Both Susan Atefat-Peckham and Roger Sedarat are Iranian-American poets. Even though both of these poets have Iranian parents, they grew up in the United States and live as citizens yet they face prejudice and hate for being different. In her work, Them, Susan Atefat-Peckham said to her young child that “they [the terrorists of 9/11] kind of look like us”. Because of the similar physical appearance, being from almost the same geographical location or even having the same religion as someone who has committed such a horrible act of terror, Middle Easterners and Muslims face prejudice and are even subjected to hate crimes. In Them, Peckham mentions “an angry person shot a sparsely attended Iranian restaurant” or when she hears Americans say “bomb them to the stone age”, “kill them all” and we can see acts of prejudice in Roger Sedarat’s Work, San Antonio, 1979, when he tells the reader that “they dragged [him] down the hallway by [his] hair”. Both works show the hardship people who are different living in United Stated which is a similar topic in all of our reading.
Another topic that comes up in these writings is the idea of being mixed, having two cultures. Being both and being neither. Legal Alien by Pat Mora is another poem that brings up this idea as Them and San Antonio, 1979. Pat Mora writes in the poem that she is “Bi-lingual, Bi-cultural” and that she is “American but hyphenated” just like our other poets, Peckham and Sedarat, and that she is “an American to Mexicans” and “a Mexican to Americans”. Sedarat tells the reader that even though he is an American people still see him as the other and tell him “Hey Ayatollah you’re not welcome here! The U.S. is for us”. Also, just as the other two poets have experienced, Mora also sees that as a hyphenated American she is always “being pre-judged”.
Other topics that creep up in both Pekham’s Them, and Sedarat’s San Antonio, 1979, is the hostage crisis of 1979. This even was such an important event that it is simply known as The Hostage Crisis which took place on November 1979 in Iran, where fifty-two diplomats and citizens of United States were held hostage until January 20th 1981 (a total of 444 days) as a group of university students that belonged to the Muslim Student Followers of the Imam’s Line (which supported the Iranian Revolution of the time) took over the U.S. Embassy. In Pekham’s Them, she says that “I learned that being Iranian American on the playground was unsafe. If someone figured I was Greek, Italian or Spanish, all the better” and the same thing is seen in Sedarat’s San Antonio,1979 poem where he mentions that “Iranians never escape that year. My Father said, Tell people you’re from France”.
(Students entering U.S. Embassy before they took over it completely, Tehran,1979)
I myself am an Iranian American and fortunately have never felt any prejudice, hate or discrimination personally due to my race. But it may be just because as a Baha’i and Iranian girl, I look more Hispanic than the stereotypical Middle Eastern Muslim girl with hijab. Maybe it’s because I speak Farsi/Persian and it sounds much smoother than the typical Arabic language people expect from Middle Easterners or Muslims that sounds a little harsher than my language. Or maybe I have just been lucky enough to be surrounded by educated, loving, open mined people from all corners of the world. But regardless of how easy I’ve had it compare to other people who face hardship, I am scared of the future. Maybe not just for me but for other refugees and mixed people living in the United States. Our history is full of decades and decades of discrimination and hate toward different groups of people. Even though I was not yet born during The Hostage Crisis, as an Iranian I have learned about the history of it from people like my father who was a teenager at the time. The stories of how a relatively small group of people caused The Islamic Revolution and how they caused things like this hostage crisis makes me think of how things are currently here in America. How a small group of people who preach hate and plant fear into people might cause similar events as what happened in Iran, and that right there is beyond scary. But as Peckham also mentions “We are global citizens” and as Baha’is say “The world is but one country and mankind its citizen”, hopefully one day we all can understand that.
Peckham, Atefat. Them. Accessed 19 April 2017.
Sedarat, Roger. San Antonio, 1979. Accessed 19 April 2017.
Mora, Pat. Legal Alien. Accessed 1985. Accessed 19 April 2017. http://www.peoplesworld.org/article/poem-of-the-week-pat-mora-s-legal-alien/
Featured Image is an Illustration by Dongyun Lee