In her memoir Funny in Farsi, Firoozeh Dumas writes about her family’s journey from Iran to the United States in the early 1970s, and her childhood growing up in California. Firoozeh’s father, Kazem, studies in the U.S. on a Fulbright scholarship, and later immigrates to the U.S. with his family to work for an Iranian petroleum company. Although Kazem briefly moves his family back to Iran, Firoozeh spends the majority of her childhood in America, and grows up surrounded by a mixture of Iranian and American cultural values. At its heart, Funny and Farsi is a memoir about immigration and cultural assimilation in the United States—in other words, the way that immigrants adapt to the culture of their adopted country, embracing some aspects of the culture and ignoring or rejecting others.
Throughout the book, Firoozeh shows how different Iranian immigrants in her family adapt to their new lives in the United States with varying degrees of enthusiasm, curiosity, and hostility. Certain of the characters, such as Kazem, embrace American culture enthusiastically. Many of the funniest scenes in the book revolve around Kazem’s fascination with aspects of American culture that many Americans would consider excessively tacky or banal, such as fast food, Disneyland, or all-you-can-eat buffets. Humor aside, these scenes convey an interesting point: being completely comfortable in a given culture doesn’t just entail knowing about the culture, or being enthusiastic about it, as Kazem clearly is. It also entails being able to distinguish between “high” and low” aspects of a culture, and having opinions about these aspects. In a way, what marks Kazem as a first-generation American immigrant, more than anything else, is the fact that he’s so enthusiastic about things like all-you-can-eat buffets—nobody who grew up with these things would be so interested in them. Other characters, such as Firoozeh herself, take a more balanced view of American culture, and of Iranian culture. Firoozeh spends the majority of her childhood in America, to the point where she speaks English with an American accent. While she loves many aspects of American culture, such as American television, she’s much more blasé about others—for example, her father loves going to Disneyland far more than she does. Firoozeh’s behavior, one could argue, is typical of the second-generation immigrant: she’s more comfortable in American society than her parents, and but also less excited about American culture, since she’s grown up with it.
In general, Funny in Farsi portrays cultural assimilation as a delicate process that requires multiple generations of immigrants, as well as a general willingness to embrace the new and the unfamiliar in one’s adopted country. (Interestingly, Firoozeh doesn’t write about any Iranian immigrants who adamantly refuse to assimilate with American culture, or voice strong objections to American culture—perhaps because that wasn’t her family’s experience, and perhaps because, if it had been, American publishers would have been less likely to publish her book.)
But just because the characters in Funny in Farsi immigrate from Iran to the United States doesn’t mean that they abandon their Iranian roots altogether. On the contrary, Firoozeh and her family adopt different aspects of Iranian and American culture into their lives, and the memoir ultimately suggests that this process of cultural “mixing” is the essence of an American immigrant’s life. Firoozeh continues to celebrate Iranian holidays and eat Iranian foods, even as she becomes increasingly at home in American society and embraces American values. The result—which gives the book its poignancy, as well as its comedy—is that Firoozeh is an insider and an outsider, both in America and in Iran. She’s familiar with both countries’ cultures, and yet neither country’s people regard her as a true insider. The memoir concludes shortly after Firoozeh marries a Western, Christian man named François Dumas, and their marriage represents the process of cultural assimilation—an ongoing “compromise” that mixes Western and Iranian values together.
Immigration and Cultural Assimilation ThemeTracker
Immigration and Cultural Assimilation Quotes in Funny in Farsi
To him, America was a place where anyone, no matter how humble his background, could become an important person. It was a kind and orderly nation full of clean bathrooms, a land where traffic laws were obeyed and where whales jumped through hoops. It was the Promised Land. For me, it was where I could buy more outfits for Barbie.
Because we were new to this country we were impressed not just by the big attractions but also by the little things—smiling employees, clean bathrooms, and clear signage. Our ability to be impressed by the large selection of key chains at the souvenir shops guaranteed that every place we saw delighted us.
When my parents and I get together today, we often talk about our first year in America. Even though thirty years have passed, our memories have not faded. We remember the kindness more than ever, knowing that our relatives who immigrated to this country after the Iranian Revolution did not encounter the same America. They saw Americans who had bumper stickers on their cars that read "Iranians: Go Home" or "We Play Cowboys and Iranians." The Americans they met rarely invited them to their houses. These Americans felt that they knew all about Iran and its people, and they had no questions, just opinions. My relatives did not think Americans were very kind.
After three months of rejections, I added “Julie” to my résumé. Call it coincidence, but the job offers started coming in. Perhaps it's the same kind of coincidence that keeps African Americans from getting cabs in New York.
During our Thanksgiving meal, my father gives thanks for living in a free country where he can vote. I always share gratitude for being able to pursue my hopes and dreams, despite being female. My relatives and I are proud to be Iranian, but we also give tremendous thanks for our lives in America, a nation where freedom reigns.
It’s not what we eat or don't eat that makes us good people; it's how we treat one another. As you grow older, you'll find that people of every religion think they're the best, but that's not true. There are good and bad people in every religion. Just because someone is Muslim, Jewish, or Christian doesn't mean a thing.
I know about your famous carpets and your beautiful cats.
He also had a new dream, in which the treasure was no longer buried. He dreamed that someday, he would return to America with his own children. And they, the children of an engineer from Abadan, would have access to the same educational opportunities as anybody else, even the sons of senators and the rich.
Nobody asked our opinion of whether the hostages should be taken, and yet every single Iranian in America was paying the price. One kid throws a spitball and the whole class gets detention. For my father to be treated like a second-class citizen truly stung. If there were ever a poster child for immigration, it would be Kazem.
As college approached, I stumbled upon a talent better than selling popcorn or polishing silver. I started writing scholarship essays. I wrote essay after essay about my life and my dreams and my goals.
Once my mother realized that I wanted to marry François, she said, "He will be like a third son to me," and wiped the tears off her face. At that very moment, my mother threw aside everything she and her generation knew about marriage and entered a new world where daughters select their own husbands. She became a pioneer.
I could only hope that my wedding would work a bit of magic for this uninvited guest. I like to think that she eventually found a husband, a tall Iranian doctor maybe, or perhaps a short Mexican businessman with a big heart, or a medium-built Irish Catholic book vendor whose family thinks she's the best thing that ever happened to their son.
My husband has since taken the situation into his own hands, hiding all our screwdrivers and hammers before my parents visit.