One Year Ago

One year ago today, I stood before the U.S. Supreme Court and gave a speech hours after SCOTUS ruled to uphold the Muslim Ban. It was one of the hardest days both personally and professionally, though I wasn’t supposed to be surprised about the decision.

Just a couple days before the ruling was announced, I had flown to DC directly from Russia where I had watched and celebrated the Iran team’s strong standing at the World Cup. What was supposed to be a trip to watch my favorite sport during a particularly difficult birthday, the first to fall on Father’s Day just after my father’s death, had become an intimate study of Iran soccer fans traveling from Iran. I spent days surrounded by hundreds of Iranian fans, mostly from Iran, who talked to me about everything from politics to the environment. Parents would tell me about their concerns for their adolescent children growing up under sanctions and the ban. Merchants from Mashad told me about the protests and asked me what Americans thought of them since they’d never traveled outside of Iran before. I embraced every conversation and recognized them as opportunities to talk to Iranians I wouldn’t otherwise encounter.

Weeks before my World Cup experience, I had also made an impromptu trip to Iran, my first ever alone, to visit my beloved uncle Hasan. My jovial uncle had collapsed in a Tehran restaurant only days after the SCOTUS hearing in late April. He was my link to the ban, the relative I most wanted to invite to the U.S. and would tell journalists about when anyone would ask about my personal story of the ban.

We learned shortly after my uncle’s collapse that his body was riddled with cancer and that he had very little chance of survival. I made the decision to see him one last time and flew to Iran only to arrive hours after his death. My 10-day trip unexpectedly became an in-depth experience in funerals and grieving Iran-style. I met many relatives for the first time during the many events and traditions during those ten days.

I walked up to the Supreme Court full of grief, loss, and heartache the morning of June 26, 2019. It was with my uncle in mind that I spoke to an audience of dozens of advocates, journalists, and activists about the family and milestones our communities lose because of the ban. It was with all the pain that my family endured in 2018 – burying an uncle and grieving a dead father whose last moments were spent alone in an Iranian hospital – that I shared the following words.

To watch my speech, click here (I start at 36:34).

Text of my speech after the SCOTUS ruling:

My name is Mana Kharrazi and I represent a generation of young Iranian Americans through Iranian Alliances Across Borders.

I sued the Trump administration on behalf of IAAB with the help of civil rights lawyers at Muslim Advocates & Americans United for the Separation of Church & State and we won in the 4th circuit, a victory the Supreme Court chose to strike down today.

I sued for the incredible youth I work with and empower so that they wouldn’t have to give up on knowing their families like I did when I became American.

I sued for our communities and for our thousands of families who have been torn apart and made invisible by this terrible Ban because they deserve better.

Today we lost our battle in the courts, but this is just one step in a longer battle for our humanity. Our Supreme Court has never been where progress starts. It has upheld our greatest values only after we fought for them, after we demanded it. The truth is we’re being demonized, scapegoated, and it’s hurting our children in their schools, the subways, and even down the street where at least two of our young people have been killed in the past year because of hatred.

That hatred is the same hatred that’s hurting our children at the border, our Latinx families who deserve better.

It’s the same hatred that says that I’m somehow dangerous because of where I come from and how my grandfather prayed.

I was born in Iran and I am an unapologetic Iranian American. I exist because my parents sacrificed so much for me and my siblings and I have to believe that it was worth it, all of the sacrifices because ultimately that’s what it means to be American. It means having hope. I fight for that hope, for my family overseas so that I can one day welcome them to this place and into my home. I fight for that hope because that’s what immigrants come for, that’s what is supposed to make this place special, a chance for safety, a chance for opportunity for our children and grandchildren.

This has been a dark and terrible chapter in our history. Let us be remembered for standing up against it, for changing the course of our history, and for being the generation that said no to hatred, not just in our courts and at our airports, but at our borders, in our schools and in our communities. We must believe in that vision together to one day realize it regardless of what this court decided today. This will be known as a mistake, as an error that the Court must rectify as it has decisions harming our communities in the past. This must be remembered as Korematsu was, as a travesty against our communities and our country.

I’ll continue to do my part to protect our communities and to fight for that hope. I ask you to do the same, to remember us when you hear the hatred being spewed – that you fight it and that we never again ignore the stirrings of that hatred until it has already banned us, but that we challenge it at the root and overcome it together. This must be our legacy, not this terrible ban.

This is what I hope for.

To the families impacted by this ban, and the thousands here who are waiting for their families to be reunited, we will not forget you. We will continue this fight. To the Iranians around the world who have been made to feel unwelcome: ma hargez shoma ra faramoosh nemikonim. Natije emrooz ra ghabool nemikonim.

Today’s decision didn’t determine if we will be accepted, but when. The battle may now be longer, but we will continue to fight because we refuse to be banned.

Reflecting on the Past Year

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.

“We Are Tired.”

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:

Solidarity in the Face of the Ban

We await news of Trump’s series of anti-immigration Executive Orders, which will likely include plans to build a wall and place a ban on people from seven Muslim-majority countries, including my country of origin Iran.

