Celebrating the Fourth of July as an Iranian-American patriot — who's never felt so hated

I am the proud daughter of Iranian Muslim immigrants, and I am an American patriot.

Unlike my parents, I was born in the United States, and I grew up here. Like them, however, I was raised in a rich and vibrant Persian community.

Yes, right in the middle of the American heartland, my parents raised my sister and me among dozens of other Iranian-American families. We formed a diaspora born from the ashes of the so-called Islamic Revolution, the Iran-Iraq War — and the American imperialism that helped incite both.

Like my parents, many of my adoptive Iranian-American aunties and uncles in Dayton were physicians, products of the brain drain that swept Iran after the revolution and the war. They spent decades living and working in Ohio, where America benefited from the top-notch medical care they provided, and where, in turn, they benefited from the freedoms and opportunities that America provided.

But while my parents are once again hosting their annual Fourth of July party tonight, they say that they will be doing so with heavier hearts than usual. As immigrants who fled war and revolution in the pursuit of safety, liberty and opportunity, they are deeply concerned for those who are being detained in this country today, mere miles from their own home, simply for doing the exact same thing they did: seeking a better life.

Indeed, the fact that innocent children are being separated from their parents, neglected and abused in effective concentration camps hits close to home for my Iranian-American family — not just geographically, but personally and politically.

Considering America’s habit of staging coups and promoting wars, its criminal response to the current immigration crisis, its travel ban precluding my extended family from visiting us in the United States and President Donald Trump’s apparent willingness to go to war with Iran on little more than a whim — you might think that someone like me would have lost some hope and faith in America. But I haven’t. Neither have my parents. And neither should you.

Growing up, I remember gleefully heading toward Wright-Patterson Air Force Base on the Fourth of July, where my Uncle Abdi worked as a rocket scientist for the Department of Defense and served as a major in the U.S. Air Force Reserve. As a kid, I loved watching those fireworks, and as adults, so did my parents. After all, this wasn’t an entirely new tradition for them.

When I told my mom that I was writing this piece, she spoke for 20 minutes straight about all the fond memories she has of going to the American Embassy in Tehran as a child with Auntie Barbara (her uncle’s American wife) to watch the fireworks on the Fourth of July. “They were the best fireworks,” she tells me now. “Better than any we ever see in America.”

Today, my parents are both retired and living in Southern California, where they are members of an even larger Iranian-American community that now includes many of the same families we knew in Dayton. They’ve also started studying Spanish and adding avocado to nearly everything, including their noon-o-paneer (bread and cheese, standard Persian breakfast fare).

They live 15 miles from the Mexican border and less than a mile from the San Diego Naval Base. Here, they celebrate Independence Day with their many friends, drinking tequila and watching four simultaneous fireworks displays from the balcony of their harborside condo. My parents enabled me to find my American dream as an author, attorney and activist who takes full advantage of her First Amendment rights. And today, they are living their American dream as retirees, avocado addicts and perpetual party hosts.

But like so many of those seeking refuge in America today, my parents came here from a country that the United States helped wreck by staging a coup and fostering a war. If not for the 1953 CIA-sponsored coup that overthrew Iran’s democratically elected leader, Mohammed Mossadegh, there would have been little to no impetus, let alone support, for the so-called Islamic Revolution that ensued in 1979. That ill-begotten revolution and the horrific war that followed were both direct consequences of American imperialism in Iran, just as many of the conflicts throughout Latin America today are the direct consequences of American imperialism there.

All this is to say that given the U.S. government’s longstanding history of devastating countries around the world for its own economic and political gain, it’s worth considering that perhaps America owes those trying to cross the border a serious debt for helping create and perpetuate the conflicts that led them to seek asylum in the first place.

To be sure, like many Americans, my family and I have experienced Trump’s presidency as an era of pure psychological warfare. Indeed, as an Iranian-American Muslim woman, I’ve never felt so hated and unsafe in my own country. But ultimately, no matter how conflicted I am about my place in America and America’s place in the world at the moment, I am a proud American.

As much as I hate the colonialism, genocide, slavery and rape upon which this nation was built, I love the promise and possibility that it represents — not in its power structures or its stone monuments, but in its people and its natural wonders.

I have lived in Ohio, Illinois, Connecticut, New York, Massachusetts, Montana, Georgia and North Carolina, and I have visited nearly every state in the union. So I know better than to underestimate the beauty of this land or the spirit of its people — myself, my parents, my sister and cousins, my aunties and uncles, and all those desperately seeking asylum here included. I refuse to abandon hope or faith in this place because it is my home, by birth and by choice. I still stand in awe of America’s unbridled promise and possibility. I still love this country. I still have hope that we can be better, and I am still acting on that hope.