This week, we hear from Mana Mostatabi, a communications director at the National Iranian American Council (NIAC) based in Washington D.C. Watch Mana share her full story on Snapchat.
I was born in Iran during the Iran-Iraq war [1980 to 1988], in a border town called Ahwaz. My family and I moved to San Francisco when I was very young, but most of my family still lives in Iran. My grandfather forced my mom and my dad to leave Iran during the war. He told them, Your kids can not have a good life here. They will do better things in America. I owe everything to my grandfather and my family who made so many sacrifices for me to be where I am today.
For me, [recent events in Iran] are mostly terrifying in terms of thinking of my family in Iran, who have come such a long way. A lot of them are civically engaged and they've pursued higher education. If we go to war, does that mean that my cousins who are studying to get their PhDs are now going to be conscripted and I'm basically going to be faced with another lost generation of family?
I’m also worried about repercussions here in America. After 9/11, millennials grew up in a world where all we've really known throughout our teens and our childhoods is Islamophobia, xenophobia, and fear stoked against vulnerable communities by our top leadership. It really fractured my identity and made me ashamed to be Iranian.
It's really devastating to know that the fears that I grew up with are now being passed down to the next generation. I'm hearing reports from folks in our community that their middle schoolers are being threatened, and that school districts are not necessarily taking this seriously. If our leadership is normalizing such hate against an entire population, there won't be any recourse for my community to take in addressing injustices and discrimination, which really is serving to not just rip apart my community at the seams, but to really divide us from the rest of the American society.
We need the wider American community to know that we're part of your community. There are no hard lines. We all have the best interests of this nation at heart, and we have affection and warmth for our country of heritage.
My mother gave birth to me via C-section in Ahwaz without anesthesia because it was a war-time economy and everything was reserved for the soldiers. We had to leave the hospital early because there was a hepatitis outbreak and they didn't want my mom, who required a lot of blood transfusions, to be exposed to hepatitis. Not long after coming home, an Iraqi missile hit one of our neighbor's houses. There were nine people in that family and not one of them survived. A lot of cities, including my Ahwaz, didn't fully recover. And so at every step of the way, I feel like I've been lucky to escape the devastation that accompanies war. And I think that's why I have gotten to a place today where I am really devoted to ensuring that this devastation is not replicated again. It's not something that I want to see my friends here in the United States or my family at home ever be faced with.
My parents know the trauma of war first-hand, and they’ve been coping with this recent escalation between the U.S. and Iran differently from me and differently from each other. My mother is very progressive. For example, she was one of the first people out in the streets trying to rally people when the Muslim ban was instituted. She would love to see progressive policies in the United States take us back from the edge of war. And then there's my father, who is rallying behind his hatred of the regime [under Ali Khamenei] in a way that's almost destructive. I love both my parents, but to say that this hasn't driven a wedge in my family is a lie. It's really important to note that even the most extreme views and ideological differences all stem from trauma. Sadly, this is not endemic to just me and my family. We've seen a fracturing among many families over the conflict.
More than ever it’s important that Iranian Americans have a voice in the classroom, in politics, through online platforms, etc… The Iranian American community has a lot of well-intentioned allies, but we haven't always been given the space to speak for ourselves. I hope that our allies make space for Iranian Americans to speak for themselves, to share their thoughts, and to share their feelings without judgment.