Proud? Of what?
We don't have to be proud of everything that our fellow
Iranians accomplish in the American political scene
August 25, 2003
As diasporic Iranians, many of us are caught in the dilemma of
whether we should be concerned with what goes on in Iran, or whether
we should "move on" and get involved with the politics
of our place of residence. One of the recent articles that started
with this "between the rock and a hard place" approach,
is Behrooz Bahmani's "Persian
Bahmani, opens his article/interview with pointing to the dilemma
that Iranian-Americans, who lived the horrors of anti-Iranian sentiments
during the hostage crisis, have faced: "You dare not give
your heart to America because you feel in doing so you will somehow
betray your love for Iran." This fear of losing connections
to the place of birth, Bahmani believes, seems to be the reason
for lack of active participation in American political process.
Bahmani's point about the need for active participation
in politics of place of residence is an important one. For this
I want to take a leap and connect Bahmani's article to Darya
list goes on". My point of making
this connection is to disrupt the binary of "home" and "host" that
shapes so much of the discourse on diaspora, and to highlight the
fact that the politics of diaspora are not so detached from that
of the "homeland".
Let me use an anecdote. In response to a question
Bahmani asks ("But what is it about being an Iranian that is so important
to you?"), the young man who is active in San Francisco's
mayoral campaign, says: "I once read somewhere that 'what
the father chooses to forget, the son chooses to remember.' I
am very proud of being an Iranian-American and I can't imagine
not being proud of who I am."
This sense of national pride
is also emphasized in Darya Sarkar's article, who states
that "for those of us who have not seen home for over 20
years the 'Aryans Empire' is the only way to be connected
to our people in Iran." Sarkar has suggested that as "exiles," our
past is what connects us to a place "we all come from. one
place we call home."
I want to pose a question: How are our
past, our home, our Iranian-ness constructed in our diasporic imaginations?
How do "we" remember, what "our fathers" have
chosen to forget? And how does this past shape our participation
in American political processes?
I believe that the emphasis on "where we came
overshadows "where we are at now" to the extent that
an ideal "home" that is left behind is constructed and
frozen in diasporic imaginations.
For many cosmopolitan middle-class Iranians in metropolitan
centers of the "West",
who despite their multiple travels to Iran, insist on a homogenous
identity vis-à-vis an idealized imagination of home before
exile, the unquestioned exile remains an overarching discourse,
and a term of "being" rather than "becoming". In
this binary construction of "home" vs. "exile",
immigration issues are often overridden by the myth of return and
commemorations of Iran.
With the increasing number of those who
travel between the U.S. and Iran, who despite their ability to
return to the "homeland" choose
to live in the United States, there needs to be a more attentive
approach to "where we are at" through exploring how we
are imagined "here" in relation to "there". That
is, we need to pay more attention to Iranian subjects in relation
to multiple nation(alism)s.
While "home" in nationalist exilic imaginations
is often constructed as a unitary figure,
multiple "homelands" of Iranians who may have different
allegiances (such as
ethnic and religious minorities) are ignored in order to create
and coherent exilic identity.
The exilic economy is often established
through challenging the dichotomy of the here/there, local/global,
through a hegemonic (and often masculinist) situating of the "uprooted" self,
here/in exile, in relation to the "authentic" and
fixed there/home. (A recent example would be the masculinist language
by which "gheyrat-e mardaanegi-ye mellat-e Iran" was
praised by many Iranian "experts" during student movements!)
By no means do I suggest that we cut all connections
to Iran or that we forget our past. Obviously, this is an impossible
not only because so much of our identity is informed by our past
experiences, but also because we live in a time when movements
of bodies, information, and capital have weakened the hyphen in
So, while I take pride in who I am (just like
Darya Sarkar or the young Iranian-American politician-to-be), I
do not believe that "home
is always home". I, too, get nostalgic with memories
of Iran, but "home" is a contingent formation and cannot
be confined and fixed to geographic boundaries of a place left
In nostalgic commemorations of an ideal past, there
is often no attempt to
address issues such as immigration laws and state practices that
lives of Iranians in diaspora, nor are there any references to
the racialization of Iranians and their relationship to other immigrants.
Even though we have witnessed a series of anti-immigrant
laws in the U.S. (such as 187 in California, Immigration Reform
Responsibility Acts, Anti-Terrorist Law, and Patriot ACT), such
often not qualified within the realm of what concerns "us," Iranian
This brings me back to Bahmani's article on praising
two Iranians who drive
Gavin Newsome's campaign.
