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Exiled Memories: Stories of Iranian Diaspora

Zohreh Sullivan

Publication Year: 2001

"I feel I am the wandering Jew who has no place to which she belongs. I thought I could settle down, but can't imagine staying. Whenever I bought a bar of soap and two came in the package, I thought there would be no need to buy a package of two because I would never last through the second. Why? Because I knew I was returning to Iran -- tomorrow. So too, I would buy the smallest size of toothpastes and jars of oil. Putting down roots here is an impossibility."

These are the words of one Iranian emigre, driven from Tehran by the revolution of 1979. They are echoed time and again in this powerful portrayal of loss and survival. Impelled by these word and her own concerns about nationality and identity, Zohreh Sullivan has gathered together here the voices of sixty exiles and emigres. The speakers come from various ethnic and religious backgrounds and range in age from thirteen to eighty-eight. Although most are from the middle class, they work in a variety of occupations in the United States. But whatever their differences, here they engage in remembering the past, producing a discourse about their lives, and negotiating the troubled transitions from one culture to another.

Unlike man  other Iranian oral history projects, Exiled Memories looks at the reconstruction of memory and identity through diasporic narratives, through a focus on the Americas rather than on Iran. The narratives included here reveal the complex ways in which events and places transform identities, how overnight radical s become conservatives, friends become enemies, the strong become weak. Indeed, the narratives themselves serve this function -- serving to transfer or transform power and establish credibility. They reveal a diverse group of people in the process of knitting the story of themselves with the story of the collective after it  has been torn apart.

Published by: Temple University Press

Title Page

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Copyright

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Contents

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pp. xi-xii

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Preface, or, How I Started Story Gathering

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pp. xiii-xviii

Spoken at my dining table in Champaign-Urbana in 1989, these words were part of one woman's meditations on exile and on her resistance to diasporic assimilation, part of a conversation with me, now her closest Iranian friend, who had once been her teacher in Damavand College, Tehran, Iran, from ...

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Acknowledgments

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pp. ixx-xx

This book would not exist were it not for the friends who inspired me to write it, the Iranian communities who participated in it, and the colleagues, friends, relatives, and anonymous readers for the press who read and responded to its many versions. To each of them I owe an abundant and inexpressible ...

Iran and the United States: A Chronology

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pp. 221-xxvi

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Chapter 1. Introduction: Fabricating Identity

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pp. 1-20

The purpose of this book is to read history through the remembered pasts of diasporic Iranians in the United States. As our storytellers weave their identities across two nations—Iran and the United States—the memories recovered in these narratives, part of a constellation formed with earlier images from

Chapter 2. There: Remembering Home

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Zia AshrafNasr

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pp. 23-32

If the story of my life were to be written, it should be called "From the Kajaveh1 to the Jet." I remember all my journeys. Our family goes back twenty-five generations to a man called Kiamarz. That's where the name Kia comes from. His grave is in Nur [light]; hence our family name Kia-Nuri. My grandfather ...

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Pari (pseud.)

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pp. 33-42

The very first memory that I have of my childhood is this: I was put outside the door and I was banging on the door, wanting to get inside and was kept outside. I was sitting on the floor and I must have been about two or three years old. I remember that the ground that I was sitting on was wet. It is customary in Iran ...

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Mohamad Tavakoli

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pp. 43-50

The story that I am about to tell you is important because it has shaped my views on gender issues and Iranian cultural politics. Between the ages off our and eight, I was subject to sustained molestation, rape, and physical abuse. Growing up male in a phallocratic society, although different, is as painful and ...

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Lily

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pp. 51-58

I was born into an Iranian family privileged with highly educated men and women. What made my paternal family elite was not wealth but education. My mother was Russian. She came to Iran at the end of the First World War to marry the man she loved, my father. My father, who had finished his higher ...

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Hamid Naficy

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pp. 59-64

I think more than anything else what made me was first the culture of the family. I was born in Isfahan. Our family was a large, extended family like most families in Iran but it was also very diversified in terms of class structure and outlook, religious training, Westernization, and professionalism. The ...

