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.

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