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Leila Hamidi: Part of a Persian Exodus; From NY to OC to L.A.

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

Today, we hear from artist and writer Leila Hamidi.**

"I'm the first person in my family to be born and raised in America. My older brother was born in Tehran and I was born two years after him just outside of Queens, NY. We grew up in a sweet neighborhood in Long Island with a block full of kids our age, so there was never a lack of playmates or things to do.

"When I was nine, my family decided to move to Irvine in close succession to a series of other Iranian families that were friends with my family. To this day, I still don't know the full reason for the mini-Persian exodus from New York to Irvine, but I do know that my brother and I went from being the only Iranian kids in our Long Island school to being part of what felt like a deluge of Iranian kids in our Irvine elementary school. What was it about this place that attracted my peoples?

"I remember crying for the first few weeks after our move because all of the homes looked the same and I could never find my house on the walk home from school. Within my family's circle of friends alone, I knew of three different families that had the same model home within a 2-mile radius - no need to tell me where the bathroom is, because I already know the full layout of your house.

"The other striking detail was that we were living in town homes where we shared a common wall with our neighbors to either side. Despite the closer physical proximity to our neighbors, we never really knew them or their kids. This would never have happened in our old neighborhood in Long Island where each house looked different, all the kids were friends and played sports in the middle of the street after school, and there was no homeowner's association around to give us a fine for having our garage door open for more than a few hours at a time.

"I couldn't escape the homogeny of Orange County fast enough. My search for an art school led me to Los Angeles where I narrowed my choice down to Otis. Otis had already moved from MacArthur Park to Westchester several years prior to my arrival, but the orientation staff still addressed the perceived danger of the school's proximity to Inglewood. On my initial drive up to visit Otis, I remember being aware of this and palpably feeling out of my element when I saw a homeless person begging for money outside of the adjacent supermarket.

"Thirteen years have passed since I moved to Los Angeles and over half of those years were spent living in Westchester. To this day, I still dread the drive past the orange curtain to visit my family and can't fathom how they and so many others are content to live in a place where everything looks the same."

-- Leila Hamidi
(as emailed to Jeremy Rosenberg)

Photo: Courtesy Leila Hamidi

**=Updated 9/15/11

This post originally appeared under the headline, "Arrival Story: Leila Hamidi"

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