This is what my grandfather, stroking his white beard, used to say in his shaky voice: “My son, whatever you do, don't ever lie, and the truth will set you free.”
In our small village in southern Iran, there was no need to lie. I grew up in that small community and before I knew it my dear grandfather died, and my childhood days were over. In a few years, I graduated from high school in a nearby city and passed the examinations to go abroad for my higher education
Tears in my eyes and uncertainty in my heart, I left my home to come to the United States to pursue my education. Everything was going well until my second year of college. The event that I had impatiently anticipated happened. The Iranian Revolution came like a hurricane – it circled around, sucked everything in, smashed everything together, rolled everything over, and, when the winds died down and the dust settled, left everything in disarray. The old order was gone and the new one was totally unexpected. I nervously followed the daily events and hoped that finally my homeland would experience democracy and justice.
From this point on, everything took a different turn. Most Americans knew Iran as a land of flying carpets, Omer Khayyam, and oil . They saw it as a friendly country. Now, overnight, Iran was the enemy. As mistrust, suspicion, and paranoia grew, I became more self-conscious about my black hair and dark appearance and could often feel that people were staring at me.
After a few harassing phone calls, I disconnected my phone, limited my normal everyday activities, and stayed in closer touch with my friends. Some of us decided to say we were from Pakistan if we were ever confronted. Denying my own identity – just thinking about it was painful.
At the end of the school year, heated debates and arguments about the hostages and the U.S. role in Iran continued. That semester, two of my closest friends graduated. Despite the negative attitudes toward Iranians, one of them was offered a job in Los Angeles, and the other was also going along hoping to find work. I decided to take the opportunity to get away from school for a couple of weeks and I went with them to LA.
Driving back, I felt happy that my friends were able to find work in this country, and sad because the revolution had changed things so much that people like us were not able to go back and help to rebuild.
It was late in the afternoon, and I was enjoying the golden sunset over the sand and cactuses of the Nevada desert, when suddenly steam rushed out from under the hood and the car stalled. The road was empty, and I was desperate for somebody to stop and help me. I should have known better than to drive that old car on such a long trip, I thought.
Finally, a truck slowed down, passed my car, and stopped a couple hundred meters away. When the dust settled, a big man, his large belt buckle shining in the sun walked toward me.
“What seems to be the problem?” He asked.
“I don't know. It boiled over,” I answered.
He stared at me from under his cap.
“Where're you from, boy?” He asked.
I shivered and felt a weakness in my knees. Avoiding his sharp eyes, I looked toward the hazy sunset. For a second, I thought I heard my grandfather's shaky voice in my ear. I turned to the truck driver and without hesitation said, “I am Iranian.”
“Oh, eye-ran,” he said, while looking at the engine. As he turned around to walk to his truck I could hear the crunching sound of sand under his cowboy boots. I stood there nervously. Then I saw him coming back with a bucket in his hand.
“I'm glad you're not from Pakistan.” He said as he poured some coolant into the radiator. “If you were, I would have to bury you alive right here under the sand … I hate those Pakis.” He put the radiator cap back on. “This will get you to the next gas station.”