For reasons I just stated, I am glad
to see that young Iranians are more involved with
U.S. electoral and municipal politics. However, unlike Bahmani,
who admires the new generation
of "skilled and street-smart Iranian-Americans who are free
of the 'dilemma'," I do not believe that "we", Iranian-Americans,
have to be proud of everything that our fellow Iranians accomplish
in the American political scene. I, for one, cannot say that I
take nationalistic pride in knowing that 2 Iranians drive Gavin
Newsome's campaign for SF mayor!
Having said this, I would like to give a different
account (also relevant to the concept of home) of Gavin Newsome's "Care
not Cash" program, which was a popularity staging towards
his mayoral campaign. As a former San Francisco resident who was
pushed out of her S.F. "home" and forced to move to
the East Bay during Mayor Brown's gentrification of San Francisco,
I have a quite different approach to Supervisor Newsome's
While Mr. Bahmani lived in S.F. for four years during
the dot.com boom, annoyed with the number of the homeless on SF
worked in emergency shelters and volunteered with needle exchange
programs in the city. Mr. Bahmani's militant solution to homelessness
seems to come from a privileged and utopian view on how to solve
the problem of homelessness in San Francisco. Homeless folks are
not garbage to be "swept" from the streets; they are
people who have been denied access to shelters and affordable housing.
During my work at an emergency domestic violence
shelter in S.F., I had to
turn away many homeless women who could not find a bed in any of
shelters, and were hoping to get a bed in the emergency domestic
violence shelter. Many women who were trapped in the deadly combination
of "Welfare to Work" program, sky-rising rents in SF,
and high child-care costs, were pushed into homelessness. And,
perhaps Mr. Bahmani, who has lived in SF, can guess that living
on cold streets of San Francisco is no walk in the Disneyland!
As much as I want to feel bad for homeless-struck
dot.commers, who crept into San Francisco neighborhoods and altered
and tunnel looks (no offense), I could not help but to laugh at
Bahmani's "24-hour" homeless "sweeping" remedy.
As Attar says:
Taa ke dardi nayaayadat paydaa
Har che deegar koni toe darmaan neest!
Yes. It would be nice to place people in shelters,
or even nicer, to provide
them with more permanent affordable housing, but has the city
Francisco allocated a reasonable budget for people who live on
I think not. Caught between the welfare cuts, racist attacks
on immigrants in
California, non-profit service provider budget cuts, and San
Francisco's harsh anti-homeless laws, San Francisco's homeless
ones suffering in this battlefield of elections and popularity.
If anything, these laws have augmented the problem of homelessness
in San Francisco.
Wealthy and extremely conservative businessman Newsome's
Not Cash" program, supported by corporations such as GAP and
SF Tourism and Hotels industries, has not benefited the homeless
(unlike Newsome's claims). It has pushed many disabled and
elderly San Franciscans deeper into poverty by slashing their wages
as much as 83%. By taking money away from poor people, Newton's
program has denied many poor in SF the chance of getting substance
abuse services, mental health care, education, and treatment.
I think the money that is wasted on Newsome's campaign,
or the federal funds that are being spent on the military industry
kill people in Iraq and Afghanistan, could have been used more
effectively, if spent on building homes for the homeless, here
in the U.S!
So, I want to bring all these points back "home".
There are many homes I
have left behind, by force or choice. There are many connections
between the homes I have left behind and the homes I live in. I
know that I cannot talk about "home" without paying
attention to a nexus of economic, political, and cultural links,
and without deliberating on discourses and practices that mark
my diasporic experiences as an Iranian.
Perhaps, it is not too
out of the line to raise questions such as how the "we" of
Iranian-ness is constituted and who its Others are. Are there ways
we can find connections between our "homelessness" and
San Francisco's homeless folks, besides taking a Malthusian
approach? (And believe me, there are homeless Iranians in San Francisco
As someone who has the advantage of being in an
Ivy League institution, I hope that more students of social sciences
and humanities climb
down from our "expert" seats and think more critically
about issues that are directly connected to gendered and racialized
class hierarchies in the U.S., and in transnational contexts. After
all, increasing poverty and prostitution in Iran (which seem to
occupy our diasporic minds) are related to the rise of poverty,
here, in the U.S.
After all, the war on the homeless in San Francisco
is not that detached from the bogus "war on terrorism".
War on the Poor
is in full EFF-ECT!
From Frisco and Oakland
To The Philippines and Iraq
But now there's a new form of house to House
Yes, I said the War on the Poor
Is in Full EFF-ECT
This time the "soldiers" are police, social workers and
Comin' to Col-LecT...
-- From The War on the Poor, Tiny/Po' Poets Project
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