On Friday, the Trump administration issued new sanctions against Iran, targeting the country’s citizens in particular. The move comes at the end of a tense single week since the United States assassinated Qassem Soleimani, a top Iranian Major General. In the days since, the world has held its breath, waiting to see if the U.S. would again enter into a destructive war in the Middle East. After a retaliation effort by Iranian forces at an American base in Iraq that reportedly ended in zero casualties, the U.S. has chosen, for now, to respond with additional sanctions.
In the U.S, Iranian Americans find themselves faced with a threat they know all too well, one that materialized during the 2003 Iraq war: an increase in anti-Iranian, anti-Middle Eastern, and Islamophobic sentiment. While what happens in Iran now is likely to affect many Americans who are Middle Eastern and/or Muslim (or perceived to be), it is Iranian Americans who will feel—and are feeling—these repercussions the most, as some must now worry for themselves and their families, whether they are in the U.S. or Iran.
VICE spoke to six Iranian Americans about how they’ve been processing the news from the past week and what their concerns are now and for the future.
Niousha, 20, Los Angeles, CA
I am a first-generation Iranian American immigrant, and my family and I have been in the United States since we migrated from Iran in 2004. Having spent my childhood experiencing the beauty and culture of Iran, my reaction to the assassination of Soleimani was fear. I was fearful for my family in Iran, for everyday Iranian people trying to survive under this regime, and for the Iranian people already facing the pressure of sanctions. Lastly, I feared that my motherland would be another example of United States intervention gone bad, another war that utilized innocent people as political ploys.
The future holds a time of increased targeting and policing of Iranians, from the Muslim Ban to the mass holding of Iranians taking place at the U.S. border.
To the American people, this leads me to say to open your minds and open your hearts; Iranian people are more like you than the billionaires in this country. The Iranian people and our foundations are rooted in a dense and rich history of the arts, poetry, family, and compassion. A war with Iran is not something to take lightly. Americans will never be drafted, your lives will never be affected, but the lives of innocent Iranian civilians will be changed forever.
To the Iranian people, this leads me to say that this is a crucial time for us to come together, to fight misinformation, to stand up for the Iranian community, and to stand up for our identities. We have an opportunity like none other, as United States citizens to act and get politically engaged to alter the course of the Iranian people away from war.
Laila Lilly, 41, Prairieville, Louisiana
Iranian Americans are having a ton of mixed emotions. We are worried about our families that still live there. We are worried about our own safety here. We are worried about the safety of our children. We are worried that if this stupidity keeps ramping up, we will be in another never-ending war.
The recently developing events struck very close to home to me this past week. One of my children was sent home with an infraction for being “disrespectful to a teacher.” Needless to say, I was not pleased, and my child was about to be in serious trouble. But after digging a little deeper, I learned the truth about what actually happened.
Ms. Smith (name changed for privacy) sent me an email letting me know how disrespectful my child was in her class. It turns out what she failed to mention in her report was that another student was verbally attacking my child for having a small fraction of Iranian heritage. This bully then further began insulting the women in our family, declaring that he was “f***king” me and that when this was done, he would throw our whole family across the border and shoot us all dead.
Sahar, 25, Washington D.C.
I'm a first-generation Iranian American. My parents were both born in Iran and came here about 40 years ago. They're both naturalized citizens. I was born here. As Iranian Americans, many of us grew up hearing stories of the violence of the Iranian Revolution and of the Iran-Iraq war. Our families have lived through so much violence and we don’t want to see history repeat itself.
I was at dinner when I first got the news notification of Soleimani's assassination and I immediately understood the ramifications and panicked. As Iranian Americans, being aware of U.S. foreign policy is often a matter of survival, particularly for our families. We feel the stakes of foreign policy both for our families here in the U.S. and our families abroad in Iran. I don't mourn his death, but I do fear for the lives of thousands of people in the Middle East who would suffer as a result of an escalation.
I've heard stories of the violence against Iranian people during the days of the hostage crisis, my parents faced incidences of violence as well—I don't want to see that happen again.
For me, this has all served as a stark reminder of my two identities being at odds with one another. I have deep and beautiful cultural roots in Iran, but America is my home. And more than anything, I want to see real peace between my two nations during my lifetime. As time goes on, I grow more and more afraid that won't happen.
Ehsan Zahedani, 37, Los Angeles
I was born and raised in Iran. I moved to the U.S. in 2004 when I was 22.
Iranian people suffered the devastating war with Iraq under Saddam Hussein in the 80s, in which there were hundreds of thousands of casualties and losses. I was 6 years old when I saw my hometown of Shiraz under attack and bombed by Saddam Hussein's regime. People of my generation also witnessed the destruction of the neighboring countries such as Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Syria, Yemen, etc, due to war. I don't want to see another cycle of war and violence. Almost all Iranian Americans and Iranians in other parts of the world have some family members back in Iran, so there is a very real fear for their lives.
I already can feel [anti-Iranian sentiment] in people’s energy and mood. It is extremely sad; people and all human beings are naturally peaceful and this kind of hostility is the result of reckless and irrational and selfish politicians who are looking for trouble and war for personal benefits.
I'd like the people in the U.S. to understand that Iranian people are very peaceful and they are just ordinary people who seek prosperity and a normal life under normal conditions. If there is any enmity or hostility, it was caused by politics, but it’s not coming from people. Remember Iranians celebrated in the streets after the nuclear deal because they wanted their country to be more open to the international community and they wanted hostilities with the U.S. to end.
I hope that we can avert war, not only because of my family and friends in Iran—yes, that makes the prospect of war worse for our community—but from an American perspective, the U.S. should avoid war with any country. We should spend our energy and resources on creating better lives for the whole of our country.
Representative Anna V. Eskamani, 29, Orlando, FL
We have already seen anti-Iranian social media postings grow, along with a man on Twitter saying that Iranian women should be raped. I have personally received comments that call me a “terrorist” and perpetuate racist stereotypes of Iranians and Iranian Americans. No doubt President Trump’s elevated rhetoric on the issue doesn’t help either.
The people of Iran, just like Americans, are diverse in their political perspectives and leanings but what we have heard overwhelmingly from Iranians is a desire to avoid war. My family in particular has expressed fear and stress from the thought of war, and have shared with me a hope for peace.
David Emami, 37, Oregon
My family permanently moved here in 1981, although my father had gone to college in America in prior years. I was born in 1982, in Oregon. My parents were both born and raised in Iran. In 2019, I became the first Iranian American City Councillor in Oregon’s history.
If we’ve learned anything from the wars of the 21st century, it’s that although easy to start, wars are extremely difficult to end. I don’t want to see America in another endless war.
As tensions rise, Iranian Americans across the country are going to be susceptible to heightened levels of hostility and potential violence, but I fear it will also extend to those who are perceived to be "Middle Eastern." I especially worry about the Middle Eastern youth getting bullied in school and becoming targets of hate and prejudice. Similarly, I’m concerned for the women who choose to wear headscarves or hijabs as well.
Although the U.S. and Iran are at odds with one another, [Iranian Americans] continue to be a hard-working, highly educated, group of people that has assimilated very well and are productive members of society. We may be underrepresented and misunderstood but many Iranian Americans have made strong impacts in the arts, sciences, legal and business communities. Right now, many of us are praying for our friends and families on both sides and wishing for peace between the two nations.
These interviews have been lightly edited and condensed for clarity.