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The Truth About Being Middle Eastern in Today’s America

I am an Iranian-American. To say that I am solely an American or only an Iranian, would create an emptiness within me that I could not stand to bear. I am an Iranian-American, and I am a child of immigrants. I have the features of an Iranian, tan and dark, but the speech of an American, choppy and to the point, hinting to my roots of being raised on the outskirts of New York City.

I love classic Iranian dishes, such as Zereshk Polo, but just as equally appreciate the occasional Big Mac. If I could not speak to my relatives in Farsi, the language in Iran, and carry conversations with my friends in English about what happened in their last class, I would not be myself – I would be a stranger without a name in the sea of faces that flood America.

My background does not come easily. In a time of unreasonable fear of any person without pearly-white skin, I am in danger. I was raised with phrases turning into mantras: “Ignore any comments and don’t look them in the eye,” my mother would mutter to me in Farsi as white men would approach our table to blame us for 9/11. These men would never know that my father was in New York that day, on his way to his job on Wall Street, when the towers were hit just blocks away. They wouldn’t know that my mother sat in the living room clutching me in her lap with her hands furiously dialing the phone, not knowing if my father was dead or alive. They wouldn’t know that there are 399 million people that reside in the Middle East and that Islamic terrorists only make up a minute percentage of those residents.

They wouldn’t know because they didn’t care – they saw us as our skin color, not as Americans.

Even with these inescapable struggles, I still identify as a headstrong Iranian-American. When I see the identification bubbles on applications, where there is no bubble for ‘Middle Eastern’, I do not circle ‘White’ like I am advised to do. A white child will never know the discomfort of walking into a southern store and being the only person of color in the entire location. The child will never know the feeling of what seems like a million eyes on them, watching every move they make like a hawk, and ready to pounce if a mistake is ever made. In this community, I am not myself; I am the face of 399 million peopleInstead of ‘White’, I write in my ethnicity or bubble-in ‘Asian’.

Through these predicaments, I have found my voice to advocate for those of my ethnicity to speak out about their heritage. To identify as who I truly am highlights the racism that my parents and I have suffered through, and the history and culture that my ancestors have created. I am a brown, Middle Eastern Iranian-American. I will identify as nothing else, and without such I am incomplete.

The United States is a hard place to live in right now. With President Trump holding the fate of our country in his hands, he accumulates a multitude of power. His power has fueled not only actions but strong pronouncements of hate speech and xenophobic rhetoric that litter our culture today. The day the Muslim ban was enacted, I sat in my living room on the phone with my grandmother from Iran, assuring her that we would see each other soon. The truth was, though, we were traveling through gray clouds. The future seems to get more muddled as time goes on, but I hope that it is all going to work out in the end.

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A student with a passion for change, social justice, and meeting new people.

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