It is no secret political tensions between Iran and the U.S. have intensified during the start of 2020 after an Iranian general was killed in a U.S. drone airstrike. As tensions escalate between the two countries, a cultural shift looms in the air for Iranian-Americans. Sharing a common political enemy can instill American nationalism and international suspicions in many — ultimately causing discrimination against one group. As the situation continues, it’s time to break this routine and stop the fear of Iranian-Americans before it becomes too late.
This cause is near and dear to my heart, as it affects my family firsthand. Death threats and workplace discrimination were only the beginning for my grandfather as he started his life in America, and the terrorist attacks of 9/11 brought struggles for his children as a confused American society attempted to pin their loss on a Middle Eastern scapegoat. As the daughter of an Iranian immigrant, my mother faces the political backlash of America-Iran tensions in her day-to-day life, as her cultural background has now become a well-kept secret. Although she was born in America and knows no other life, mentioning her race triggers judgment and fear.
“Iran and America have a complicated past,” said freshman political science major Ryan Kirzner. “But I do see a return to the status quo due to a mutual understanding that another war in the Middle East would not benefit either Iran or the United States.”
My mother is not the only one facing backlash, as Customs and Border Protection (CBP) allegedly detained and questioned multiple Iranians and Iranian-American groups trying to enter the U.S. from Canada at a port of entry in Blaine, Washington last month. The Council on American-Islamic Relations posted a statement claiming that people of Iranian descent were “detained at length and questioned” while attempting to come into the country. CBP did agree that these travelers had "increased wait times," but denied that there was a motive to question travelers of Iranian descent.
Among those detained were Negah Hekmati and her family, who were on their way home to the Seattle area after a skiing trip in Canada. The family was held for five hours overnight, where Hekmati's 5-year-old daughter—a U.S. citizen—couldn’t sleep due to the fear.
Unfortunately, racial discrimination isn’t a rare occurrence. “My mom faced the same discrimination when she immigrated to the U.S. from Argentina,” said freshman entrepreneurship major Nicholas Chang. “Things are just harder when you’re different.”
This problem goes beyond the death of an Iranian general. It represents an underlying issue of nationalism and implicit bias. Moving forward, let’s learn from the mistakes in our history textbooks, and remember that Iranian-Americans are not to blame.
This is the opinion of Riley Hetherington, a freshman communication studies major from San Diego, California. Tweet comments @LALoyolan or email firstname.lastname@example.org.