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?!
As 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 closer everyday.
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 you!