HAPPY NEW YEAR!
Today, for most observers (but tomorrow for others), is Persian New Year, variously and roughly Anglicized as Navrus (Tajikistan), Nawroz (Afghanistan), Nevruz Day (Albania), Nooruz (Iran), Nov Ruz Bairam (Kyrgyzstan), Nauryz Meyrami (Kazakhstan) and Novruz Bayram (Azerbaijan). As with the Lunar New Year, which is often referred to in the media as the “Chinese New Year” (unintentionally marginalizing Koreans, Taiwanese and Vietnamese, who also celebrate the Lunar New Year), Nowroz is often referred to as the Iranian or Persian New Year. In President Obama’s Nowruz address, he didn’t make that mistake, although he did turn it into a fairly contrived address to the Islamic Republic.
IRAN VS PERSIA
Iran, though related to Persia, is not the same thing. The word Iran comes from Aryānām, literally, “Land of the Aryans.” Other Aryan people (who also celebrate Nowruz) include Baloch, Kurds, Lurs, Ossettians, Pashtuns and Zazas. Thus, Nowruz is widely celebrated (in addition to the places already named) in Balochistan, Bosnia, the Caucasus, the Crimea, Iraq, Kashmir, Kosovo, Kuwait, Lebanon, Macedonia, Syria, Turkey, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan. The term “Iranian,” in contrast to “Persian,” includes all people descended from Iran who are just as fully Iranian (at least on paper, though not necessarily in practice) such as Arabs, Armenians, Georgians, Jews and Kazakhs, who are probably less likely to celebrate Nowruz. Though most of Nowruz’s celebrants practice Islam, its origins go back much further and the day is especially important to Zoroastrians, as well as Alawites, Alevis, Bahá’í, Ismailis, and other Central Asian people of various faiths.
TEHRANGELES IN FILM, TV AND REALITY
Los Angeles is home to the largest group of Iranians outside of Iran, who make up large percentages of the populace of Woodland Hills and Encino and especially Tehrangeles (centered on Westwood Blvd between Pico and UCLA) and Beverly Hills. In fact, Beverly Hills High, with a 40% Persian student body, inspired the creators of 90210 to create a (lone) Persian character on the show, Navid Shirazi (played by 28-year-old Germanic/Latino actor Michael Mateus Steger). Before that, Clueless was probably the first film to acknowledge the presence of a large Persian populace on the west side. The film alluded to the “Persian mafia” who, it’s explained one “can’t hang with… unless you own a BMW or Mercedes Benz and a cellular phone,” which at the time of its making in 1995, was much less common. Less insightful, but no less hilarious, was 2005’s Crash, which made laughable attempts to address inter-ethnic relationships in an unrecognizable Los Angeles, with uninentionally side-splitting results.
I’m sure there’s lots of stuff going on around Los Angeles, like this party, or you could go to a Persian restaurant. The best Nowruz film is Jafar Panahi’s debut, the Abbas Kiarostami-penned The White Balloon (بادکنک سفيد), which long ago passed through Amoeba’s doors on VCD. It’s one of the best. Happy new year.
Eric Brightwell is an adventurer, writer, rambler, explorer, cartographer, and guerrilla gardener who is always seeking writing, speaking, traveling, and art opportunities — or salaried work. He is not interested in writing advertorials, clickbait, listicles, or other 21st century variations of spam. Brightwell’s written work has appeared in Amoeblog, diaCRITICS, and KCET Departures. His work has been featured by the American Institute of Architects, the Architecture & Design Museum, the Craft & Folk Art Museum, Form Follows Function, Los Angeles County Store, Skid Row Housing Trust, and 1650 Gallery. Brightwell has been featured in the Los Angeles Times, Huffington Post, Los Angeles Magazine, LAist, Eastsider LA, Boing Boing, Los Angeles, I’m Yours, and on Notebook on Cities and Culture. He has been a guest speaker on KCRW‘s Which Way, LA? and at Emerson College. Art prints of his maps are available from 1650 Gallery and on other products from Cal31. He is currently writing a book about Los Angeles and you can follow him on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.
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