Marjan Vayghan: Back and Forth Between Tehran and Los Angeles

Marjan Vayghan
KCET Departures asks, "What's your or your family's Los Angeles arrival story?"

Today, we hear from conceptual artist and writer Marjan Vayghan:

"My Los Angeles arrival story begins with my father's departure from our lives.

"In the early 1990s my father traveled to Los Angeles [from our Gholestan home, by 16 Metry Lashghar, Majideh] in order to secure residency and a new address for our family in Los Angeles.

"As a young girl, distraught in a patriarchal society, I pitied myself for being one of only two girls in my school that didn't have a father figure present at home.

"I dreamed of the day my father would return and make our family whole again. I imagined L.A. and Tehran, Iran becoming one upon his arrival.

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"At the time, most of my days were spent forging memories of home at my maternal grandparent's with my aunt, uncles, cousins and friends.

"After three years, my father returned to Tehran. He was no longer the person I had built up in my head, I hardly recognized the man "back" in my life and trying to retrain my actions based on his expectations.

"Gone with his mustache were my father's days of fighting authority figures, railing against the Islamic Republic and helping me forge alternative paths to that expected of my gender in Iran. He no longer believed in having a dog, because they were "najes" and un-Islamic. He expected me to wear a hijab (which I never did before), and expected me to act like a "lady," "keep my tongue and don't be so cheeky." He took offense to his brazen little girl and expected an explanation on what went so wrong in three years. I had similar concerns: What was L.A., and what had it done with my "baba Hossein?"

"The most radical expectation came as we began packing up our lives. Before I knew it we were at the airport and I was supposed to say farewell to the only life and family I knew. I recall begging my aunt Nayer to get on the airplane with us. Suddenly someone decided I should also say goodbye to my paternal aunts, uncles and family friends whom I had not seen in three years. My body was ripped away from Nayer's arms and I remember crying in a haze as I was handed from one set of strange adult hands to another.

"I don't wanna call it a sense of violation or loss of control, but each embrace seemed to take away more and more `til I was left sitting on a plane alone and empty inside. I recall sinking into a seat two sizes too big, on a plane full of passengers and happy families setting out on exciting journeys and travels. I sat next to my mother, using her body as a shield against my father. I sat next to strangers I shared a passport with and cried for my family "Momanni," "Nayer" and "Baba Javad."

"By the time we arrived at LAX, I had no more tears to cry. The smog was thick, the city felt upside down and I felt like a piece of luggage. Everything I had in me was lost, misplaced and impossible to translate into my new surroundings.

"We spent a couple of months with my dad's friend "Amu Kareem" in Orange County. Shortly after our arrival we were able to find a small place on the second floor of our current West Los Angeles apartment building on Brockton Ave, a half a block away from Brockton Elementary School and a block away from my High School, University High.

"For the first few years I remember locking myself in the bathroom, sinking into the tub and crying it all out. The voice of my aunt in the morning, the touch of my grandmothers healing hands, days spent painting and drawing with grandpa - it all turned into knots and lumps I would clench onto memories of home `til it all burst, pouring out of every orifice. Sweat, tears and snot - that's what L.A. meant when confronted by my mother's bloodshot and tear-filled eyes as she came out of the kitchen.

"I cried every Fall, Winter and Spring `til I could be with my family for the summer. The first summer I returned to Iran, I wiggled in my tight airplane seat the whole way home. Upon our arrival at Mehrabad Airport, most of our friends and family members didn't recognize me. Los Angeles had made me a stranger like my dad, in nine months my body had developed into someone else. A double D, taller, sadder L.A. version of who I used to be.

"Each year we returned to Los Angeles to save, buy gifts and plan our summers in Iran.

"My existence was shaped by our annual trips to LAX. Every journey began and ended with my father driving us to and from the airport. ("What did you do?" he would say. "What did you learn? What's the plan?")

Departures Arrivals Marjan Vayghan.jpg

"Every Los Angeles Arrival Story was different, except the usual aroma of smog and the summer sun bouncing off every surface. The heat generated and energy created had a distinct L.A. feeling, turning rituals into schedules.

"The first summer I spent in Los Angeles, 2001, was also the Summer I fell in love with my current partner of ten years, Jesse, in the city I was already secretly in love with. All subsequent LA arrival stories were altered, shifting my perspective of home and belonging.

"My annual trips to Iran continued as I lived alternately between Teheran and Los Angeles. My life and artistic practice proceeded to be informed and shaped by this context of movement and flexible citizenship across both geographical and cultural spaces and the multiple realities these spaces engender.

"Still I continued to introduce myself as Marjan, an Azeri-Iranian, American artist in diaspora, `til August 5th, 2009, when for the first time, under duress while being interrogated I screamed: "My name is Marjan and I am an American, Azeri Iranian."

"Earlier that day my partner and I had been pulled out of a moving vehicle, accused of being CIA agents and arrested beneath blindfold. After hours of interrogation into the early hours of the next day I realized I was an outsider in my Tehran home. Even the little lost girl inside was a proud Angelina.

"This Angelina has spent the last two Summers jonesing for new L.A. arrival stories. Arrested in memories of summers past, I have been bonding with my father over the manifestation of my latest series of Art as Healing, kinetic installations titled, Break the Lass and Fall into the Glassblower's Breath. I am also still waiting for the longest nine months of my existence (Aug 2009-2011) to deliver an embrace from grandma, the latest gossip from Nayer's lips and one last journey through Grandpa Javad's fleeting memories."

-- Marjan Vayghan
(as emailed to Jeremy Rosenberg)


Photos courtesy Marjan Vayghan; (top): "Debating Through the Arts," 18th Street Arts Center, 2011 and (bottom), "Self Portrait," a photo illustration

This post originally appeared under the headline, "Arrival Story: Marjan Vayghan"

About the Author

Jeremy Rosenberg is a Los Angeles-based writer, editor, and consultant whose work has appeared in various books, magazines, newspapers, and online.
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