This article is part of an ongoing Neighborhood View series in connection with the Mass. Memories Road Show (MMRS), a statewide, event-based, participatory digital archiving program produced by the Healey Library at UMass Boston that documents people, places, and events in Massachusetts history through family photographs and stories. When the pandemic upended plans for an in-person MMRS event in Malden (spring 2020), Neighborhood View began this series of profiles to highlight the photographs and stories that residents submitted online to the Malden Mass. Memories Stuck-at-Home Show. Learn more about the MMRS at the end of this article.
By Michael Cao
Through key photos, Parto Khorshidi revisits important moments from her childhood in Iran, to France where she went on vacation, and to Malden, the city where she now lives. Some were sad moments, but there were good and beautiful moments, too.
For Mass. Memories, Khorshidi selected six photos that best represent her life. She believes these photos work like visual art to tell people her life story. “I put a snapshot of certain significant [moments] because your whole life is full of bits and pieces of events,” she said.
Khorshidi was born in Tehran, Iran and grew up in Babol, Iran. “I came from an affluent family. We were in that province because my dad had a governmental job in that province.”
Khorshidi spent eight years in Babol. During the time, she would visit her maternal grandfather in Babolsar, a nearby city, “This is a city near the Caspian Sea. That’s where my grandfather lived and worked.” This photo was taken in the yard of her maternal grandfather’s house, inside a fishery compound that she remembers. Her grandfather was the head of the fishery compound. She was around two years old in the photo.
Later, she returned to Tehran and lived there until she was 18 years old. During the time in Tehran, she remembered that she went to several different schools, including a private high school with good academics. “My whole family is highly educated, so the education was very important for them, as well as other activities,” she said. “I went to swimming, summer camp, and I went to ballet academy. I went to tennis camps.”
In 1978, Khorshidi moved to Boston after graduating from high school. She first attended Boston University, where she studied English as a second language. Later, she attended Northeastern University and studied medical sociology and anthropology. After graduating from Northeastern, she returned to Boston University and studied for her master’s in public health.
After graduation, Khorshidi has remained in the Boston area ever since. The revolution in Iran and the war between Iran and Iraq contributed to her decision to stay in America. But the bigger reason she chose to stay was because she believed “life choice is not (simply) black and white.”
“I chose to stay here. Even though life was much easier for me if I went back,” she said.
She believed that life would be easier and better financially if she chose to return to Iran, but she wanted to explore what’s next for her. She said, “As a young person, later on, you want to know what is out there for you? What can you do with your life?”
Khorshidi recalled that she had a “colorful work [experiences]” here in Boston. She said, “I worked whenever and whatever that I could, and that was mostly I meant for colorfulness and different places.”
“I worked for the Department of Public Health. I worked for the Department of Social Services. I worked at BU. I had part-time jobs here and there,” she said.
She eventually began working at the medical school at the University of Massachusetts and has remained for more than 20 years. She now works as the health insurance coordinator in the premium assistance unit. Khorshidi has lived in the Boston area for more than four decades and in Malden for the past two decades. She believes she is “more Bostonian than many Bostonians.”
The next photo from Khorshidi tells a sad story. The photo was taken at the her son’s gravestone at Mount Auburn Cemetery. “I lost my only son to a brain tumor when he just turned eight years old. And this place is significant for me because that’s where my heart is buried,” she said. “This is his place. It’s a significant snapshot of my life as a brief mom, as a person who has gone through a very traumatic experience in life.”
Related to this part of her life, Khorshidi chose a photo that she took at Mount Auburn Cemetery. “I like to write. I like to tell a story, and life is full of stories,” she said. “I just put this photo there, as [one of the] recapping of the life.”
Khorshidi wrote a birthday gift card to her son, who died 12 years ago. She also used editing software to add red strings as a special gift. She said it’s important to write stories about lives and carry them in the memories. “I wanted to write life in red and (so it) visually looked nice on the card below the ribbon,” she said.
She explained that the red color in the photo was symbolic. “The ink is black and my son loved black and red. I wrote him a card which was being left behind since I can’t mail it to him.”
Another photo was taken near her office near the Charles River. This photo captures her professional life. “It was my workplace for a long time before Covid. And this is a picture that I thought is mystical.”
She remembered that she took this photo on a foggy afternoon, “It just captured what Charles River is about. I love the benches and the light.”
She provided a photo of a store called Sparks in Malden. The store was closed in December 2013 after being in business in Malden for 94 years.
Khorshidi remembered the people who used to go to Sparks. “That was like a staple of this area. The grandmothers will go to buy their underwear, those funny underwear, and their pajamas … and the kids would go to buy their school uniform. It had all sorts of things in it.”
The photo of the Sparks store not only represented Malden, a city where she has lived for a long time, but also because it preserves the memory of Malden’s older culture and history.
“For a young country like the United States, it is sad that they destroy (old culture), especially buildings, to replace it with something else,” Khorshidi said. “They don’t have a long culture. They don’t have a long history.”
Khorshidi said old individual stores and café shops — locations that used to represent the history of the area — no longer existed due to the modernization of the city. Although, to some degree Boston is still an older city with many histories to learn about, some places exist only in people’s memories.
“The problem with memories is when every generation dies, it fades away and the history dies with them. And that’s why, for me, archiving historical memories are essential for the collective history of us, of everybody,” Khorshidi said.
Khorshidi’s next photo was taken in Corsica, an island between France and Italy.
She took the photo near a restaurant during the summer of 2017, “I was on vacation with my sister. And her daughter worked there for a period of time. We went for a few days to see her but also have a vacation. And the reason I added this picture (is) because I have a beautiful memory of it.”
“Contrast to the sad memory of my son’s grave. I wanted to have a happy picture inside my brain or my memory box, (and) this was a happy place.”
Khorshidi says Malden is an important place to her. “Malden is a unique place,” she said. “It feels like a Silk Road, with the cross-culture of different coming and going. The city has enriched itself because of the cross-culture transactions.”
In addition, Malden will always be the place for her to call home. She said, “I raised my son for eight years in Malden. It is our home. All the feelings you have about family, and the place. No matter where I go in the world, Malden will always remains significant to me.”
Editor’s Note: An in-person Mass. Memories Road Show event is planned in Malden for spring 2024, to be coordinated by Malden Reads, Urban Media Arts and the Malden Public Library. Please plan to attend this live event, add your photos to the digital archive, and engage with the community in celebration of local history. Prior to the event, you can also submit your photos through this digital portal. If you are interested in being featured in this Neighborhood View series, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
Other articles in this series:
From San Francisco to Malden: My Father’s Journey (Diana Jeong)
Birukti Tsige on culture, family and community
Ron Cox stands up for history from a young age
Neal Anderson makes politics a family affair
Linda Mazonson Zalk: Places we’ll remember all our lives
Finding inspiration in Malden’s History: Inna Babitskaya
Diversity, Service & Solutions: Ramon Morales Reflects on His Life in Malden
What an amazing life you have. I grew up in Malden myself & graduated from Malden High School in 1960. I was in the high school band.
Thank you Parto for sharing your story with Michael Cao and us! Learning about fellow Maldonians is teaching us about the world and the human condition from so many perspectives. I am so sorry to learn of the passing of your son.