) tongue, Valley Girl. She attended Sarah Lawrence College and The Johns Hopkins Writing Seminars MA program. She has been awarded fellowships from Johns Hopkins University, Northwestern University, the Sewanee Writers’ Conference, Virginia Center for the Creative Arts, and Yaddo.
She began writing as an arts and entertainment journalist—her subjects have spanned from clubs (Paul Oakenfold!) to couture (Paul Poiret!); Maggie Gyllenhaal (Maggie’s first big feature!) to Fabio (Porochista’s first feature at 16!); New York City’s finest drinking establishments (Paper magazine bar columnist, 2000-2001, as well as New York magazine online bar critic) to rural Illinois’s most dangerous skydiving compound (2004 staff writer stint at The Chicago Reader). Her writing has appeared in The New York Times, The Daily Beast, The Village Voice, The Chicago Reader, Paper, Flaunt, Nylon, Bidoun, Alef, Canteen, nerve.com and FiveChapters.com, among others.
She currently spends a third of her time in New York City and two thirds three hours away in Lewisburg, Pennsylvania where she teaches Fiction at Bucknell University.
Khakpour: Yes, I do actually. I think that people are often fascinated to know a lot of the Iranians who are my parents’ age, for instance, who are living in Los Angeles – many of them are conservative Republicans. Many of them were big Reagan supporters. Their politics tend to lean towards the right, and I think it took them some time to reconsider what the whole … dynasty was about, and why the revolution happened the way it did. You know so . . . And then I think this younger generation has tried to investigate that more so. And this younger generation definitely seems very liberal and, you know, left wing. And . . . This is an interesting question actually.
Well I can speak about it also culturally, especially where books are concerned. I see a major divide in what I’m writing, or what other of the hyphenated Iranians are writing, versus what the generation before us wrote. You know there . . . They tended to sort of fall into the exoticization of Middle Eastern people much more easily and much more readily. I think that’s why you’ll find that some of the literature that’s come out of Iran – and by that I mean the literature that’s been written abroad – has not been so high quality in the last couple decades. But I think the hyphenates, so to speak, I think we’re more interested in style. We’re more interested in art. We’ve crossed that hurdle of “otherness” a little bit, and quality has become an issue again. We’re not . . . We’re not being so rapidly pursued by publishers and agents who wanna, you know, capitalize on the hot, new minority. There’s a little bit of that. But now because there’s been several of us, there is room for questions of quality in art. And that’s . . . I’m very excited about this generation. You also have to remember that, you know . . . I just turned 30. And all the, again, hyphenates, if I can say that . . . All the hyphenates creating art, or writing, or music, they’ll all be around my age because most Iranians left Iran, you know, 1979, ’80, ’81, right? So . . . And those who were born here or abroad would all be in their late twenties or, you know, like me maybe born in Iran, but then they came here at a young age. So they can fall into the hyphenate phenomenon. So this is a young group of artists, but there is a lot of urgency I think. And as the political climate grows more and more precarious, I think they’ve had . . . felt a need to put their art out there, but like I said in a very different way than the previous generation who, you know, were coming out with works in the ‘80s and ‘90s. The urgency wasn’t there, and the novelty was. So I think that can sometimes create compromised art.
Recorded on: 1/18/08
The older generations tend to be more conservative, Khakpour says.
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