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Visiting a supermarket inspires reflections on queerness and diasporic Iranian-ness
May is Asian Heritage Month, an opportunity for people of Asian origin and descent and others to reflect on the histories of discrimination, struggle, belonging, and solidarity that divide and connect us. To celebrate, the GSWS Student Blog will feature student creative work throughout May.
In Dr. Nadine Attewell’s GSWS course “Queer Relations” (GSWS 321), students explore how intimacy, kinship, and community look and feel like for Asian Canadians and Americans today, drawing inspiration from films, graphic novels, memoirs, and other creative texts by queer and feminist Asian diasporic thinkers like Andrew Ahn, Joella Cabalu, Richard Fung, Hiromi Goto, and Kama La Mackerel. For their final projects, many take the option of producing creative works of their own, which you can explore here, as we share a new post each week in May.
Dr. Attewell will be offering GSWS 321 again in the 2022 fall semester; the course can also be taken for Global Asia credit.
GSWS 321 Student Spotlight Posts:
- Reflecting on "stuckness," family expectations, and love, creative work by Catelyn Sue
- Capturing and sharing a family recipe for tongjyun, creative work by K. Ng
- Exploring (un)conditional love in relation to food, space, and queerness, creative work by Erwin Inocalla
GSWS 321 Student Spotlight: Rojan Sadeghi
Like other members of the class, I loved the title essay in Michelle Zauner’s Crying in H Mart, about shopping in H Mart in the wake of her mother’s death from cancer. For my final project, I decided to write a personal essay documenting the process of cooking a very traditional Persian meal with my mom: Gheimeh, a simple stew made from split peas, dried lemons, chunks of either lamb or beef, and spices like turmeric, cinnamon, and pepper. I began by describing our trip to the local Middle East market, where I sometimes worry about being clocked as a Persian imposter. Is it my slight accent when I speak Farsi? Can they see the queerness peeking out from underneath my skin? Are they going to look at my mom and I as failures because of it? Like Zauner, I often feel “half-in and half-out” (107). On this day, however, it became clear that the stares were in my head. The only one staring was me.
Each Persian supermarket serves one function and one function only: to provide Persian ingredients and products that are hard to come by elsewhere. There are no aesthetically pleasing elements to these stores. In this one, rusty iron shelves populated the space, with refrigerated items lined up against the left wall, and fresh produce in the back. The people moved around each other in a beautiful symphony: the market was packed, but there was room for everyone. The meat was already cut into cubes for all our stews; various flavours of doogh (an Iranian cold drink made with yogurt, water, salt, and various herbs) lined the concrete floor; and there was every type of pickle one can think of from different regions of Iran. In a sort of pickle trance, I separated from my mom to take a closer look at the labels: smoked eggplant pickles, mini cucumber pickles, cauliflower and celery pickles, and many more. When I finally broke out of my trance, I realized that everyone else, including my mom, was under the same gentle spell. Sure, the other customers walked with more purpose because they were buying their weekly groceries, but they had the same tenderness in their eyes when they picked up and turned over the jars with Farsi writing on them off the shelves. None of us were looking at each other in that supermarket; we were all relieving personal memories from home. The pickled eggplants reminded me of pickle-making in my grandma’s old kitchen in Iran. They reminded me of vegetable peels all over the kitchen, the smell of hot vinegar taking up the entire house, and the chatter of the entire family echoing throughout the hallways. I knew how everyone else in that store felt because we were all there for the same reason; we all belonged in that store because of the feeling of unbelonging that comes with being diasporic. There was no one there looking to clock me as a shapeshifting imposter. Instead, each person used the market as a tool for a convenient and direct connection to their most beloved memories. The perception came from my own insecurities regarding what it means to be a queer Iranian.
The loveliest moment came right before my mom and I were about to walk to the cash register. In the produce section, there was a cardboard crate as tall as me filled to the brim with pomegranates. I told my mom that we should pick the juiciest one to take home. She wasn’t sure how to tell them apart, so she quickly asked an older man unloading the produce truck for help. I wanted to tell her that we should just forget it and pay for our groceries, afraid of inconveniencing the man. I couldn’t imagine asking a grocery store employee at Walmart or Whole Foods how to tell if a pomegranate was juicy before breaking it open. I was wrong… Again. The delivery man carefully took off his heavy-duty gloves and started feeling each pomegranate between his calloused fingers. Settling on the eighth pomegranate, he handed it to my mom without saying much else, as if it was his responsibility to ensure we got the best pomegranate possible. As striking as this was, it was my mom’s behaviour that piqued my interest. She carried herself differently in the store. She walked a little taller, spoke above a murmur, and asked for help when she needed it. I could tell she felt at home. Watching her from the background, I felt at home there with her too.
Later, I mulled over my experiences at the store. Diasporic people did belong, I realized. They didn’t belong to one land or another, but to each other instead. We belonged through an intricate web of connection to each other’s experiences and memories. We belonged to each other in our local supermarkets when they felt a responsibility to help each other pick the best produce. They belonged to each other when a group of other diasporic Iranians felt at home with my diasporic family and felt satisfied by food that tasted like home. They belonged to each other when they talked about the television news from Iran. I’m still not sure how I fit into the equation. At the grocery store, I still feel a bit like a child lurking behind my mom, who insists that I keep my sexuality from more distant family members (although she’s recently started to tell my aunts and uncles). Even so, I’m walking away a little bit more appreciative and prouder of my diasporic identity. I walk away with immense gratitude for my parents, who’ve always made sure I felt at home even when they didn’t. I walk away just a tiny bit more sure of my place in the spaces I occupy. I walk away with a belly filled with warm Gheimeh stew.
Rojan Sadeghi: I’m a 23-year-old gender studies major here at SFU! I immigrated to Canada at the age of 12 with my family and have been grappling and trying to make sense of the relationship between the different aspects of my identity ever since then. The relationship between being queer and Iranian has been a complicated one, but I’ve been using my major as a tool for self-discovery. Dr. Nadine Attewell’s Queer Relations course (GSWS 321) allowed me to continue on this journey. The openness of the criteria for this project allowed me to draw inspiration from Michelle Zauner’s Crying in H Mart and I was able to replicate her style in the context of my own life.