The Diaspora of the Despised: On Being an Immigrant in America

Syrian Refugee.jpg

It’s hard to think of myself as an immigrant even though I was not born here. I came to the U.S. with my family when I was only six years old. I blended in well enough and soaked in the English language while forgetting Farsi. Iran was only a word to me, so when we moved to New Jersey, I couldn’t really grasp why my parents seemed so lost.

This all took place during the Hostage Crisis, after Iranian students took fifty-two U.S. embassy employees hostage and held them for four hundred and forty four days. My family tried its best to settle into something resembling normalcy in a shabby rental home here, but even though I was too young to understand much of what was happening in the world, I knew that the images of the Islamic Revolution on the news had everything to do with why we fled.

My family members spoke of Iran as an enemy state like most Americans, but our neighbors were still wary of us. Whereas I was too young to be the target of bullying, the kids at school taunted my sisters until they began lying and saying we were part French.

I was almost eight years old when my cousin was shot and killed by an anti-Iranian vigilante. Even though the news was always showing demonstrations filled with Americans demanding that all Iranian refugees be deported, I didn’t think we were in danger until his murder.

I couldn’t at all make sense of the Islamophobia and hatred that fueled these kids to kill my twenty-year-old cousin. I also felt afraid that the rest of my family would be sent back to Iran. No one seemed to understand that if we were to return home, the Islamicists would murder my father. Or did they hate us that much?

Even though my father was only a civil servant under the Shah, he too was labeled as an American spy and placed on a death list by the clerics. The Islamic Republic was purging the old guard at record pace then, in Iranian prisons and assassinations abroad. It seemed that no one wanted us to live.

Today, I am an American citizen and survivor of verbal, physical and sexual assaults, mainly because of my nationality and because I’m Muslim. It doesn’t matter how assimilated I am. Every week that I post blog articles on social media I’m still attacked by Nazis, racists and xenophobes who refuse to consider me an American. They tell me I have no right to speak my truth or criticize our country. They also mock me for championing women’s rights here because women have even fewer in Iran. They say other absurd things, like that Islam is polytheistic and that I should burn in hell for not converting to a real religion.

I’m not sure why progressives act shocked that President Trump has restricted the entry of Muslim refugees into the U.S to obscenely low numbers when the liberal media has barely mentioned the victims of a civil war we created in Syria. There were hardly any articles about the human smugglers who take payment from desperate, fleeing Syrian and then deliberately drown them before they reach land. Too few tears were shed by any of us after dead Muslim children washed up on shore. These tragic deaths are all but forgotten, even though they continue.

The collective amnesia about why these people are running away from their homes is especially nauseating. We Americans encouraged these people to rise up and speak out against their governments. Obama armed resisters in Syria. Now, Trump is closing our doors on those caught in the crossfire.

My family was lucky: The U.S. took us in with open arms and honored its ill-fated relationship with a monarchy most Iranians detested. But this new stream of Muslim refugees is not like my family. They are utterly destitute after spending what little they have to get out of harm’s way – often, only to die. If they survive, they are rounded up and placed behind bars under the presumption that they are terrorists (yes, even the children). Many have been pressured to convert to Christianity under these conditions. But a few have been lucky enough to rebuild their lives in Western countries where they are sure to be hated.

People wonder why I’m so opposed to any anti-Iran rhetoric, especially manipulatively timed stories now appearing about the persecution of the Bahia minority there (yes, even though they are true). I have no family in Iran, so it’s not like I worry about those close to me if we destroy yet another Muslim country. All my ties to Iran are ethereal and I have not once visited my homeland during my nineteen years of exile.

I’ll tell you why I oppose regime change in Iran: I worry about the Iranians who aren’t as lucky as I am. They live in constant anxiety while the U.S. and Israel actualize a very bloody new map of the Middle East. I’m also sick of us creating more refugees that are doomed to die. I’m already out of tears for the existing victims of this wretched War on Terror. I refuse to shed any more.

Resist war with Iran.