The news of the last few weeks has brought back a lot of painful memories from my childhood. I’m mainly writing this to work through those feelings and hope it is useful to my friends who are both for or against this immigration ban.
I believe that banning people from Iraq, Syria, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan and Yemen does not make America safer. It will do the exact opposite and set us up for decades of division, fear, and violence towards each other.
America has always been a shining light of freedom, democracy and innovation. My parents fled their home and everything they had to to come here and live a life of freedom. They struggled, faced a lot of adversity but worked hard to make a life here and set down roots in their community.
I spent 5 years of my life growing up in Oregon and Utah. For many of our neighbors and kids at school, this was the first time they had ever spoken to someone from Iran. This was the time after the hostage crisis and we were called everything from terrorist to raghead to sand n****r. I was constantly teased for being brown and having bushy eyebrows and having a big nose. Many kids refused to play with me and I got more than my fair share of being bullied. Many years later, we moved to California. Much of the teasing and bullying stopped but it still showed up from time to time. Some time after the Gulf war started, one of my teachers called me Saddam instead of Pedram. Most kids in the room started laughing and I was mortified but I corrected him on my name and the country I am from. He said it was a mistake but just a few minutes later he did it again though this time he had a smile on his face. At this point I felt tiny. That afternoon I went home and my dad asked me what was wrong, after a lot of prodding I finally told him. He immediately contacted the principal and the next day the teacher had to apologize to me in front of the entire class and with the principal in the room. As any teenager can tell you, being singled out like that is the last thing you would ever want. As a kid, these things hurt and didn’t make a whole lot of sense. As an adult I can understand it more and see the unease people would have with a family that looks like those scary and bad people on the news. I can understand how they would feel when their president’s rhetoric inspired fear.
Banning an entire group of people and turning them away isn’t the answer to the angst we feel here. The way our leadership talks about, and now implements policies towards, muslim immigrants is the danger. It is creating an environment where tens of millions of people in this country will feel like they don’t belong, like they are unwanted. I believe we are on the path to a society with more anger, fear, resentment and mistrust and that it is going to create a more dangerous world for decades to come.
I love this country and everything it stands for and I have hope that we find our way.
P.S. As a practical matter, 15 of the 19 9/11 terrorists were Saudi citizens yet Saudi Arabia is not on that list. Even if you are for banning an entire religious group, I hope you question the integrity of how it is being sold to the American people.
About the cover photo: It is from a Persian entrepreneur event that I hosted at Uber a few months back. This is a room full of Iranian immigrants who have come here to create innovative technologies, build companies and create value for this country they now call home. Rejecting them is rejecting our future.