The response to “Goodbye Iran” has overwhelmed me. Most emails have been very supportive and sympathetic to the plight of my children. Some has been less sympathetic and questioned why it is important to me that my children be regarded as “Iranian”. I hope that I am equal to the task of answering such questions, not only on behalf of my children, but all the children of Iranian mothers.
At the most basic and fundamental level everyone in the world has the right to belong to someone, something, or someplace. Usually, one doesn't get to choose these things as they are dictated by the culture or country to which one is born. Even if circumstances in one's life change such as the country of residence or the learning of a second language, one still feels tied to that to which he or she was born. This is why Iranians who have moved to countless countries throughout the world continue to call themselves, Iranians
The ties that bind our hearts and minds to our culture and our country are in most cases unbreakable. Even our children who have been born and raised outside Iran feel the strong tug of our ethnic heritage, although many of them choose to be hyphenated when referring to their nationality, e.g. Iranian-Australian, Iranian-German, Iranian-American, etc. Those of us who emigrated from Iran, however, are simply Iranian, no matter where we are or how long we've been gone.
While undoubtedly there are differences between the generations of our people who were blessed to have been born and raised in Iran and the generation of our offspring who have grown up in non-Persian cultures, we all still regard one another as members of the larger Iranian family. This is our heritage, this is our birthright and the birthright of our children born abroad. No one questions this when both mother and father are ethnically Iranian. The question begins to get less clear for some, unfortunately, when the children are born to one Iranian parent and one non-Iranian parent. Why?
The government of Iran regards the mixed children of Iranian fathers to be fully Iranian. At the same time it regards the mixed children of Iranian mothers to be fully foreign. Some of the letters I have received have questioned why I bother to question this distinction. For me it comes down to the question of 'what is an Iranian?'
I have met a number of young Iranians in the United States who can't read or write Farsi, but can speak it. I have met others who do not know how to speak a word of Farsi. There are those, of course, who are able to do all three. I for one, do not make any distinction between any of these children regarding their “right” to count themselves members of Iranian culture and society.
It certainly isn't their fault that they may not speak, read or write the language of a country which many of them have never set foot in. Moreover, the circumstances of many Iranian families is such that they reside in places where there are no Persian schools, classes or playmates for their children to be given a chance to experience some degree of Iranian-ness growing up. This is a fact of our larger Persian community's life as immigrants.
Our love, affection and acceptance of these children does not hinge on their linguistic abilites, heir knowledge of poetry, or anything else that the older generations hold dear. To us, these young Persians are just as much Iranian as we are. Certainly there are differences between us and them, but such differences are to be expected and often welcomed as a consequence of living new lives in new lands.
One of the things that happens when young adults live in lands far from Iran, is that they fall in love with non-Iranians and in many cases marry them and start families. When this happens to Iranian men, the laws of our country are very accommodating. The foreign wife and any children that they are blessed with are legally regarded as “Iranians”. As you all know by now, such legal recognition is withheld from the spouse and much more importantly, the children of Iranian mothers. Why?
We as a community are willing to loving accept our youngsters who can't speak our national language or recite our passionate poetry and the government of our nation gives them legal recognition, even in cases where they are only 50% Iranian, having foreign mothers. This is done because we want each and every one of them to develop and value their identity as “Iranians”.
We want them to have pride in who and what they are. We would be willing to fight anyone who tried to strip them of this very basic human right. It comes down to being a matter of personal dignity. We want our children to be like us. We want our children to hold dear that which we hold dear. We want our children to be what we are.
This is why our generous people are willing to regard the children of Iranian men and foreign women as Iranians. We offer our brothers who marry foreign women and their children the dignity of our nation and of our people. Why then, does our generosity fail to extend to Iranian women who marry foreign men?
Certainly, in some cases the foreign marriages of Iranian women to foreign men do not comply with the legal regulations of Iran, the most fundamental of which is that a Muslim woman can only wed a Muslim man. (Whether you or I agree with this legal sine qua non is not relevant to this discussion, although for many Iranian women it is a very important issue.)
In other cases, such as mine, the marriage is recognized in Iran and an Iranian marriage license is issued. Unfortunately, it doesn't matter that the husband is Muslim and that all the requisite legal formalities have been met because the children of an Iranian mother “legally” married to a foreign man will have no legal claim to her nationality.
This is wrong because in many, if not most cases, the children of such women not only speak, read and write our language, but love Iranian culture and society. They don't love it as a mere pleasurable pastime or hobby. They love it because they identify as being part of it. They regard themselves as being a full member of Iranian society and culture, just as the half-Persian children of Iranian fathers do, or the full blooded Iranian children born abroad, who can't speak our language, do. What is the difference?
All of these young people have a legitimate claim on our nation and society. Once a government strips or refuses legal recognition of a child…it isn't only that child who is affected. Every subsequent generation will lack the right to claim membership to our heritage. Even the most open minded of Iranians at some point would say that “so-n-so isn't a real Iranian, only his grandmother was born there.”
