Iran, a Beautiful Place to Be
February 18, 2005
Yesterday's Minnesota Public Radio story Finding culture and history in the suburbs was perhaps the most poignant I've ever heard, spotlighting a wonderful program in a Minneapolis suburb and displaying the full power of audio to move the heart in ways text alone cannot.
The slam against suburbs is they lack culture or history. Wrong and wrong. Eden Prairie school children are discovering their suburb is loaded with culture and history, but it takes some digging to find it. Students at Eden Prairie's Oak Point Intermediate School interviewed elders in their community including people from other countries. They've put the stories to song.
An important component of the program has been introducing mostly white suburban kids (kids like I was) to the richness of cultural and religious diversity. One of the women whom they interviewed was an Iranian woman who "was driven out of Iran by religious persecution"—almost certainly a Bahá'í. Reacting to her own children's dis-ease at not being blond-and-blue, the refugee's daughter: "she tells them to think of life as a garden where just one kind of flower would be pretty dull" (paraphrasing 'Abdu'l-Bahá!).
Then the real power hit—cut to the children singing "Iran, a beautiful place to be next to the Caspian Sea." Chills. Tears. Amazement. If you have never spoken to a young Iranian-American about their treatment at the hands of other children (dating back to the '79-'80 Iranian hostage crisis), this might not be so meaningful. Persian Bahá'ís fled severe, official, persecution in Iran to find better lives here in the United States (and elsewhere).
Their lives were and are better in most respects—for instance, in the U.S. their marriages and inheritance laws are recognized (though not the case in Quebec!)—but their children now face xenophobia in addition to their peers' religious persecution. Having heard much about this from my Iranian friends and family, and remembering how the one Muslim kid I knew as a child was treated by all the children, I have some small appreciation of what they have faced. Thus hearing these suburbanites—again, I was one of them—singing about Iran was just absolutely incredible.
The story fades out with the children singing "all nations of the Earth shall live in peace together." Don't just imagine it—click on the link above and listen to the story. Even without the Bahá'í connection, the idea of linking the children to the stories of their elders is itself a wonderful program that should be supported by more school districts and makes a touching story.