I was added to See You in Iran (SYI) a year ago soon after it was launched by Navid Yousefian. I read the vision for the group and I started fidgeting in my chair out of excitement. I was never one for spilling my heart out to strangers. However, my growing pains from living in Tehran made me very appreciative of SYI’s mission and the need for showcasing the personal narratives of travelers. As a result, I knew that I wanted to become an active member of this new community. Frankly, I joined SYI with a condescending mindset and after a year this community and all the stories you all have posted have humbled me into realizing that I still have a lot to work on and a lot of people to still learn from.
Two weeks ago SYI hosted a trip to Masal, Gilan in celebration of its 1st birthday. On that trip a notable amount of locals exoticized some of my fellow travelers and it deeply disturbed me. The third time they singled them out an insecurity of mine was triggered. It was one that I’d developed as a result of growing up in the States and it consisted of me trying to affirm my American-ness and of me running away from being pigeon-holed as an (Iranian) other. For the remainder of the trip I kept thinking about a See You in Iran post that I read before leaving about the (colorist? Europhilic?) preferential treatment of foreigners over diaspora Iranian travelers. I started speaking under my breath and resentfully criticizing said locals for valuing certain appearances and bodies above others (esp my own). And I did it all without making any attempt to engage with either party in order to understand the situation better.
Fortunately, my experiences in See You in Iran have taught me to actively listen to and to value the opinions and insights of the many perceptive (non-Iranian and Iranian) travelers in this community. Honestly, before I joined SYI I snobbishly considered myself to be highly aware and informed. I was of Iranian ancestry, I had connections to the private sphere, I (partially) spoke the language, I regularly traveled to Iran and I was acutely aware of the effects of Iranophobia. What else did I need to know? Luckily, I’ve learned better.
I ended up asking one of my fellow travelers how she felt about being exoticized. She recounted similar experiences elsewhere and provided me with enlightening insight. I was so preoccupied with how those events affected me. I neglected to recognize the importance of the feelings and opinions of the subjects (and perpetrators) of that exotification.
I still find the exoticizing of certain foreign travelers in Iran to be problematic. At the same time, I also now know that listening to the perspectives and reflections of other people will be deeply useful in helping me to respond to this and other situations in more a constructive way. I thank our little cyber community for teaching me that … and happy first birthday See You in Iran.