Post Chuck Norris Iran Begins with My Mom
In thinking about my mother, I, Laszlo Nagy, the writer of music, the worrier over the fate of nations, am reminded briefly of a similar such occasion in 2012 for the other half of me, and it was to this other half that other things were said.
To this half, I might argue my better half, I am reminded again of what this occasion calls for, namely a catalog of academic achievements and perhaps remembrances of lives changed for the better.
It should go without saying that within my brain, I have a wide catalog of both sets of achievements as should concern my mother and could perhaps furnish, along with the help of others, something approaching a comprehensive list.
Rather, in this short ode to my mother, I wish to provide only the broadest of outlines of what I understand to be an intellectual history of my mother, for it can truly be said of her that she is the unsung hero in so many instances, whose justice is only realized upon their actually being a song for such achievements.
And so it is toward an outline of such a song that I wish to describe the intellectual and moral context in which her efforts as both a scholar and as an advocate of a people, in this case Iranians, came to be.
My mother with her assistant and virtual Aunt of mine, Niloo, opened the American mind to Iran at a time when Chuck Norris Films would have held dominion over the American Mind. These efforts were begun at Brandeis University where a beleaguered minority of students in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s could find pride in their heritage through her own sheer enthusiasm for their culture, which was a function merely of the inherent beauty of the culture and its people, as the Iranian Community gave her plenty of reasons to suspend her efforts permanently.
In those days, very much unlike how I am right now (where I encourage as opposed to condemn certain libertine habits) it can be said of me that I was the “over-protective son” initially looking upon much of the Iranians as a suspicious one, wondering what these people were wanting from my mother.
It was only as the years went by, and as I was able to see the efforts of the Ilex Foundation build, and slowly but surely the various seeds that had been laid begin to bear their flowers that I came to see myself rather unapologetically as at least twenty-five percent Iranian, diminishing by fifty percent an otherwise confused Teutonic Stock. This at least would have been the appraisal of mine by the year 2007, eleven years from this event here tonight.
That anybody should trade in their Teutonism (or at least fifty percent of it) for the blood of Zoroaster might strike one as an odd choice, were it not for the fact that the people themselves slowly began to find themselves more at home in the United States, and as such, becoming one among the many in the pantheon of ethnicities and cultures that have found their way into this nation. That they should have found themselves in such a home had to be in no small part a function of the film festivals were communities throughout the United States came to see Iranian movies and therefore received as their first article of education that, though not without their merits in other capacities, the films of Chuck Norris are no guide to the Iranian Heart.
These days, I perhaps regard my Iranian blood with the same amount of embarrassment and pride as I regard my Hungarian blood, where one both admires as well as sometimes apologizes for the deeds of one’s ancestors. Hence, a Romanian-Hungarian friendship remains as important to me as an Israeli-Iranian one, without having to succumb to the artificial demands of a given national leader, emboldened as they might be by a change in the Executive Branch of Government in the United States of America.
The best years lie ahead of my mum and me, and Niloo, in the sense that we can smile smugly and say to some extent “now you know Iran, and now you may delight in Iran” independent of whatever political vagaries should visit us in the years ahead.
To love a culture is to in many ways become a culture thereby doubling if not tripling one’s self. This is among the other things that separate the 2000’s me from the 2010’s me. And to those who are able to love one who has been able to do that with themselves, such people themselves become doubled, if not tripled with respect to their sensibility and appreciation for things human.
To all you here celebrating the scholarly life of Olga, I thank you for being here celebrating her establishment in the field of Shahnameh Studies (a subject that I am in need of instruction in). But consider if you might also too her courage as a human being where against all odds she sought to lift up the chin of a people deserving of having their chin lifted up even as they at various times were the ingrates toward the one lifting their chin up. That they should have been this of course is something merely to be explained by their prior conditioning and survival strategies in the United States, strategies which of course were entirely defensible .. or at least somewhat defensible.
But let us drink then, or raise a glass as the case might be, to Olga, who is probably among the leading citizens of the United States who made it so that the biting of the hands that uplift them was no longer necessary at all as a strategy for the simple reason that the Iranians themselves found themselves and those who knew Olga became Iranian with Olga.
With care, pride and diligence, may it be the case that the beauties and treasures of Iran and the Iranian people endure and may my mother’s name be remembered by them as someone who for no particular reason whatsoever fell in love with Iranica, and with humility, honor, and gratitude, may it also be the case that all the ones here coming to celebrate her are themselves celebrated for their courage in upholding and studying the great traditions of a great people whose legacy to humanity is known that much better thanks to their efforts.