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Mehrnaz Saeed-Vafa

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pp. 65-69

I belong to a generation of confused children. Confused because I was born during the time of the Pahlavi—the last Shah—and because my mother was a professional woman, a doctor. I wasn't born into what might be considered a traditional family. It was a divided family. On one hand it was traditional ...

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Afsaneh Najmabadi

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pp. 70-74

We lived in the Sheikh Hadi neighborhood near what used to be the Serah-i- Shah [Crossroads of Shahs] but now it's Serah-i-Inqelab [Crossroads of the Revolution]. I love that old neighborhood. Its main street (Sheikh Hadi) is named after Sheikh Hadi Najmabadi who is the grandfather of my grandmother. As ...

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Tahereh (pseud.)

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pp. 75-83

My father was a high-school teacher. I owe my zeal for learning to him. He taught me my first words, how to read, how to write. Although my mother encouraged us, she had only an elementary school level of literacy . My father tried to influence her to become less religious, to become more open-minded ...

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Homa Sarshar

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pp. 84-86

I was born in Shiraz into an Iranian Jewish family. I am the second child and the first daughter. When I was a year old, the whole family moved to Tehran. My father was a businessman—in export and import. When I was five years old I went to the French school, Institute Maryam, a branch of the Jeanne d'Arc ...

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Mandana (pseud.)

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pp. 87-88

In Iran at the age of fourteen, in 1976, I was introduced to political and social issues. I am now twenty-seven years old. We were a family of nine children and I was the favorite daughter in the family. I was never satisfied with the ordinary, which included the usual housewifely roles for girls in our society. ...

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Roqeyeh Arbat Kazemi

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pp. 89-93

I was born in the village of Arbat in 1935. The most important figure in my early childhood was my grandmother. My grandfather died when I was very young, and my grandmother was really a great woman, a strong woman, an amazing lady. I can never understand Americans who think that women in ...

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Fereydoun Safizadeh

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pp. 94-96

I was born in 1947 in a family of physicians; both my grandfathers and my father were physicians. My paternal grandfather was trained in Moscow and was practicing in the region of Iravan/Nakhichevan when Muslim-Armenian conflict in the area drove him, his brother, and their families into Maku, Khoy, ...

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Rebwar Kurdi (pseud.)

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pp. 97-103

The earliest memory and the first image I have of myself is of a classroom and a school - 1949, the first school I attended at the age of six. It was an overcrowded school and I remember the first day, a big class of about eighty students and a teacher who had to teach us Persian. But now I remember ...

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Jahan Kurd (pseud.)

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pp. 104-105

Ever since I was a child, whenever somebody would ask me, "What's your last name?" I would say "______ " And they would say, "Oh, you're a Kurd." So I knew that I was a Kurd. And we would go to Kurdistan, and I could speak Kurdish. ...

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Daryoosh

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pp. 106-110

One day, when I was about five [1954], living in Tehran in an old house with a garden full of jasmine, honeysuckle, and a pond, my grandmother, who lived with us, decided she was nearing death. She therefore insisted on returning to Yazd, her birthplace, to die. So we all packed up and, in my father's 1949 Ford, ...

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Kambys Shirazi (pseud.)

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pp. 111-116

Who am I. Perhaps part of the answer lies somewhere in my divided background. My parents came from two very different families. My father's grandparents were very religious, very strict; my mother's family, very relaxed, very open to any kind of discussion. My mother came from a small ...

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Keyvan

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pp. 117-118

My adolescence was that of the revolution. My family was typical in many ways. What was not typical was that we were more educated—both my parents were doctors.We had a different kind of life from the other families we knew. My parents resisted the easy way to get money, refused to get involved with ...

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Soheyl (pseud.)

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pp. 119-120

I was born in a small village in central Iran in 1962. My father worked as a high school teacher but also studied for advanced degrees in Tehran, and also studied foreign languages. He married my mother, who had been one of his high school students. She was seventeen years old and very beautiful, but, my ...

