Is a Persian cat any more or less Persian outside of Persia? A riddle of our age – the answer lies somewhere in between a blue and a green eye.

Hamid is like many other Iranians who have left their country to seek education and work in major cities around the world. His eldest sister lives in the United States, happily married with three kids, as does his eldest brother, in Oklahoma City. A second brother has just gotten married and lives in Tehran, Iran. Most of his family members live in Iran, the US, Germany, and Australia, that’s basically how they’ve scattered.

In 2006, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) identified Iran as the nation with the highest rate of brain drain, with more than 180,000 Iranians leaving the country every year.

Like many of the worldly and educated first-generation Iranians in adopted countries, Hamid has no intention of heading back anytime soon. Though the circumstances are different, he sees parallels between the Iranians and Malaysians who have chosen to leave home.

But the situation in Iran is far more severe, and has been ongoing since the Islamic Revolution in 1979. The IMF in 1999 estimated then that 25% of all Iranians with post-secondary education live abroad ['How Extensive Is the Brain Drain?'.pdf], with most of them based in the US, Canada, Sweden, Germany and the UK.

Hamid says that people who opt to move are seeking better opportunities because not everyone has the same values and needs. “Sometimes trying to live up to these values, they have to migrate. It doesn’t always have to be a forced situation, but sometimes it is.”

Most young Iranians see Malaysia as a place to develop and thrive.

“The environment back home doesn’t allow us to grow. Sometimes the opportunities provided in other spaces allow for freer thought. And more opportunities to express themselves mean people get to achieve the things they would not be able to back home.”

But it’s complicated. “But we do love our homeland, well, most of us do,” he says. “We live through our culture and we express ourselves with it, and we love our country more than anything.

“Of course there are different opinions, and it’s quite hard to generalize, but the fact is that Persians, here or back home, love their country, culture, fellow countrymen.”

As for himself, “Never will there be a day which I’d call myself anything other than a Persian.”

He may be referring to his geographical home but from our conversations he also means “home” as in where the heart is, less a physical place than a feeling that’s sensed when gathered with people from that place.

“Beyond Hafiz’s poetry, the food, shisha, and other things, young Iranians feel the Persian pride boiling in their blood, and have a sense of responsibility to feel, understand and be proud of their culture.”

This pride is sometimes displayed by young Iranians through wearing Zoroastrian Faravahar necklaces inscribed with “Ahura Mazda”, the divinity of the ancient Iranian religion, or the donning of t-shirts printed with Persian poetry.

But most of the time it’s just plain hanging out over coffee, practicing customs like *ta’arof and expressing respect to elders.

“When we sit together on a table with our Iranian friends we feel at home, even though Iran is 7 to 8 time zones away from us. We stick to each other,” says Hamid.

But they’re not shutting the rest of KL out.

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