💌 Iranian AF 💌
my new sense of cultural community lights a flame that will never go out
On September 23rd, I sat down in front of my laptop and wrote a blog entry about Jhina Amini. I wrote it in less than an hour, fueled by pure emotion and pain. I posted it, without barely rereading it, and without any idea how the situation in Iran was about to escalate.
At that time, I was begging for an outlet and grieving in a chamber. It felt like, once again, I was watching the world ignore the suffering of Iranians and my screams were muffled and silenced. Watching brute police violence and just drying my own tears. I had no Iranian community in New York I could turn to, and any time I tried talking with a non-Iranian, the look of pity and misunderstanding made me feel even worse. I’ve become so comfortable with Americans ignoring the global south, I’ve grown numb to ignorance and never really expected much solidarity.
Now, as we know, that’s not how things have unfolded. There are murals in California and Europe with Jhina’s face, and billboards in Times Square and Germany that read “Woman, Life, Freedom”. Every celebrity is talking about it, it’s on the news, and all over social media. I never thought I would live to see “Iran” pronounced correctly by this many people (not eye-ran). We’re not invisible anymore. Of course, Iranians have had to beg and bleed for people to notice this 43 year old oppressive dictatorship, but the world actually cares more than I ever thought that they would. When you’re labeled as a terrorist your entire life, it’s strange to be treated like a human being by that same society, even for just a few moments.
The first large gathering around Iran was outside of the UN on September 21st. I went to my boss’s office intending to explain the situation and ask if I can step out for an hour or so to attend. As soon as I started talking about it (and I realized, the first time I talked about it aloud with anyone other than my boyfriend), I bursted into tears in her office. It caught me by surprise, and I was very embarrassed. But right there, years of grief were pouring out of me. Years of pain, misunderstanding, oppression, of missing a home that no longer exists. I would later learn that many other Iranians around the world, including my own sister, had the exact same experience at work. Iranians share this pain in our ancestral blood. Since then, I cry on and off every day, my emotions all over the place. Iranians are processing a lot right now. My boss told me to take the rest of the day off, go to the protest, and do whatever I needed to do. A Mexican immigrant herself, she told me the most important thing I can do right now is be around my community.
I went to the protest by myself having no idea what to expect. The situation was still new and just starting to take shape. I was very surprised by the amount of people; I didn’t know that many Iranians lived in New York, speaking Farsi openly, singing familiar songs and chants. I met some new people, but they immediately felt like family I already knew. We were all connected that day. We marched, we chanted, we cried. I felt anger and passion and like I was a part of something so much larger than myself. My boss was right, that was exactly what I needed. And since then, I attend every event I can in New York about Iran. I was asked to speak at a vigil at Washington Square Park. I did. I’m seeing familiar faces, remembering names and hanging out with a new community I never knew how much I needed. I feel understood in a way I never have before. As long as those brave men and women (and girls and boys) are on the streets of Iran fighting for their liberation, I will continue marching in solidarity from here.
For as long as I can remember, I’ve had to bite my tongue about how Iranian I really am to fit into a culture that hates me. As a writer, when I hear praise for stories clearly stealing cultural tokens from the Middle East that ultimately stereotype and mock us, I’ve felt like I’m not allowed to react. When I tried to react in the past, it was met with dismissive and patronizing belittlement. From science fiction exoticising horseshit of “Bedouin” landscapes like Dune, The Mummy, or Star Wars to hostage and war American dicksucking thrillers like Argo, Syriana, Zero Dark Thirty, etc. the common thread is the lack of value of brown bodies lives for the Western “hero” to emerge victorious. It’s always shocked me how much racism goes right under American’s noses, even the self-proclaimed “woke” ones. Or video games centered around shooting men in turbans and calling the killer the hero. Let me be very clear: Our cultures aren’t a backdrop for your white savior fantasies. Our countries aren’t playgrounds for you to twist and steal from as you please when in reality, as we try to rebuild our home countries, the weight of remnants of western intervention are so, so heavy and were built to break us. I’m sick of acting like this is okay, and I’m never going to stop fighting for Iran, Iranians, and my Arab, North African, and South Asian brothers and sisters to be treated with some goddamn respect.
I’ve hidden my Iranian-ness for so long to protect myself. Are you going to blow up the school? Does your family ride camels? Why do Muslims hate America? Your mom’s accent is so…cute. Is Osama Bin Laden your dad? These things stick to you. They are traumatic and ostracizing insinuations from my past that have seeped into every way I move in this world,convincing me to hate that part of me. Not always so clearly, but in deceiving, smaller ways. In the way I hate my nose or judge other Iranians, in the way I resisted learning my mother tongue as a chilf to fit in, in the way I write and the way I love. In the way I have allowed myself to exist and shrink to be digestible. But in light of the protests in Iran, I’m so embarrassed that I would run away and abandon my lineage of Iranian women when I see how fierce and brave they are. Braver than any American woman I’ve ever met. We are witnessing the biggest women-led, feminist revoltion right now in the world in Iran, far more unified and inclusive than any Western attempt at white-washed feminism in their genocidal, colonial history. I can’t believe I used to run away from how Iranian I am.
The past few weeks have completely transformed me. My whole life I’ve been yearning for something so simple– a community that looks and sounds like me. A sense of belonging. To not feel like a foreigner every second of every day. I am proud to be Iranian, I am proud to come from ancient warriors for human rights and equality. To come from poets and mystics and strong, fearless, and courageous women.
We still have a long way to go in the current movement. It’s no longer protests, the people want a completely different system and to crumble the current regime. It isn’t going to be easy, and it’s going to take a lot of time and patience. The world needs to keep talking about us and sharing voices, hashtags, and videos from Iran. They need us to be their voice. Keep sharing, keep sharing, keep sharing. I know there’s no going back. We will take our country back. And it’s because of the brave girls and women in Iran who said enough is enough, risking their lives every day for their basic human rights.
My new Iranian friend Tirdad put it so beautifully,
“They stole our home, so we had to flee and plant our seeds around the world to survive. We had time and space to grow from those seeds, became strong again, and now we’ve blossomed into the same beautiful flower, finding each other once again to go back home.”
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Love you Mehrnaz, thank you for your powerful organizing!!!