Oppressed once more
America will not repeat its past mistakes. I will make sure of it
December 19, 2002
So I was an Iranian, a kid born to parents in America who themselves had been born
in Iran. So I walked around humming Dariush songs. So I liked chopped-up cucumber
in my yogurt with a dash of dried mint. So I dressed in neat little skirts with my
hair tied in bows and ribbons while all the other girls ran across the playground
skimming their knees and touching frogs and lizards. So what? I was Iranian.
Then I began to read more into the books we were given. A world opened up to me through
the eyes of Locke and Jefferson, through the words of Dr. King and Gandhi. I read
the Declaration of Independence as if it were a holy text. I wept as I watched immigrants
look up at Lady Liberty with shining, hopeful eyes and empty hands. Hands ready to
work, to cook, to clean, to write, to love. Hands ready to take the ruins of a life
(never lived under oppresive dictators) and start again with America's eternal promise
of honor and respect.
With these thoughts, I became American. I watched Iranians come here from all across
the globe. Men and women who were my relatives, my friends, friends of friends, and
people I felt affection towards merely because we shared the same sweet mother tongue.
I watched men who had been brave generals and famous performers reach this land with
empty pockets and heavy hearts. They came, the saw, and today, they have conquered.
I am proud to see signs of Iranian progress everywhere I go, from my Iranian dentist
to my Iranian physician to my Farsi teacher to the guy who does our taxes to our
lawyer to our local managers at every successful business you can think of. We are
the face of prosperous America. Iranians are the ones who run fortune 500 companies,
cure diseases, perform miracles in every level of occupation imaginable. I am proud.
I am Iranian-American. Right? Wrong!
What part of American fits my name? No longer am I the girl I was. No longer can
I accept my Americanness while there are Iranians, law-abiding men, locked up in
American prisons right this minute. For years, for decades we have been crying out
from the bottom of our hearts that "Zendaaniye siasi azad bayad gardad!"
(Political prisoners must go free!). We shouted that at the oppressive Iranian government.
But now who do we aim our anger towards? The INS (U.S. immigration agency)? The bumbling
fools who issued visas to dead terrorists?
Who shows up at the INS anyway? Bombmaker Mohammad? Or is it Jalal, the guy who works
the graveyard shift so his daughter can buy a Mercedes? Or Abbas, who runs a travel
agency? Or Hamid, who is a singer? What happens to the real bad guys? They won't
show up at the INS to register voluntarily.
So what we have in our American internment centers today are caring fathers, sports
fans, college kids addicted to MTV, a couple of businessmen, a nice guy who cooks
at a great restaurant, and a couple of third-rate singers we tolerate just because
they croon in Farsi. Where are the terrorists?!
for me, I have lost a piece of myself today. I am confused and angry. I wonder how
that old man feels right now, dressed in prison garments, his hands bearing the tired
marks of steel cuffs, as he remembers the shah's prisons, then the mullahs' prisons.
The lashes against his back, the blood flowing from his face as he begged them to
stop. As he prayed for freedom from the chains, from the four walls that come in
And then, he came to America. For thirty years he prayed to his God and thanked America's
forefathers. Cherished his rights to breathe, to live, to speak. And now where is
he? Back to square one! Oppressed once more. Seeing the eyes of injustice staring
back at him in the darkness. I am the reason he is in pain. I and my country. I and
my president. I and my government. I am a voter. I am active. I speak out. I write.
I pray. America will not repeat its past mistakes. I will make sure of it. So should
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