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 ”
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 reason, I want to take a leap and connect Bahmani's article to Darya Sarkar's “The 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 from” often 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 exilic 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 nostalgic 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 a homogenous and coherent exilic identity.
The exilic economy is often established not through challenging the dichotomy of the here/there, local/global, but 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 task, 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 the nation-state.
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 behind.
In nostalgic commemorations of an ideal past, there is often no attempt to address issues such as immigration laws and state practices that regulate 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 and Personal Responsibility Acts, Anti-Terrorist Law, and Patriot ACT), such issues are often not qualified within the realm of what concerns “us,” Iranian immigrants.
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 conservative politics.
While Mr. Bahmani lived in S.F. for four years during the dot.com boom, annoyed with the number of the homeless on SF streets, I 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 SF homeless 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 their bridge 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 of San Francisco allocated a reasonable budget for people who live on the streets? 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 are the 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 deceptive “Care 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 to 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 too).
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”.
The 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 Politi-SHunS
Comin' to Col-LecT…
— From The War on the Poor, Tiny/Po' Poets Project