By Yasmine Mahdavi, Founder of Roots in the Middle East
I grew up in Iran (pronounced “Ee-run”) until I was twelve, and I remember my younger years as idyllic. When I was six years old, though, the 1979 Islamic Revolution and Iran’s subsequent war with Iraq changed my life, as it did the lives of millions of others. I only have a hazy recollection of the Revolution, but I vividly remember the war. I remember bombs shaking our apartment building. I remember completing my homework by flickering candlelight and queuing in long lines that snaked around the block to buy food.
In 1986, my parents finally left Iran to find better opportunities for our family. When we arrived in California, even with my fluent command of English, the sharp difference between my classmates and me was palpable. I came from a land of rationed food; my classmates had plenteous grocery stores. On my best days, I wore clothes bought from Sears; they flaunted Guess jeans and pink Reebok high-tops.
In this new country, I had to renegotiate what it meant to be myself. Back then, there were no public figures in the U.S. who looked like me, no books about children like me, and no one who understood my experiences. My classmates had limited knowledge about my country, and what they did know was unflattering. The mixed emotions that Americans had about Iran encouraged my silence about who I was as I was coming of age.
Decades after my arrival to the U.S., as I raise my children, I am reminded of how few opportunities they have to connect with and reflect on their roots. Even more disturbing is the continued ignorance and lingering misconceptions about the Middle East and Iran. So often, my people are reduced to symbols and stereotypes and regarded with prejudice, fear, and suspicion. The filtered, unfamiliar images of this region stain opinions in the playground, the workplace, the classroom, and, most dangerously, the voting booth.
Through this website, I invite women with roots in the Middle East to share their stories of pride and perseverance—stories that I wish had been available to me when I was growing up and that my children so deeply need now. At a time when the powers that be simplify nationalities and ethnicities, we will illuminate and affirm the depth and complexity of women with roots in the Middle East with these narratives.