When I was young, we would walk along the streets of our city, marveling at its modernization. It was the 50s, and Tehran was one of the progressive hubs of the Middle East. We once walked along these paths, entranced by what the future would hold. Upon these streets we loved, we took advantage of the carefreeness of youth and entrenched our positions as perceptual dreamers of a better world.
Why Are We Strangers Abroad and Strangers in Our Homeland?
Generations lived and died on this land, but our lives were inferior in the face of ruthless empires; that see the earth as their political playground. Foreign leaders sought to make our borders and the land beyond into instruments to maintain their global dominance. Our history is not one of underdevelopment or aggression but one riddled with the consequences of foreign intervention. Our elections and democracy were irreversibly damaged by the greed of the power-hungry. Sowing the seeds for the genesis of a revolution would rock the global community’s fabric.
We lived, loved, grew under the rich traditions and milestones our culture outlined for us, and embraced modernity. However, all that we had, would rapidly change in the face of political unrest. Our stone streets were unrecognizable, as bullets would be the new form of street design. The sound of laughter and 70s Persian music was replaced with the eerie and destabilizing sound of the civil defense siren. Life as we knew it was forced tightly into an indestructible box, locked away but not forgotten. Our children and young people could no longer pick up pens and paper and learn about their history or any other discipline, as schools were shut down and would remain closed for four years.
Our men who once wore flared pants and spent hours styling their long, thick black hair like the style icons of the time would find themselves in beige and green uniforms, complemented with rifles draped across their chests. Men dreamed. Men fell. Women who would once freely walk down the streets, dressed in whatever clothing they pleased, would be locked away in their homes under the tyranny of the male guardianship system. Men, women, and others alike would find family members disappearing in the night, presumably taken by government forces. As the world closed itself off from Iran and Economically destroyed the Iranian civilians, the state would massacre its people, as the international community turned a blind eye to the suffering of Iranian people.
Many Iranians left Iran in exile, seeking asylum, or as immigrants, all desperate for a life of freedom. The Iranian diaspora found itself concentrated in two major areas, Toronto and Los Angeles. Strangers abroad, strangers in our homeland. Disillusionment with the status of our lives was infectious, as we recognized the look of disgust and perceived inferiority those had for us in the West, as reminiscent of the ones we saw back home. As perpetual strangers, we did everything to make this land like our own. It was with incredible irony that Westerners looked at us with contempt, wondering, “what are they doing here.” At the same time, we thought the same thing when we heard and saw them violating our sovereignty and dignity decades ago.
“While their first-generation parents faced discrimination during periods of intense hostility between Iran and the United States, for example (such as after the 1979 Iranian Revolution or during and after the Iran Hostage Crisis), the second-generation experience in the United States has been marked by incidents such as 9/11 and the inclusion of Iran in then–U.S. President George W. Bush’s «Axis of Evil.» The resulting discrimination against Middle Eastern and Middle Eastern-looking individuals, alongside continued media demonization of Iran due to its nuclear program, has meant that most Iranians in the United States have at some point negatively experienced their diasporic identity. While early first-generation Iranian Americans often chose to go by names like Mike or Mo, or disclaimed Iranian heritage in favor of Italian or ambiguously Mediterranean ones during the heights of U.S.-Iranian hostilities, the second generation does not appear to be undertaking the same degree of «covering» strategies as did their parents (Tehranian 2008). There is in fact some indication that the second generation is instead organizing and advocating for their rights to cultural belonging as Iranian Americans in the United States.”