By Mahshid Hager
Once again, there’s “unrest” in Iran. Once I again, I hold my breath, praying for peace and everyone’s safety as the violence ravages through the streets of my homeland. The images on tv, so familiar, yet so far removed from my reality today. They wake up the old, forgotten demons in the far reaches of my mind…..
My country is no stranger to “unrest”. It seems like every few years, the collective frustration of the people reaches a certain threshold and boils over. The whole country spills out into the streets, their screams a unison chant for change, for reform, for justice, for freedom, for something different than the oppression they experience in their day to day lives.
In 2009, the last time Iranians made international news for rising up against their own government, their cries were for democracy and transparency. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad had just won a second term in his presidency, despite the popularity of the opposing candidate, Mir-Hossein Mousavi. After the results of the votes became clear and a number of irregularities were brought to light, people took to the streets to demand answers. “Where is my vote” and “Democracy in Iran” were some of the main chants of protestors at the time. There were many arrests and numerous deaths. Iranian’s all over the globe joined in, in support of the youth in Iran. The “Green Revolution” continued for weeks as the government came down hard on the protesters.
This time around, the unrest seems to be focused around the growing economic hardships. With unemployment and inflation in double digits, many blame the government and its spending habits for the burdens of Iranian families. The outcries of the protestors have quickly escalated to “Death to the Islamic Republic” and “Death to Khamenei”. The punishment for the latter, insulting the Supreme Leader, is death. One of the protestors was asked in an interview if he feared for his life while he was out protesting. The man’s words chilled my bones and brought tears to my eyes: “I can’t feed my family. I die a thousand deaths every day.”
Since the start of these new demonstrations, I have read numerous articles and listened to countless interviews and political analysis. The former king’s son, the crown price of Iran, Reza Pahlavi has been very busy and active on national and international television expressing his concerns and making suggestions for how to support the protestors in Iran and what exactly should happen next. He has lived in exile for four decades and I’m sure he is envisioning a path back to the country. He’s not alone and he has many supporters.
I’m not an expert on all matters regarding Iran and I don’t pretend to know what’s best for my country or even what’s next. But I know that historically, outside intervention has not been helpful or in Iran’s best interest. I also know that that the Islamic Republic has weathered many such unrests and outcries. What breaks my heart, is talking to my mother and hearing the hope in her voice, as she tells me about the latest news. I even hear a hint of pride as she recounts how some of the biggest protests this time around originated in her hometown of Mashhad. She was only 33 years old when we left the country. Life as she knew it changed over night. My mother and father decided to leave home for the promise of a better future for themselves and their three young daughters. Did they know they would never live in Iran again? Or did they think they’ll be back again someday soon? Millions of Iranians living abroad share the same hopes and dreams of one day returning home, one day reuniting with loved ones.
I know that my mother’s excitement isn’t all focused on her own future but on the future of the brother’s and sisters she left behind. With tears in her eyes she tells me about the hardships they face every day. She feels helpless and wants so badly for things to be different, easier back home. She has been waiting 40 years for better news out of Iran and every time people take to the streets she thinks this might be the final time. For 40 years I have watched as all of these protests have slowly died down in the end. For 40 years I have watched as my mother’s dreams, and my father’s before his passing, have been put on hold. “Yek roozi dorost misheh (It’ll be alright one day)”, my father used to say. And so we wait, without him now.
Such is the experience of many Iranian immigrants; Trying to make a life, in a new place called home, but always with one eye back on the old country, never really belonging here nor there. We call it “home” though that concept is getting harder and harder to describe or identify, now that many of us have multiple “homes”. We hang on every piece of news and analyze every word, trying to anticipate what’s next. We hope and pray Iran will have better days ahead, not knowing if we’ll ever go back or if we are even welcome there. We have cousins we’ve never met, weddings we missed, birthdays we weren’t part of and loved ones we never got a chance to say goodbye to. The only thing we hold on to is hope. Hope that one day we’ll be back in the land we were born in, where everyone speaks the same language as us, where we’ll be reunited with family members. I have included myself in this collective though I believe that it doesn’t describe my own experience fully. I know I will never live in Iran again. I have spent most of my life outside of the old country and California is my home now. I have lived here for most of my life, I have established roots here, raised my family here, built a life here. But I can’t deny the pull I feel towards my family members back in Iran. I would love to feel safe enough to go back for a visit. To put my arms around aunts and uncles and cousins and their children. I would love know what it would feel like to visit Tehran and Mashhad and get reacquainted with my birthplace.
For now, I sit with my mother and listen patiently as she reminisces about the old days back home and dreams about what may come. I hope she wont have to wait long.