My parents, Monda and Enrico, are immigrants. My mother left Iran when she was 21 yearsold on Jan 1st, 1978 to attend college in Florida (otherwise unheard of in Iranwhere she was expected to be married by age 18). Due to the Islamic takeover oneyear later my mother was not able to visit, let alone return to Iran, andsettled in the United States. My father left Italy in 1977 when he worked on acruise ship and settled in Los Angeles with no more than the money in hispocket. Monda and Enrico met in San Francisco in their early 30’s and were wedin 1990. My mother’s family is Muslim and my father’s family is Catholic; myfather took on the name Ali so they be courted and later travel to Iran. Theirwedding was a gathering of a handful of people; my aunt was my mother’s onlyrelative in the United States and none of my fathers family has yet to leaveItaly.
On October 20, 1992 I was born inMarin General Hospital in Greenbrae, California. When I was four months old Iwas baptized in Fiesole, Italy, in the same church my grandmother has attendedher entire life and my father was raised attending. Despite my immediatereligious introduction, I have no memory of attending any other religiouspractices aside from the occasional Christmas or Easter mass (in which myfather generally fell asleep). My mother always pushed our family’s attendanceeven though my father claimed himself a practicing Catholic. The only times Itruly experienced Catholicism were during my visits to Italy when my Nonna Dinatook me to church at least once a week.
My Maman Flor would visit from Iranonce a year for a month between our home and my aunt’s home in the East Bay. Myearliest memory of my grandmother is her morning routine in her room; she wouldkneel on the floor, cover her head with a sheet and bow down to her bed—Ithought my grandmother was an alien. My mother explained this was a religiouspractice. I was about four years old when this occurred and it was the firsttime I can recognize as a religious identity my mother did not pass down to me.My mother had raised me speaking Farsi and visiting Iran, but why hadn’t I everseen this religious practice? That marked the beginning of my underlyingskepticism with religion and from a young age I was aware that religion wasnever impressed upon me the same way it was in my extended family.
I later learned that Babba Shari,my mother’s father, denounced the Muslim church, at least among his family andfriends. My grandfather was a worldly and well-educated man, his group offriends spoke against the government and he was imprisoned during the Islamicregime. This was fueled by his mother’s death. When my Babba Shari was 17 yearsold his mother suffered and passed away from tuberculosis. She contractedtuberculosis in Mahshad, the Muslim shrine, where she prayed; prayers includedtouching and kissing the shrine despite the threat of disease. Her deathignited the flavor of rage in Babba Shari and he continued to study the impactof the post-Islam Arab invasion in Iran. His denouncement was factually basedand my mother was raised in an environment that dishonored Iran’s Shiite faith.
Although it wasn’t until recentlythat I fully understood my grandfather’s religious, or more anti-religious,past, I had always had a concept of disassociating with religion because of thereligious people I encountered. The Mormons in Utah, the Maguire’s with ninechildren, the weird thing my grandmother did with her head wrapped in asheet—they were my true encounters with religion from a young age, andsomething about them struck me as “off.” When I later learned about the trueDark Side of religion in forms of child molestation in the church, genocide,and ethnic cleansing, my peers were beginning to grasp the reality and I wasthinking: I told you so.