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Ali Behdad [Includes Image Plates]

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pp. 121-122

Some of the current contradictions I experience have their genesis elsewhere, in my childhood and in my relationship with my parents. My mother married my father when she was fourteen and he was nineteen. We lived in Sabzevar, a town in northeastern Iran near the holy town of Mashhad. My mother was from one of the ...

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Chapter 3. Revolution: Narrating Upheaval

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pp. 123-132

Although Mohamad Tavakoli and Tahereh were children in 1963, because they lived in South Tehran they remembered the 1963 anti-Shah, pro-Khomeini demonstrations in the bazaars. The symbolic, strategic, and social center of conservative political activity in major cities has historically been the bazaar. ...

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Faranak

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pp. 133-137

I grew up into social consciousness through my father, a fervent supporter of Mossadeq, and a member of Jebhe Melli [the National Front] whose sadness over the loss of our one chance for democracy was so deep that even when he was dying two weeks ago, he asked to be buried with a copy of ...

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Pari (pseud.)

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pp. 138-140

I was in Tehran in 1978 when the Cinema Rex in Abadan was set on fire. That was a turning point for the revolution. Because we saw the Shah then as a symbol of evil, we fell easily into thinking that he wanted to ruthlessly exterminate any opposition. So we thought that he destroyed the cinema to get ...

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Lily

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pp. 141-143

We left Iran in 1979. I experienced the Spring of Freedom. It was a very strange feeling. I was not young enough to share that ecstasy with the youth. I could see what was happening and I was not happy. But I was not old enough to lose my faith in the people and say that all our lives depend on the king and that ...

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Homa Sarshar

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pp. 144-146

I remember the day martial law was declared. It was the start of the revolution. At that time Sharif Emami was Prime Minister. And I remember that he ordered the people to close the cabarets and the casinos. But at that time there was also a hidden order people didn't know about, that I didn't know ...

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Mandana (pseud.)

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pp. 147-148

The last play I was in was to run for two weeks — this was after the revolution. One day my parents came to see the play. Though the theme of the play was political, we had permission to put it on. The playwright was Mehrdad Jamak. The producer and director was an Armenian. Because the play was ...

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Afsaneh Najmabadi

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pp. 149-153

Because of my involvement in radical politics, I had not returned to Iran since 1970. My father had warned me against returning because he had found out that SAVAK had files on me. But once the demonstrations started in the summer of '78, all I said was, "I'm going." I arrived the day after Black Friday, ...

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Tahereh (pseud.)

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pp. 154-155

Maybe in our politics we all grew too optimistic in relying on ourselves and our power. If I could overrule my grandfather, my uncle, and everybody else who was against me—and they represented the older generation, the old-fashioned, fanatical ones—it stood to reason that we as the leftist, as the

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Mrs. Ghandsaz (pseud.)

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pp. 156-161

At the age of twelve I was married to my cousin through an arranged marriage. My husband had lost his father when he was twelve years old and was forced to become the head of the family. My father, a well-respected merchant in the bazaar, took my future husband with him to his chamber in the bazaar ...

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Zia Ashraf Nasr

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pp. 162-

This revolution is not Islamic. This "Islamic" idea of women you quote to me from Khomeini—his "Islam" has been contaminated with many things that didn't exist at the beginnings of Islam. One of them is the disparity between men and women. This should not be labeled "Islam." I believe, based on the ...

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Mehrnaz Saeed-Vafa

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pp. 163-164

Politics? No, I was never involved in politics. I took photographs all over Tehran and in other cities, but all the pictures were destroyed as was the archive of magazines and newspapers I had collected, and the films of demonstrations and the interviews. My character is not that of a joiner of ...

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Barbod

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pp. 165-170

Who am I? I'm a filmmaker. After some four years in Europe, I returned to Iran in 1969. My first feature film was made in 1970, and by 1971 it had become a hit. I won a couple of international awards for my films. I worked till 1979 in Iran. I was a producer, a cameraman, and a director. Before the ...

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Rebwar Kurdi (pseud.)

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pp. 171-173

I returned to Iran in March 1979 to join the revolution. The day that the monarchy fell was the happiest day of my life. Although I worried about the clerical leadership of the revolution, I was full of hope. I knew already that in Kurdistan, people were in control, not the central Iranian government. Yes, ...

