Saturday, January 28, 2017

An American Story

Sitting in the waiting room of the Oval Office surrounded by his family, Sam found it both fortuitous and ironic that he had changed his name years ago.  Amongst a flurry of millions of pressing yet inconsequential decisions, Americanizing his Iranian name, Saeed, would later save him some grief during 9/11.  He looked up at the line of government workers and their families wending it's way through the hallways and ending abruptly at the President's office.  One of the security guards had taken pity on Sam.  His eighty year old body hobbled by a bad knee, broken years ago in a tunnel explosion during his years as a foreman in Tehran, bought him a front row seat to the festivities.

Sam loved Iran. His mind could draw a straight line from a childhood spent sleeping on Hamedanian rooftops to his ascension as CFO of a multinational company.  His success and wealth, however, all crumbled that day he was jailed by the henchman of a new Ayatollah who was deeply suspicious of his bosses political leanings.  He won't tell us the details now, but his release, ushered by Shah loyalists at the prison, likely spared his life.

Months later, with visas obtained in Italy,  Sam, his wife, and three children boarded a flight into the unknown.  His wealth, property, and status remained in the country he loved.  There was a pact that if they were detained at the airport, his wife and children would flee to America alone.  A pact that would thankfully be allowed a single day reprieve.  One of Sam's colleagues was detained the next afternoon and never heard from again.

America was not easy.  Brutal in fact.  Sam's position as CFO carried little weight in the US.  He traveled hours on public transportation to jobs he was overqualified for to receive paltry wages.  His wife, a teacher in Iran, became a manicurist.  They survived day to day in a tiny two bedroom apartment.  The Iran hostage crisis insured that there was no shortage of discrimination and racial slurs thrown their way.

But Sam had no time to complain.  He was caught up in the most American of pastimes-providing a life for his three young children.   So he found a way.  When his shoe stores failed he scraped enough money together to buy an apartment building. And they had enough.  Never a lavish life like he had in Iran, but there was always food on the table.

Sam's eldest daughter became a lawyer and eventually worked for the government.  She had given much to her country including years of service in a very dangerous Afghanistan.  It was at her invitation that three generations of his family were gathered to meet our great leader.

As he walked into the oval office, Sam adjusted his eyes to the splash of light and color, flash bulbs and smiles.  A man who was forced to flee a country he loved for dubious political reasons, was now face to face with the leader of his adopted country.  Ironic that he hadn't voted for this president, or agreed on so many issues.  This was allowed here.  Celebrated.

It had never been easy.  Sam's family was nearly deported a few years after emigrating.  He had been held up at gunpoint in his shoe store twice.  He was a victim of far more crimes than any petty moving violation he may have committed while driving absentmindedly.  His family faced discrimination of almost every stripe.

America, however, was also a country of unthinkable kindness and good intention.  Her actions were often flawed, but her principles were unflappable.

At least until recently.

Sam's youngest daughter, my wife and mother of my two children, accompanied her father that day in the oval office.

He waited in line with the rest of his family.  He smiled when the President stood in front of him, and offered his hand.  His English still broken after all these years, his voice was almost a whisper as he spoke his given name in greeting.

I am Saeed.


Anonymous said...

Great story!

Best of luck to Saeed or Sam. We don't care what he calls himself. I work with many cultures and have gone to bat for some of them. You will have people in every country who will find a reason to not like someone, to exclude them, marginalize them.

Just tell Saeed/Sam to show your American fortitude and keep on trucking. :)

Btw, I also knew, during the time of the hostage crisis, another Iranian. He was here working on a PhD. He was a very kind man, loved his religion, his life, and wanted to work. His Momma gave him no end of trouble for being here among the sinful women, but he never treated any lady with anything less than respect. I am hoping that when he finished his PhD, he made the best choice for himself.

Anne Williams said...

Thank you for this lovely story, Jordan.

If I may borrow those words "My heart jumps when your name (In My Humble Opinion) comes up" ...... in my Inbox. So many beautiful touching stories. You warm this old woman's heart. God bless you and yours.

Janice said...

I have spent the better part of today immersing myself in the horror of the immigration crisis by reading as many stories I can about living, breathing individuals and what they're experiencing because of the monster who is now US President. I want to absorb some of the pain to maybe lessen theirs. Of course, I know it doesn't work like that, but it seems wrong to sit idly by doing nothing.

When I saw the photo and began reading your essay, Jordan, I thought Sam might be one of your patients. In my mind, that made it more personal from the get-go. When I learned Saeed is your father-in-law, I teared felt one degree closer. You know, the whole 'six degrees of separation' thing. Thank you for writing—and sharing—this beautiful, poignant story.

May unthinkable kindness and good intentions prevail for all caught in the cross hairs of this new and very dark chapter of US history. And may our principles hold strong.

Evlyn Ubas said...

I'm so lucky to be able to call this group family! As tears roll down my face reading things I never knew my hearts swells for the love I have for you all. I really can't wait to be able to see you all again.