If the children of Iranian mothers, like me, are refused the legal right to be Iranian then that door will be closed forever not only to them, but to their progeny and their progeny's progeny as well.
My children love Iran. They see themselves as Iranians. They speak our language. They eat our food. They listen to our music and poetry. They enjoy our holidays. What then, makes them any less Iranian than anyone else? I don't know the answer to this simple question and the the all-wise, all-knowing Islamic masters of Iran won't tell me. All I know, is that if my children choose to proudly live as Iranians then they should be given their full rights, just as any other citizen is.
If when they are adults they choose to throw away their identity as Iranians… so be it, just as the mixed children of an Iranian man have the right to claim the identity and nationality of their mother's people. The fundamental right to claim Iranian identity and nationality should not be withheld from them simply based on the fortuity of their paternity. We don't withhold Iranian citizenship from children simply because the mother is from France, Japan, America, or anywhere else. As far as I'm concern and many of you agree from your very kind emails to me, the children of Iranian mothers have as much right to be Iranian as anyone else.
One's identity is very personal and precious. To have it taken away or to have recognition legally refused is a form of psychological rape designed to destroy and denigrate the spirit of Iranian women and their children. It is morally repugnant to any civilized nation, but there lies the problem at present. As Sina in, “Unfortunate son of revolution” pointed out, Iran at present remains in the grasp of men whom are impervious to notions of decency and civility.
The one thing that Sina in his very powerful and moving answer to “Goodbye Iran” failed to acknowledge, is that we Iranian women love our country with every fiber of our being, just as Iranian men do. We raise our children, whether full-blooded or half-blooded, to love our nation. While I know that life in Iran is a struggle for our compatriots who are still there many of us, probably most of us, who have been fortunate to build lives abroad dream of being able to go home someday.
We cling to this dream and we hope against hope that the day will soon come that we can return…and return with our children and husbands. I don't believe that I am wrong to want my son and daughter to be proud and prosperous Persians in a free Iran…in an Iran where it doesn't matter where your father was born or where your mother was born as long as you want to help rebuild your country and love it with you whole heart.
We the Iranian mothers of mixed children know that once our children are branded as foreigners then there is no hope of permanently going back for us or them. If our children are deemed to be foreigners then certainly their children and their children and their children will never have the opportunity to live in and love IRAN, like we did.
Another point that I would like to mention has caused me to rethink my initial emotional response and to decide that I should not give up on my country or my children. My husband and I have been married many years. We started life out together in the United States, but we have lived abroad in Asia for many years now.
During the early days of our marriage in 1979-80 we were university students. We were so young back then, but I can still remember how it felt to be called “sand nigger” and “camel jockey” by angry and sometimes violent American students who were angry at the Iranian government. I know that there are many of you who know what I am talking about because you heard such insults, too.
Sometimes, I grew very weary of carrying the heavy load of my Iranian nationality on my young shoulders. Although I was fortunate to have never been physically harmed, unlike many of our people, my hot-tempered and young husband got into more than a few fights trying his best to protect my honor. Unfortunately, he was usually out-numbered and consequently, on the painful end of these encounters. Living in a community with very few other Iranians to lean on, I soon developed, as did others in the USA, feelings of shame and inferiority due to my nationality.
It took me a long time to regain the pride that I felt growing up in Abadan, but I have done my best to give my children my love of our country. I think that it is sad that the current rulers of Iran are using the issue of nationality to hurt my children the way Americans used it to hurt so many of us twenty five years ago. The wonderful letters of support that I've gotten from Iranians from such far-flung places as Iran, California, Japan, Australia and South Africa, have renewed my spirit. I will not say goodbye to Iran and my children will not say goodbye to Iran either.
I have decided to do what my husband did way back when. No matter how many times he got the hell-beat-out-of-him, he never shied away from protecting me…not once…not ever. Like he did for me, I am going to keep fighting for my children and the children of other mothers in my situation. If I get knocked down, I'll get up and try again.
One of the kind people to write me in the last few days, told me that by turning away from Iran, I was taking the easy way out at the very time some people were fighting and dying in Iran for all of our rights. Now that I know that there are so many of you with me, I am not afraid to take the more difficult path.
Finally, the last reason that I will not shrink away is that I owe it to my children to fight for their rights because how much love they have given me. For example, recently, I was invited to “International Day” at my second child's school. He attends an International School, so all of the children are expatriates from around the world. Each child in his classroom was allowed to make a poster of their home country and to decorate it however they wished. When I found my son's poster on the wall he had identified his home country as Iran. He had decorated the poster with photos we have taken on our many visits there to see baba bozorg.
There was a small asterisk behind the large word IRAN on the poster indicating that the reader should look at the bottom for additional information. When I looked I saw that he has written in parentheses (and America, too). I don't know if he did this (identifying Iran as his homeland) to please me, knowing that I would come to his school event, or if he meant it in his heart of hearts. He is a good boy, so maybe he did it both for love of mother and love of country.
How wonderful it would be if Iran's current masters had the compassion of this one, not-so-little Iranian boy!