Two Lives, One Lifetime: Growing Up Black in Iran

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I was born to an African-American mother and an Iranian father. They were married but it was not a marriage made of love but one of convenience. My mother needed a husband and my father needed a green card and so began the story of my life. My parents met in college; my mother was Journalism major and my father was a Math major. Their marriage, though it lasted for fifteen years in legal terms, ended in only a short couple of years during which my parents managed to create two lives, my own and my brother’s. His name is Ali.

There is not much that I remember from my life in the U.S. before my father took my brother and me to Iran. Well, actually the correct term would be “kidnapped.” I do have few vague memories of my life before Iran. One of those memories I carried with me for sixteen years before I was finally told it was the last time I ever saw my mother and the other was of my initial experience when I stepped off the plane and walked into the airport of Tehran. I remembered it very well because I peed all over myself and our luggage was standing in a pool of yellow water as I stared into the faces of strangers staring back at me in awe. How odd is that I remembered, at the age of two, the two most important moments of my life. The end of one life as I knew it and the beginning of another as I would come to know. The last memory I had of my mother was the one that I would dream about every night for ten years. There was always a red car and a man sitting in the driver seat. There was a woman and a little boy sitting in the backseat and the front passenger window was open and I would always see a dark arm come through the window as she handed a man a tiny little girl crying and screaming. I always wondered why she was crying so hard and why she always looked so terrified and didn’t want to go. Years later my mother explained to me the meaning of my dream, which was actually a memory.

It was a beautiful September day in 1983 and my mother had made plans for a camping trip with her friends while my father spent the weekend with my brother and I. Little did she know of my father’s dark plans and that she would spent the next ten years of her life regretting that day and her camping trip. She was clueless to the fact that just days before, my father and his devious sister had obtained visas for my brother and I to a country so far from my mother’s imagination. She would spent the next ten years of her life haunted by the screams and cries of her little girl and the last day she would see her children as babies not knowing that on their next meeting they would be grown teenagers. Two days passed and my father didn’t show up as planned, another and still nothing. After her phone calls were met with disconnect recordings, she arrived at my father’s apartment to find an empty space and life as she knew it was changed forever. Two weeks later my mother received a phone call from my father: “Your children are with me; they are on the other side of the world and thousands and thousands of miles away from you and you will never see them again.” After a sinister laugh, my mother was left with silence that could defend the loudest sound and an emptiness that could fill the deepest hole.

Five years has passed sense that awful summer day. It’s that time again…The lines are beginning to form and the students are falling into place one by one. The girls are extending their arms out touching the person in front of them in order to form a perfect line. I know not to expect a touch on my shoulder from anyone. I know what the other girls think of me. I am a freak to them. My hair is shaved to the skin because it is too curly and unruly to stay neat under my hejab and my skin is too dark to belong. “I am not a dirty little boy, I’m just a little black American girl with curly hair and dark skin,” I scream in my head. I am so tired of having to prove to them that I am not dirty and I am not a boy, I’m just different. I have short hair because my family has no idea how to take care of my ethnic textured hair and my skin is not dirty but tanned.

Once the kids are neatly settled in their lines the principal steps on to the podium. I take a deep breath, I know what to expect next. In front of us stands an American flag, in an instance the flag is let up with fire and the chanting begins; “Death to America”, “Death to America.” Fingers clenched the entire school yard turns towards me with fists and voices raised “Death to America.” I, still cringing from my last experience at the podium with the principal because I had refused to join in with them, slowly and painfully form the words on my lips “Death to America”, “Death to me” and so began my daily routine.

It is five years later and all I can say is “no, no, no.” If only my English vocabulary included more than just the word “NO.” As I look around this gigantic monster of a store called Wal-Mart, the likes of which I have never seen before I am so overwhelmed by the presence of these strangers who call themselves my family. The lady holding the bra is my mother and the young girl with her shirt pulled up showing her bra is my cousin. The woman said to be my mother is trying to convince me to wear a bra and the young girl said to be my cousin is showing me hers I guess to help my mother prove her point. But who is going to prove my point? I am terrified. There’s no one here to make these people understand that when a girl is old enough to wear a bra in Iran it means she is ready to be married. I don’t want a bra. I don’t want to be married. I am only twelve years old. How can I tell them that? I can’t speak my mother’s language and she cannot speak mine. All I can say is “NO, NO, NO.”


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