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Kambys Shirazi (pseud.)

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pp. 174-176

Many of my friends who had been anti-Tudeh in our college days were now part of the Tudeh Party. We spent many nights talking about this change in their affiliation: what had happened, and what was it that they saw in the Tudeh Party? They thought that among the many leftist groups, the Tudeh ...

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Mehrdad Haghighi

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pp. 177-180

Why did I come here? The revolution, of course. While I was away from Iran in India, I believed that our people were maturing into enlightenment, into thinking individuals. But alas, what I saw during the revolution proved that beneath the facade of enlightenment, we had kept our prejudices ...

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Yahya (pseud.)

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pp. 181-185

I don't want my name used in any of this. Let me tell you what happened to me. I was born into a lower-middle-class family in which my mother was very religious. My father was a lower-class worker for the government. We always rented and never owned a house. I was twelve when my father was given ...

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Professor Ali (pseud.)

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pp. 186-189

I am of the generation of 28 Mordad [the generation that saw the CIA coup of August 1953 that overthrew Mossadeq and brought the Shah back into power].19

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Fereydoun Safizadeh

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pp. 190-191

Between December 1977 and February 1981, I experienced the preparation for a Pinochet-type mass killing of the opposition, the Cinema Rex fire, the September 8 Jaleh Square killings; the nights of shouting Allah-o-Akbar [God is Great] from rooftops; the street scenes after the Shah's departure; ...

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Keyvan

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pp. 192-193

I was twelve years old when the revolution took place. My happiest memory and the happiest moment of my life happened a few years later at Alborz high school in 1982 on one of those days when we were supposed to burn American flags. School changed for us after the revolution. Now all classes ...

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Ali Behdad

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pp. 194-196

I left Iran in January of 1979. When I left, the airport was almost closed, had been for several days, and I wasn't sure whether I could actually leave. And I still didn't believe what was happening. There was at that time such a sense of instability that one never knew whether something was going to happen ...

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Soheyl (pseud.)

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pp. 197-199

I was not a participant in the revolution against the Shah because, to tell you the truth, I couldn't understand the meaning and the consequences of people's acts of revolt. I remember going to this big demonstration and hearing, for the first time, people chanting the slogan, "The only party is Hezbollah [the Party ...

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Chapter 4. Here: Reconstructing Migration and Exile

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pp. 201-207

The narratives collected in this book—memories fabricated out of the past and woven in the present—suggest the competing and unstable discourses that inform national, exilic, and diasporic identities. Because exile is the space in which we negotiate relationships with imaginary pasts, it becomes the site ...

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Rebwar Kurdi (pseud.)

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pp. 208-209

While I share many frustrations of other refugees and immigrants, and while I really miss my family, friends, relatives, people, and country, I do not feel a stranger in North America. I feel that I belong here, too. For me there are two realities when I look at the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada, ...

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Barbod

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pp. 210-213

For these four years that I have been forced to be out of Iran, I have traveled many countries, not out of choice but out of necessity . I have proved to myself that it is not only Iran where I can work but wherever I am in the world. Yet, I miss being home. I miss sensing, feeling, touching that earth, that ...

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Mehrdad Haghighi

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pp. 214-216

I was on the last plane that left Shiraz for the [Persian] Gulf States and landed at Qattar. After waiting for twelve hours at the airport with my one-year-old son and my wife, we left for Pakistan. I was detained there for ten days. Although my passport identified me as a journalist, they gave me a hard time at the ...

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Lily

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pp. 217-

Six months after my husband left, I got my passport and the official permit to leave the country. I left our wonderful house with two suitcases of autumn clothing—as if I were to return in three weeks. We were planning to return and work in Iran. Our children were planning to return and work there. Three

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Homa Sarshar

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pp. 218-220

When the six of us arrived in the United States we joined my mother and my older brother's family in Los Angeles. My mother had already bought a house here in this area. And she had always wanted, long before the revolution, to come out of the country and stay in the United States. She is the kind of ...

