Here’s another blogger from Saideh, one of our global bloggers, talking about immigrant women here and there. And here she talks eloquently about something that touches many lives. Steve
By Saideh Jamshidi
Where Am I From?
Most people ask “Where are you from?” as a way to start conversation. It’s a friendly and harmless way to get to know someone. But no other question has ever stirred so much hate and discomfort.
Whenever people ask me about my “originality,” I do not hear the question as a proposed conversation starter or a way to break the ice. Instead, I hear:
“Why do you have an accent?”
“Why do you look so different?”
“Why do you live here?”
“Why can’t you go back to your country?”
And Who Are You?
I think these questions are clear declarations. Even if their meanings are only implied, these questions can cause stir in me a sense of alienation. By asking the same question, people are showing that they are curious about me; they want to see whether I am in their social class and if they’d be able to fit me into their worlds. They want to see if I am foreigner, where I’m from and if that’s okay with me.
I sense them testing their own comfort zones.
In most cases, I react to these questions with a big smile. Then, I give them an answer and allow them to digest it.
I let them to decide the next action. Some may ask a follow up question, or simply walk away. Experience has given me enough practice, so I am able to remain cool with both reactions and respect their opinions. However, I haven’t always been as nice about it.
I had the most fun responding to this question during the Bush era. I was a devil’s advocate in more than one way during those times.
During his State of the Union speech on January 29, 2002, former president George W. Bush used a phrase that I have enjoyed for many years. Bush accused Iraq, Iran and North Korea of helping terrorists to seek weapons of mass destruction.
But Where Is This Country?
Since then, whenever someone asks me “Where are you from?” I respond “From the axis of evil.” Then I immediately add, “now you only have three countries to dwell upon.”
The whole conversation is usually conducted in a friendly mood. People usually laugh and thankfully change the conversation to my favorite topic: George W. Bush.
My other favorite topic to talk about is the United States openness. According to 2012 Gallup poll, 66 percent of Americans say immigration is a “good thing” for the U.S. The number is historically high since the Gallup’s long-standing question on immigration always evolves.
Driven by American’s positive attitude towards immigrants, President Obama decided to not deport young people who came to the U.S. illegally as children in 2012 and to let them come out of the shadows. This was an extravagant decision that was only made possible because of America’s change-of-heart towards immigrants.
I wish I could have said the same thing about Iranian President Ahmadinejad. According to a recent U.N. report, the Iranian regime has been secretly killing hundreds of prisoners under mysterious circumstances. Thanks to the Iranian regime’s negative attitude towards openness, Iran is among the three top countries that imprisons journalists.
It is not easy to decribe my nationality or to state my identity. I know I am not alone in this arena. On a PBS documentary titled The Iranian American that broadcasted during the month of December 2012, more than 22 Iranian-American tried to satisfy the U.S. public that they are not “too much different” than other Americans.
To describe the logic behind the documentary, PBS explained on their website, “The Iranian American chronicles the underreported history of a group of immigrants finding a refuge, overcoming adversity and ultimately creating new lives in the United States.”
My Soul Travels Far
I am glad that I am living in the most powerful country on the face of the earth and am allowed to live my life with dignity. I am privileged to feel so safe and protected. However, I wish my human existence wasn’t evaluated by those borders I crossed many years ago, I wish my accent didn’t always sound strange and exotic, or that my human nationality was defined in such exact terms.
Perhaps the best answer to the question of “Where are you from?” comes from my beloved mystic Persian poet, Rumi:
“I am a heavenly bird from the garden; I am not from an earthly world; they have just built a cage out of my soul to appear here for about two or three days.”
مرغ باغ ملکوتم نیم از عالم خاک
به دو سه روزی قفسی سخته اند از بدنم