Trump’s ban will target individuals from Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen. As Moustafa Bayoumi explains, author of How Does It Feel to Be a Problem?: Being Young and Arab in America, “So, if you come from a Muslim-majority country that has been invaded, overthrown, or bombed by the US, you can’t come in.”

The details of the ban have not yet been released, but what is clear is that this move is discriminatory, ineffective, and perpetuates the hate plaguing our country.

Individuals attempting to come to the United States face rigorous screening that spans 1-2 years. It’s already a rigid process that is only accessible to folks with means or the circumstances classifying them as highly vulnerable, such as widows and children coping with trauma from the Syrian war. The process discriminates against those who don’t have the means and those who are considered “at-risk” because of their age, marital status, or sex.

The United States’ immigration process is already one of the most difficult in the world. 

So why would Trump place a ban? It’s the same reason that he will sign an Executive Order about a wall. This is a political move to consolidate his power, get his party in line, and to play on the fear and hate that elected him. We are his scapegoats once again.

Executive Orders don’t necessarily mean much. Obama signed an Executive Order to close down Guantanamo during his first week in office, yet it still exists. But Trump’s ban doesn’t happen in a vacuum. The fact remains that Trump’s order will expand upon the discriminatory Visa Waiver bill H.R. 158 that Congress passed during Obama’s second term.

If we don’t immediately stand up and denounce Trump’s actions, we will continue to be out-organized and marginalized by his followers.

Our organizing efforts must not be at the expense of other communities. Trump’s ban, much like his campaign, thrives on the fear and hate that many already experience. We must understand the demonization of our community in the context of the broader targeting of black and brown communities in the United States. We are all under attack.

06.gifThe Iranian diaspora community is young and has benefited countless times from the support and efforts of other communities. Our American story began after the struggles of the Irish, Jewish, Chinese, Arab, and African-American communities. The victories of the civil rights movement paved the path for us to exist. The argument of ‘we aren’t terrorists’ didn’t particularly matter in the 80s when we were the ‘hostage takers.’ Our old and tired narratives of proving we are more American or that we’re less a threat than another community have historical roots as failed attempts by other communities. We need to learn from the experiences of others and not perpetuate the same apologist or scapegoating rhetoric.

The attacks against SWANA (Southwest Asian and North African) communities rose dramatically in 2015. Attackers didn’t discriminate between Muslims, Jews, Christians, Sikhs, and other faiths. They didn’t differentiate between Arabs and Iranians. No hate crime charges were filed against Shayan Mazroei’s killer just as they weren’t against Hussain Saeed Alnahdi’s, a Saudi Arabian student who was beaten to death in front of dozens of witnesses in a Wisconsin college town during Halloween weekend.

Stand up today. Denounce the hate that gives rise to such bans and walls. Remember, the civil rights movement wasn’t built by paid organizers and nonprofit institutions, many of which didn’t yet exist. Petitions and donating to organizations are important, yes. We need institutions to support and defend us, and to disseminate information. But these are strange times. We need to be in the streets. We need to push back. We can’t show up on Trump’s inauguration day and stay silent during his presidency. Our social media won’t touch him. Our petitions won’t sway him – he’s not collaborating with us to bring America together.

Trump is a bully President who only responds to power. We need to organize and demonstrate that power every. single. day. Together.

We must demonstrate our power together.

 

Events Today (I’ll update as I get word – please feel free to comment or send as well)

New York City (Wednesday, 1/25): https://www.facebook.com/events/1822485898020815/

Washington DC (Wednesday, 1/25): https://www.facebook.com/events/613293632196454/

Actions/Volunteers Needed: 

 

Lawyers needed at JFK, Newark, Dulles, O’Hare, Miami, LAX airports to help refugees already traveling to the US who will be impacted: https://refugeerights.org/urgent-call-protect-refugees-arriving-at-airports/

 

 

In Memory of Abe

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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

Four Ways You Can Support Refugees

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Months after images of a demolished Aleppo circulated the media, people finally took notice because of one child’s blank and bloodied stare. The image of Omran Daqneesh, a five-year-old boy pulled out of Aleppo’s rubble was posted late Wednesday night. Within hours, every major media outlet, including CNN and even Fox News, shared the heartbreaking photograph.  A 17-second video shows the little boy, Omran Daqneesh, wipe his face before smearing his bloodstained hand on the chair beneath him.

In one short clip, we are reminded that the biggest victims in the current refugee crisis are children. According to the UNHCR, over half of the world’s 21.3 million refugees are under the age of 18. 

Photos of dead and injured children appear online every day, but the image of Omran seemed to remind many in the West that, despite the best efforts of xenophobic and fear-mongering political and media pundits, the majority of refugees are in fact children. There are an unprecedented number of displaced people around the world: 65.3 million according to the UNHCR. There are more people displaced now than ever before in recorded history. safe_image.jpg Read More

Why “Persian of Color”

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.