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Mandana (pseud.)

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pp. 221-222

Even if you wish to be honest with yourself, the answers to questions about home aren't simple. I can easily say, "Iran is my country, my home, my everything." But the fact is, it isn't. I don't belong there. I don't belong here. Actually I don't know where I belong and who I am. My husband was an ...

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Professor Ali (pseud.)

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pp. 223-

Exile? During the years I lived in Europe and later in America, I felt I was living a life in transition, in flux between here and there. I had always hoped to return someday to Iran. I had lived in the United States and had studied and taught here briefly in the 1960s, then returned to Iran in 1972. When I came ...

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Yahya (pseud.)

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pp. 224-225

Intellectually it's hard for me to identify myself. I still am wrestling with whether or not to go back. Once I supported and fought for the revolution. To be an Iranian now means a different thing. Now I tend to associate myself with the Iran before Islam, with the civilization that we once had before Islam. ...

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Pari (pseud.)

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pp. 226-228

The days ofthe hostage crisis—with endless church bells—were among the hardest days of my life. I remember once in a graduate seminar in 1981 I was asked to introduce myself. I had done so many times before and never found it difficult. But now announcing that I was Iranian was beyond me. Not because ...

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Afsaneh Najmabadi

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pp. 229-231

I had to go to Washington because, though I had scored very high in the sciences, my English was pretty poor. Radcliffe required that I take a summer course in English, which was arranged for me at one of these language schools in Washington, D.C. I left Iran in June 1966 and spent two months in one of ...

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Mehrnaz Saeed-Vafa

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pp. 232-234

I experienced feelings of exile a long time ago, long before I came to the United States, when I was a teenager in Iran: when I realized that values were so confusing, when I wasn't sure what being a woman meant, when I wasn't sure whether womanhood was defined by education, or by wifehood, or by ...

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Tahereh (pseud.)

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pp. 235-237

And while I was in the States working toward my degree, my brothers and sisters in Tehran were getting arrested. In late 1982 I finally finished my studies. So did my husband. I got my degree, but we had to leave because we didn't have a green card. I sent my passport to the Iranian embassy to ...

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Hamid Naficy

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pp. 238-241

Iranians are sensitive about the term "exile" because most understand it to mean Tab'eed, or political exile, which has negative connotations. And I'm not exiled in that sense of the term. But there's another sense of exile for which the Iranian word ghorbat [the feeling, regardless of circumstance, of estrangement] ...

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Ramin Sobhan (pseud.)

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pp. 242-246

No, Khanum [lady]. Write my name, because my good name is not something I wish to take to the grave with me or give to the morde-shoor [washer-of-the-corpse]. I come from Iran, and all my life's effort is to live with that country and its people. And I do. If I have left Iran and am following an unhappy ...

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Ali Behdad

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pp. 247-251

When I left Iran during the revolution, I found myself in Lincoln, Nebraska, where I attended a Catholic high school. I don't know what that tells you about Iranian middle-class choices. In order to come to the United States you have to have admission from a university or high school. There was this institution ...

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Zia Ashraf Nasr

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pp. 252-

Now I am in this country. When I was here in the 1950s I tried to build a little Iran around me, but I don't do that now. Because now I can't think of the present Iran. I only think of the old Iran and hope that Iran will return to the way it was—a place where we could all work toward something. The present Iran is ...

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Susan Bazargan

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pp. 253-259

The difference between here and there is the letter "t". A sign, a floating signifier—hat is one place to begin discussing exile. Having lived away from Iran for the last twenty years, I find my imaginary wanderings to 'home' and back taking more and more the shape of letters. As missives from home, letters ...

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Chapter 5. Epilogue

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pp. 261-265

Whereas some of the narratives above orchestrate history, displacement, and exile with melancholic loss, others have used that loss as the scaffolding for possibility (even as identity itself is premised on lack) and find ways to fill in that lack with compensatory possibilities. The narratives collected here ...

Notes

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pp. 267-273

Select Bibliography

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pp. 285-283

Index

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pp. 285-289


E-ISBN-13: 9781439906415

Publication Year: 2001