My Father, Muslim Immigrant
My parents emigrated from Iran to America in the early 1970s.
My father, 17 and alone, didn’t speak a word of English when he boarded that plane. He told me stories about how he learned to ask the flight attendant for “more peanuts” and how he’d live on one can of beans per day as he worked at a fast food restaurant and attended university.
He went on to become a successful mechanical engineer, raising two daughters by himself. We grew up speaking Farsi and English, eating Persian food for dinner and celebrating Persian New Year with the Vernal Equinox, then months later celebrating America’s Independence Day with our neighbors at the annual block party.
We were the only Persian kids in our school, where other students would often say, “I-RAN home!” as a wholly uncreative way of bullying me into running home. (It worked.)
My dad was diligent in his lessons. He taught us tolerance, work ethic, and cultural inclusion all while striving to keep our Iranian culture alive within us. Even though he grew up in a Muslim nation, we were given total religious freedom, and raised to believe in equality for all humans.
Being born and raised in Los Angeles, where diversity is thick, I was exposed to a myriad cultures and ways of life; I grew up in a neighborhood that was primarily inhabited by Black, Hispanic, and Filipino families, and was never raised to discriminate against anyone based on their heritage — instead, I was directly encouraged to learn about other people’s cultures, to embrace and enjoy their traditions.
I learned about and celebrated Noche Buena with my Latina friends, making tamales with their immigrant parents. I went to Greek Orthodox Church on Greek Easter. I attended Catholic funerals and Armenian weddings. All the while, I carried dual citizenship in the United States and in Iran.
I am endlessly grateful that I was raised with diversity and taught to value the shared experience of humanity. Instead of being taught hate and short sightedness, I was taught to always stand up against injustice and speak out against discrimination.
There were times during my childhood when money was tight and resources were scarce, but my dad never made us aware of our lack. Instead, he worked harder and longer, went back to school and earned his masters degree at night, after working all day to support our family.
The woman in the big house across the street, Mrs. Adams, who would come to be a surrogate grandmother to us, looked after us often, helping my dad to work and study in an effort to provide for us. We’d watch Star Trek in her sitting room while eating Campbell’s chicken noodle soup and saltine crackers from t.v. trays. We’d listen to oldies on K-Earth 101 while riding in her white Cadillac.
She’d take us to church with her some Sunday mornings.
With her granddaughter, who was was our closest childhood friend, we played with My Little Ponies and Rainbow Brite dolls; we pretended to be settlers foraging for food in her back yard, eating boysenberries until our stomachs ached.
My dad was a Muslim immigrant and Mrs. Adams was a white, Christian woman from Middle America. They were the best of friends and her passing, when it came, absolutely rocked our family.
My sister and I grew up to be feminists, activists, and entrepreneurs. I don’t know a person in the world with a bigger, more inclusive heart than my sister. With her by my side, I gave birth to a beautiful baby boy who, at the age of 10, cannot understand why anyone would ever discriminate against another human being on the basis of their skin color, religion, sexual orientation, or gender identification.
My son marched alongside me, my sister, and our cousin-whose parents also emigrated from Iran-at the Women’s March in DTLA. He told me how amazing he felt to be a part of something so powerful, and asked me if I’d take him to more marches, rallies, and protests.
My little intersectional feminist, 2nd generation Iranian American, whose parents both served in the United States Air Force.
Under Trump’s administration, none of this would have been possible.
My parents, emigrating from a Muslim country, would have been among those currently detained at US airports or being sent back to the countries from whence they came, despite holding the proper documentation to enter the US.
They would have been discriminated against based solely on religious affiliation, dehumanized and disrespected—made to feel unwanted, dangerous, outcast.
My parents American dream would not have played out such as it did, and my sister and I would not be here.
My son would not be here.
My parents came from a Muslim nation and they are not terrorists.
Their children are not terrorists.
Their grandchildren are not terrorists.
Instead, we diligently and purposefully fight for civil rights and equality. We stand against injustice, oppression, and discrimination. We march. We rally. We volunteer. We speak. We write.
I’ve served in the US military and I’m proud to be an American — just as proud as I am of my immigrant father who had the courage to come to a foreign country, completely alone, and go on to one day raise two independent, loving, compassionate daughters.
My father, a Muslim immigrant, taught me to love this country while still keeping our Iranian heritage alive. He taught me to respect others based on their character and their actions, not the country from whence they came, the religion they’ve chosen, or how they identify.
This morning, my heart is heavy. I’m angry. I’m appalled at the actions of the president who represents the country for which I voluntarily signed up to give my life. I think of my dad, my hero, the hardest working, silliest, smartest person I’ve ever known, the man who practically taught me to be a feminist — what if he had been denied entry, solely on the basis of religion?
What if he was told he couldn’t enter the country, despite holding an educational visa, and was forced to return back to Iran?
My fellow Americans, we cannot stand for this.
This level of hate and discrimination is abhorrent, and it’s only week one. We can no longer stand back and pretend like this doesn’t affect us. We can longer deny that this is happening in our beloved country. We cannot, for one more second, live under the false assumption that we live in a nation of equality, a nation that supports human rights.
The first thing we need to do is become better educated. So many Americans are unaware of the damage that has already been done with the executive orders Trump has signed; so many of us are ignorant to the real dangers that our future holds—and it’s our DUTY to know about these things.
Read and watch the news from more than one source, form an educated option, and decide which side of history you want to be on. Then, start looking for opportunities to get involved.
The ACLU is already challenging the executive order to ban immigrants, so that’s a good place to get started. Contact your local ACLU chapter and find out how you can get involved. Reach out to your Muslim brothers and sisters and ask them how you can support them.
Will you stand with the people of this nation as we face intolerance, inequality, and injustice? Will you, like so many Americans, speak out against the oppression of Muslims, Black lives, Women, and the LBGTQ community?
Will you join the resistance?
Because the truth is, we can’t afford to sit on our hands behind a veil of “disliking politics,” because it’s not just about politics anymore, it’s about PEOPLE—people just like you and me, people like my father, the Muslim immigrant, the man who taught me how to love with an open heart.