Editor's Note: Migrating Identities and Perspectives
Tamdgidi, Mohammad H., Human Architecture: Journal of the Sociology of Self-Knowledge
This issue of Human Architecture: Journal of the Sociology of Self-Knowledge, on the theme "Migrating Identities and Perspectives: Latin America and the Caribbean in Local and Global Contexts," is published with the co-editorial initiative and assistance of Terry-Anne Jones and Eric Mielants of Fairfield University, CT.
The co-editors, in their introductory essay that follows this editor's note, helpfully summarize the basic themes of various contributions of authors--and, additionally, the abstract to each contribution provides further opening insight into the respective study--so I will try below to present a brief personal note that may provide an additional or different window for appreciating the explorations and findings of the studies that comprise this volume.
Whenever the topic of migration and its studies come up, somehow, as far as I am concerned, the term does not personally ring an identity bell in me immediately. For some reason, the status of being an immigrant to the U.S. does not strike the core of my identity formation and sensibility. I have always wondered why, given that obviously I am, for all practical purposes, an immigrant from another region of the world (Middle East, Iran in particular), having arrived in the U.S. to pursue higher education at the age of eighteen, in 1978, basically on my own, though with financial support from my parents at the time. The term for "migrant" in Persian is "mohajer," and somehow I have very rarely, if at all, referred to or considered myself as a mohajer. This seems quite puzzling to me, especially in light of the very theme of this issue of Human Architecture focusing on the interplay of migration and identify formation, albeit focusing on a different region of the world, i.e., Latin America and the Caribbean, than the one I come from.
I think a part of what may explain this lack of internalization of an overt immigrant identity in me has to do with a denial of what the notion of migration is supposed to designate figuratively. A migrant moves from one place to another, not belonging to the original place, and being (or, trying to be) integrated and assimilated into another place. The notion that I am any less of an Iranian, or belonging to Iran, after coming to the U.S.--being a foreign student for a while, then a permanent resident, and finally a U.S. citizen--has not penetrated my personal or broader social identity. I became, in fact, more involved in Iranian affairs, political or not, and began more than before seeing myself as an Iranian of Persian descent--and to some extent Azeri, as far as my parents' "domestic" migration from the Azerbaijan provincial city of Tabriz to Tehran in their youth is concerned--when I moved to the U.S. and became involved in the Iranian student movement at U.C. Berkeley at the time of the revolution and immediately afterwards. And I didn't feel any less Iranian during my graduate studies in Upstate New York, and later as a faculty at UMass Boston. Physically, yes, I have spent more years of my life in the U.S. by now; subjectively, however, it is as if I never left Iran, to which I must add that I have also not felt entirely assimilated into the U.S. culture and social and political self-identity. This is not to say that I do not appreciate living in the U.S., and having benefited one way or another from the personal, collegial, and professional associations I have made throughout the years living in the U.S., but somehow the notion of being "no longer" an Iranian simply because I have lived for more than thirty years in the U.S. simply does not exist in my subjective experience. In fact, I feel one can be in one place and not be of it at all, and not be somewhere else, and strongly feel a sense of belonging to this somewhere else.
To make matters a bit more complicated, though, I must say that my identity as one coming from a more or less Shi'ite Muslim family went through a drastic transformation, subsequent to my involvement in leftist oriented Iranian and non-Iranian student movements during my undergraduate and later graduate years in the U. …