I started this blog in 2016 with the aim of sharing more about my work in Greece. I’d developed an educational program for youth living in refugee camps in Northern Greece and hoped to connect my community to the growing crisis. There was a shortage of Farsi/Persian speakers, as there continues to be in Greek camps, and my work with Iranian-American youth meant that I had access to a growing crop of young people interested in volunteering.
However, everything changed with the U.S. election. I realized that I had a bigger role to play in the United States. I was organizing within the Iranian-American community for more than a decade, and with the growing hatred affecting our communities post-election, I believed my relationships and ongoing organizing would provide infrastructure to support our community. We had established a sense of security after the 2014 Iran agreement, believing that the Iranian-American community was no longer vulnerable. The warning signs were there with the passing of the visa waiver legislation in December 2015. I remember being on a call with State Department personnel and having them explain that the political will to get rid of the discriminatory legislation just didn’t exist in Washington.
But it was still surprising just how quickly and dramatically we would be banned by the new administration. We were supposed to be the easy campaign promise. It took three tries to create a version of the ban to argue over in the courts.
So now this blog is a space for me to try and understand the climate we’re living in – in a country that I recognize from history books. After yesterday’s SCOTUS decision, that feels even harder.
Yesterday afternoon I spoke at a press conference minutes after our hearing about an injunction to block Muslim Ban 3.0. This week has been one of the toughest in my professional career. I began the week receiving dozens of emails from people around the world who were afraid of what the ban would do to their lives. Iranians living in Turkey, Indonesia, Iran, and other parts of the world asked us to keep fighting for them because their lives are in limbo and they don’t know what to do. One lamented about not being able to sit in the courtroom in person because she’s banned, so I asked members of our network to attend in her place, and in place of the others affected by the ban.
We’re the outcome of what happens when Iranians are allowed to live in America. We shouldn’t be invisible. It’s easier to ban what you don’t see.
Here’s a clip of me from the press conference:
Today marks the second anniversary of the death of Abe Pishevar, a beloved member and graduate of Camp Ayandeh. I had the distinct privilege of knowing Abe and watching him grow for two summers. Like other adults in Abe’s life, I was constantly in awe of the level of maturity and compassion he demonstrated.
I met Abe during his first summer at Camp Ayandeh in 2013. I remember the first time Abe approached me, he politely introduced himself because he wanted me to ‘know him.’ Before me stood a young man with manners any mother could only dream of and a sense of self uncharacteristic of someone his age. I watched during the rest of that summer as Abe befriended the younger members of our community and gained the respect of his peers. Despite being new, Abe quickly became a mentor and role model, even going so far as to build a strong community for the other men on his residence theme hall.
Very few experiences at camp ever surprise me, but the only time I was struck speechless at camp was in 2013 when Abe coordinated a ‘two clap’ after my speech on his floor. I’d just spent twenty minutes giving one of my notorious “I expect more from you” speeches to all of the young men when, at Abe’s order, the group gave a synchronized two-clap. It was my first experience receiving one of Abe’s famous ‘two clap’ tributes, which became a tradition as a way to appreciate and honor members of our community. Abe showed everyone, including me, unwavering support. Read More
Welcome to Persian of Color, an online platform where I will share my concerns with race and identity, primarily within the Iranian-American community, but also within a global perspective.
I self-identify as a person of color, an opinion not always shared by other Iranians.”Person of color” refers to someone who does not identify as white and does not benefit from “white privilege.” My experience as a person of color (POC), though it differs with that of other POCs in critical ways, informs my identity and shapes my perspective. Some Iranians identify as white; however, those who identify as white can and often still do experience some form of discrimination for being Iranian. Identifying as white is complicated and relates to other factors including privilege, assimilation, and differing historical views.
I do not, however, identify as Persian. Persian is a term referring to an Indo-Iranian language (known as ‘Farsi’ in Persian) and an ethnicity; however, it does not refer to a nationality. All Iranians are not Persian and all Persians are not Iranian. Persians span across several countries including Iran, Afghanistan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. In Iran, Persians comprise nearly 61% of the country’s population, excluding mostly Azeris, Kurds, Lurs, Baloch, Arabs, and Turkish inhabitants. I happen to be Lur and Kurd, which makes me an ethnic minority.
Additionally, Iranians in diaspora who prefer “Persian” often use the term to disassociate themselves from “Iranian.” After the 1979 revolution and Iran hostage crisis, many Iranians in the US feared discrimination based on national origin, and used Persian to self-identify instead. Others shared an intense dislike for the Islamic Republic and avoid Iranian to minimize any association with the current government. The ongoing political tensions between Iran and the US, the deep-rooted Islamophobia, and the current rise in xenophobia have all further complicated the use of these terms.
So yeah. Persian of Color is my cheeky way of talking about these topics. It’s also (hopefully) pretty clever.