What Happened When My Travel Ban-Supporting Neighbor Met With Refugees

Ari Honarvar
The Establishment
Published in
7 min readApr 10, 2017

A story of bigotry, hate, and hope.

II ’ve always liked my neighbor. Ever since I moved to the neighborhood five years ago, we’ve had the ideal neighborly relationship. He’s given me rides to the airport. I’ve brought him soup when he was sick. We’ve exchanged homemade Christmas cookies around the holidays. Even so, we couldn’t disagree more when it comes to our politics and lifestyle. When he comes to my house, I bring him a homegrown kale smoothie sprinkled with fair trade cacao nibs. When I go over to his house, he offers me Rush Limbaugh tea (yes, there is such a thing).

Then Trump became president. Although my neighbor had accepted me, an Iranian-American, as his neighbor, he was fervently anti-immigration (at that point, he was unaware that I had come to the U.S. as a refugee). An imperceptible tension developed between us. Were we avoiding each other? I began wondering what would happen if Trump started a Muslim registry. What if people of Middle Eastern origin were taken to internment camps? Would my neighbor come to defend me as they put me in handcuffs? Or would he look over my direction, shake his head, and keep sweeping his porch?

I recalled living in post-revolution Iran, where we couldn’t trust our neighbors. I remembered how parents were imprisoned when their children repeated dinner conversations at school that in any way challenged the Iranian government — discussions about how the country was heading in the wrong direction, or how religion shouldn’t be the law of the land, or how the mullahs were a bunch of unqualified idiots. Every morning, my parents reminded me that I shouldn’t say anything about our home life to other children or teachers.

We watched on TV as a son cried and begged his mother for forgiveness. His mother had turned him in for treason because of his affiliation with the Mujaheddin, who had helped Khomeini in his rise to power, but became personae non gratae after the revolution. He was to be executed. She…

Ari Honarvar
The Establishment

Speaker, performer, refugee advocate| @guardian @washingtonpost and more| The author of Rumi’s Gift and upcoming novel, A Girl Called Rumi rumiwithaview.com