A Letter from an Iranian American to the People of Iran
By Lisa Daftari
To my dear Iranian countrymen,
This letter is for the dear mother whose only son was killed in the Iran-Iraq War, and for the valiant father who struggled to obtain his PhD. .and now sells pistachios in the local bazaar to bring food home for his family. It is for the young girl who has had to turn to prostitution in order to sustain her life. It is addressed to the battered woman who has had to stay with her abusive husband because Islamic courts will not grant her a divorce. This is a letter for all the young students at Iranian universities, whose hopes and dreams are not much different than ours, yet at the same time, live half a world away. We dedicate these words and greetings to our brave brothers and sisters who have courageously filled the streets of Iran fighting for our freedom. This is a letter from all of us: your countrymen who live outside Iran yet yearn to be one with you at this difficult moment.
We know that the last 30 years have been like a long nightmare, leaving you terrified to go on and even more fearful to wake up to your own reality. You gave of your children, your hopes, your dreams and aspirations. You put aside your social preferences for fear that they would be called un-Islamic. You denied any political convictions knowing you would be called an enemy of the regime. The Bahai, Jew, Christian and even Muslim among you practiced your religious beliefs in private for fear that they would be seen as heresy to some. A neighbor was no longer someone who lends you saffron, rather someone who would report you to the Islamic guards. You picked up the phone and always anticipated an eavesdropper. You sent out an email knowing there would be an audience. Human rights seemed like lofty dreams far from reach.
We want you to know we feel your pain. And although you may say expatriates are no longer Iranian, no longer care and no longer understand, we do. We want you to know that we are with you and support you. We will hold rallies and try to inform the media. We will be your advocates and your counterparts. We are as Iranian as the day we left. Some would say we never really left. We only escaped the nightmare. In our own realities, no matter where we are today, we are all Iranian and still hold those shared values that bring our people, regardless of where they are, together. We will fight for your freedom. We will support your protests. Most importantly, we want you know that we are not trying to sympathize; rather we want to empathize.
But we have our story too. Although it has seldom been vocalized, we have all tasted the bitterness of this regime. We have struggled alongside you, watching as our families, friends and people were persecuted, stoned and hanged. We shed tears with you as we watched your rights taken from you with such ease. As you hurt, we hurt. But we had our own share of hardships as well, circumstances that befell us as we left our homeland, our families and our friends. Many of us experienced tremendous adversity, whether it was traveling through Turkey, Austria or the IAE to eventually build our lives in faraway lands such as Germany, England, France, Italy and the United States. We sneaked under bus stowaways and hid underground. We had fake passports and changed names. As émigrés we made painful and dangerous sacrifices to leave and resettle in countries that are foreign to us and to live with cultures that are not our own. Regardless of whether we left Iran 30, 20 or even five years ago, we are still immigrants. We are still struggling with our own identities.
Our children, first generation Brits, Americans, Germans, Italians and others growing up in our new countries also feel displaced. They have never even seen Iran, but they are completely Iranian. They gravitate towards Iranian culture and try to find Iranian friends in the places they can. And when they can’t, they long to visit cousins and friends who will understand them and not mock them for their dark skin or extra facial hair. We want you to know that our children wished they grew up in Iran as you did, sitting in classrooms with their own people, understanding their language, their culture, their kotlet sandwich for lunch.
We faced hard times away from Iran, particularly when our homeland would hit the headlines. You may wonder why some of our names are John, Shawn, Michelle and Jennifer. It is not that we ever denied our Iranian identity. It is because our parents feared that we would be teased in school, particularly if we were born during the Revolution, Iran-Iraq War or worse, the Iran Hostage Crisis. We would hear the whispering and see the finger pointing when people would discover our heritage. Some of us would have to deny that we are simply to escape the harassment and discrimination. We felt lonely and isolated. We longed to be back in our homeland. We still do.
You may look at us driving around in our cars, living in mansions, wearing designer clothes. Many expatriate Iranians have been very successful in varying endeavors, but most of us would prefer to have less of the tangible and more of that intangible hospitality and warmth of our people that is without parallel on this globe. We have struggled to learn new languages. Some of us still don’t speak the language of our new lands. We have had to adapt to new cultures that are so incredibly different from our own Iranian heritage. We have had to put aside our academic degrees and sit behind the driver’s seat of taxicabs in order to keep up. But the most painful part of our expatriate experience has been the gham-e ghorbat, that overwhelming nostalgia and missing of our homeland, culture and people. The emotions are so overpowering that we coined a term to capture the pain. We miss the smells, the touches and the sights of our old cities and villages. We miss the people and the familiarity. In most cases, we left for religious, political or military reasons and can’t even come back to visit.
But we recognize the bravery and expediency of your actions. We know it is not easy to send your wives, children, brothers and sisters onto the streets to be killed in the name of our collective freedom. And although we are reminding you of the hardships that we have experienced abroad, we say it in hopes of uniting together as victims of this regime rather than dividing us as patriots and expatriates. You are the ones on the frontlines. You are the ones who are risking your lives and spilling your blood for the injustices that have befell our nation. You have heroically and single-handedly taken the burden of our 30-year battle upon yourselves, but you are not alone. Whether it is rallying in the streets of Los Angeles, Toronto, Milan or London, or tracking your comments and videos on Facebook, YouTube or Twitter, we are shadowing your every step. We commend and honor you all, fellow countrymen. And we are writing to offer you the only thing we have; our unconditional support.
After 30 years of growing apart and away from one another, we can bring our combined strengths together to fight the oppression. We have been silent for too long, and thank you, dear brothers and sisters for breaking that silence. Let us work together to remind the world that this is no longer about a stolen election, but rather about a neglected and oppressed nation that is vying for its future. You can be the leaders and we, the followers. You can tell us of the Iran you yearn to have, and we can tell you of the freedoms that you deserve. Despite our political, social, economic and geographic differences, let us unite under the one factor that we can and have always agreed upon: Iran.
As you head out to the streets each day and return home every night, please remember that you are on our minds and in our prayers. We are waiting for your uploaded video clips and Internet updates. We may have given up the opportunity to fight alongside our people, but we will never give up on you or our dream to one day, hopefully very soon, have a free Iran.
Long Live Iran,
Your Fellow Iranians