NPR Producer Tells About Iranian Heritage From Bucyrus, Ohio To L.A.'s Persian Square

Nov 1, 2013

A couple of years ago, Tell Me More Senior Producer Davar Ardalan came across a town in north central Ohio with a curious-sounding name: Bucyrus (pronounced byoo-sahy-ruhs).

Intrigued by the name's root word 'Cyrus', as in Cyrus the Great, the founder of ancient Persia's Achaemenid Empire, Ardalan called the Bucyrus Tourism Department and found that the Bratwurst Capital of America really is named after the Persian King.

"Places like Bucyrus, Ohio, and Persia, Iowa, are a visible manifestation of how Iranians and Americans have left traces in one another's lands," said Ardalan.

Ardalan tells the story of Bucyrus, Ohio, in The Persian Square, an interactive e-book chronicling Iranian-American history going back to the 1800's.

The Sounds and Spirit of Iran
Similar to her first book, My Name is Iran, writing The Persian Square was a personal experience for Ardalan.

While Ardalan (whose first name is Iran) was born in the United States, where most of her family also lives, she says she will always be connected to Iran.

"My grandmother, Helen, fell in love with Iran and Persian culture back in 1927 in New York City," she says. "After my grandfather, Abol Ghassem Bakhtiar, recited her poems from Iran's great epic the Shahnameh."

The title for the book comes from Los Angeles' Persian Square, which is located at the corner of Wilshire Boulevard and Wilkins Avenue. Ardalan's mother grew up in Los Angeles with her grandparents.

"This book allows me to take you where my mind takes me when I think of Iran," she said. "The sounds and spirit of Iran haunt me as I have not been back since 1989."

Iran's Heroes and Heroines
As part of her research, Ardalan contacted over 200 historians, technologists, scientists, activists, entertainers, musicians and artists of Iranian heritage living in the United States to ask for their stories.

The ebook chronicles hundreds of years of Iranian history from an 11th century Persian physician, philosopher and astronomer to one of the most successful angel investors in Silicon Valley in 2013.

This multi-touch book includes historic documents, handwritten letters, archival photos and over 30 media files including, music, videos and recordings from the 1900's used with permission from Sony Music.

"As you read through the digital book you can take your time to pause on a page," says Ardalan. "Or listen to an Omar Khayyam-inspired musical performance in New Jersey from 1915, a radio interview with my grandmother Helen from 1958, or a video of my daughter Samira visiting the ancient Iranian city of Isfahan from 2010."

Add Your Story
This book is hardly finished, says Ardalan. There are thousands of similar stories of other Iranian Americans whose family sagas take them back and forth between Iran and America, and she would like to feature them in future versions of The Persian Square.

"By design, this interactive book is incomplete at the time of arrival," Ardalan says. "The intention is to inspire others to share their own stories and to update and revise the content as users generate extra layers."

To share your story, email or connect with @PersianSquare on Twitter.

Sarah Ravani is part of the NPR Development team. She's a California native; from now until spring you can find her hibernating inside NPR's Washington, D.C., headquarters to avoid East Coast winters.

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