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, 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 awoken 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 few privileged, and certainly not for free.
How can I celebrate this immigration 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, but forces another to never experience motherhood simply because of her misfortunate immigration status? How can I celebrate when our government easily deports humans back to the homes they had to flee, cages them because they had no choice but to cross the border and risk their lives in search of refuge? How can I celebrate when capitalism makes the immigrant’s land no longer livable, and extreme poverty leads them to flee from violent gangs and wars? If only the immigrant knew the price of this American dream.
How can I celebrate our immigration when America spends more money on weapons and the military instead of pandemic equipment like masks? How can I celebrate a country that 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 too many of its own people, as it fails to give them 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? How can I celebrate when the white man can walk around with a rifle and hunt down a black man and murder him without punishment? How can I celebrate when black people are imprisoned for life because of racist crime bills and the prison industrial complex? How can I celebrate when property in American capitalism matters more than black life? How can I celebrate when military tanks take over the streets, and unmarked vehicles kidnap peaceful protestors, 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 gut, 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. For it is my position that allows me to utter these words and use my voice, to be on the streets, to read and educate myself of the true history of this nation. For it is my position that allows me to not give in, and to not give up, and to join grassroots organizations and people committed to fighting for liberation for all. For it is my position that 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: the COVID-19 virus, racism, white supremacy, and apathy. We need to light a fire within us. We need to collectively awaken and hold each other accountable. We need to be united in love. We must demand big changes from the new administration and not fall asleep under an illusion of hope. We must find common ground with each other, and remind one another that the two-party system will always choose corporations over people. We must 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 immigrated to the U.S. when she was 11 years-old, leaving her birth country of Iran. In 2016, she founded Immigrants & Exile, a space in which artists can share their feelings of nostalgia, longing, and exile. (www.immigrantsandexile.org)