Porochista Khakpour explores the protean category of “Iranian-American”

Porochista Khakpour in Guernica:

Porochista_intro-575There was a time, not long ago, when I was downright allergic to journal issues devoted to ethnic and/or racial grouping—about as aesthetically relevant as clusterings based on eye color or mole placement, I insisted. To be put in a box based on something you did not choose seemed uninspired, reductive, and even dangerous. Plus, I had personal reasons: categorization and its many cons had haunted me since I came to this country as a wee preschooler. With looks described as exotic at best and a hyperethnic multisyllabic name regarded as unattemptable at worst, I was coronated an ambassador of my particular brand of other just by virtue of being someone else’s first. When I was four, I decided to be a writer precisely because the realm of the imagination freed me from confinement regarding how and to whom I was born. But by the time the writing touched any remote professionalization (college workshops, for instance) I was again asked to “write what I know” by wide-eyed, smiling professors—whose “knowing better” was nestled somewhere between an oily did and flaky didn’t—and sheltered students who seemed torn between “coo” and “ew” when it came to me. By a combination of dead-end fatalism and pure accident, I went there (or at least I attempted to), merging the writing of the many whats that I knew with my interests in art, language, and slightly experimental forms (outcome: my first novel). It was only through doing it that I found I actually did have some genuine interest in who and what I was (outcome: years of personal-essay writing on Iranian-American issues).

The seesaw between Iranian and American appeared to have arrived at a miraculous balance. “Iranian-American” was not a label I could necessarily nest in, but at least one I could take a breath at. Even with its pigeonholes and pitfalls, traps and hurdles, stereotypes and caricatures and clichés, it was something I could live with, and this was more than I had ever had. So my disregard for ethnicity-focused anything was ultimately tempered by some authentic self-discovery, some admitted abnegation, and a consequential phobia of hypocrisy—and only really intensely inflamed by those starless lows of overwhelming suspicion and cynicism at everything and everyone American.

More here.