Once a year on our immigration anniversary, my mother and I reflect on our journey from Iran to the United States. In the past, we would celebrate the freedoms we were given in America, embrace the struggles we endured as immigrants to settle in a new home, and learn not only a new language, but also a new way of living, a new culture, a new dream.
But if you ask me to celebrate this immigration today, I would tell you how bittersweet it is to be an American, how disappointing it feels, and how my heart aches with disappointment and rage. Sometime in late 2019, I began learning about the destructiveness of capitalism: its ravaging of our planet earth, and imperialism—its disastrous twin—fighting to keep it from collapsing. Once I saw the connection between domestic and international injustices of our societies and capitalism, I found myself awake after years of sleeping in the belly of the beast.
While my mother and I had freedoms we benefited from when we arrived and still do to this day, I can no longer ignore that this freedom is not for everyone, that this freedom kills people, that this freedom is for the privileged few.
How can I celebrate when I learn of women whose uterus is forcefully removed by our government? How can I celebrate when our government shuns and shames a woman for her right to an abortion? How can I celebrate when our government cages refugees because they had no choice but to cross the border and risk their lives in search of refuge — and deports them back to the homes they had to flee?
How can I celebrate our immigration to America when it spends money on weapons and the military but cannot give everyone the basic human right to free health care, even with a pandemic ravaging the nation? How can I celebrate this rich nation that fails to give its own people a right to housing, to food, to a livable living wage? How can I celebrate a nation built on violence and stolen land? A nation that prefers to erase its history, that likes to boast and sing patriotism instead of accepting its racism and lack of care and respect for its brown, black, and Indigenous persons? — when a white man can walk around with a rifle and hunt down a black man and murder him without punishment? How can I celebrate when property in American capitalism matters more than people? How can I celebrate when unmarked vehicles kidnap peaceful protesters, and heavily armed police teargas citizens demanding justice?
How can I celebrate without grieving, without heartache, without wanting to scream from the depth of my being, because my people are being killed and imprisoned by a government built on the promise of “life, liberty, and justice for all”?
I can’t celebrate the atrocity of the American Empire and its war-machine. I can’t forgive its war crimes. I can’t forgive it for poisoning the children of Flint. But if I am to make use of my one life, I must celebrate my position as a privileged immigrant citizen of this nation, a position that allows me to read and educate myself about the true history of this nation, to utter these words and use my voice, to be on the streets. My position allows me to not give in, to not give up, and to join grassroots organizations and people committed to fighting for liberation for all. My position allows me to give a space to immigrants to share their stories of immigration, exile, nostalgia, and longing. For it is my position that allows me to be open-minded and non-judgmental. For it is my position that allows me to teach my 8 year-young niece this nation’s history.
I hope that we remain strong because we have a long fight ahead. We need to disrupt business as usual, we need to educate the people, organize, and agitate. We need to fight the diseases: not only the COVID-19 virus, but racism, white supremacy, and apathy. We need to light a fire within us, to collectively awaken and hold each other accountable. We need to be united in love. We must demand big changes from the government and not fall asleep under an illusion of hope. We must find common ground and fight the system of capitalism and imperialism, not each other.
I was 11 when I arrived in this nation. I am now 33. I celebrate my immigration for giving me the power to stand with people, for allowing me to connect with them, for my life is fuller with these powerful humans. I am grateful for the love I’ve been shown, the support, and the voice I’ve been given. I can celebrate the strength of our collective. I can celebrate what has been awoken within me. And I will proudly say, all power to the people.
Elaheh Farmand is an Iranian immigrant and writer who dreams of and fights for a society that places people’s needs and wellbeing before profits. She is occasionally nostalgic for her childhood in Iran, but focuses her energy on connecting with her community, her family, and friends.
Elaheh is an Iranian immigrant and writer who dreams of and fights for a society that places people’s needs and wellbeing before profits. She is occasionally nostalgic for her childhood in Iran, but focuses her energy on connecting with her community, family, and friends.
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