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Friday, August 29, 2008

The Price We Paid

When I was a kid I read Uncle Tom's Cabin and that was the first time I understood racism. I was also subject to it in Iran when in high school some of our Muslim teachers suggested we convert from Christianity to Islam. When I came to America in 1975 I thought that racism was a thing of the past. I thought that since slavery was abolished and later by the passage of Civil Rights every one in America enjoyed the same rights and was treated equally in all aspects of their life, careers, schooling, politics. Little did I know. Even though I lived in Iran only until I was 19 years old, I knew that Armenians were a minority, we were well tolerated and we lived side by side, equal but led separate lives. I knew that the Jewish  people were not liked but the last Prime Minister of Iran in the Shah's time was Jewish. In 1979 with the hostage crisis all the Iranian students, Muslim and Christian were subject to profiling, finger printing, and having our mug shots taken. After that anyone that found out we were from Iran was hostile towards us. It did not matter that we were not politically active, or that we were here when the hostages were taken, what mattered was that we were from the same country. 

In my last vacation I visited Armenia and saw a lot of Iranian Muslims that had established businesses there. At first I was resentful and angry. I thought that the government should not allow this. Then I thought, wait a minute isn't this what we Armenians and half of the world population is doing in America? We come here get educated, get married, have kids, get jobs, and if anyone tries to curtail our freedoms we raise hell. People move about, they go where they can find employment, happiness and freedom. We do not live in an ideal world. An ideal world has never existed and never will. Some countries have diamonds, some have oil, some have cheep labor or strategic advantages. The rule of the jungle still applies. The powerful take advantage of the weak. The powerful colonize, invade, and occupy the weaker countries. All people and governments want to survive and they will do anything to that end. 

My husband and I came to the US to study, get a degree and go back to Iran. We didn't go back because Iran had a revolution, threw out their king who was a US puppet, and established Islamic law.  Both our parents advised us to stay put. We felt lonely, uprooted, unwanted and unloved. We didn't come here to stay. We had temporary lives through out our student days. We didn't buy real cars or furniture. The junk that the graduating students left behind became our stuff. We were frugal because we felt that the money that our parents sent us was only for tuition and not for leisure. And now that the time had come to go home we couldn't. We missed so much of our family life. Our sisters and brothers got married and had kids that we never saw. Christmases and Esters lost all meaning without our families. They suffered and we suffered and no matter how many letters or phone calls we were home sick all the time. But in time the pain got dull and we got on with our lives. We became citizens, had jobs paid taxes and voted. All this time our names, our faces and our accents made us targets for bigotry and discrimination. Sure there are numerous prominent Armenians in the U.S. they must have overcame enormous obstacles or have had fantastic luck or well placed friends, but us, the average immigrants aren't so lucky. We always need to work harder, be smarter, have more education and wait longer or forever for that brass ring. Why do you think most immigrants have their own businesses? Because they have a much harder time getting jobs, becoming managers, or CEOs. Today in America the minorities that supposedly have some legal protection against discrimination are the African Americas and the Mexicans/Latinos. The Europeans are in vogue because of their unique English accent as evidenced in their increasing numbers on TV.  The rest of us who might have come here from any Middle Eastern country, Arab country, or any where else not too familiar to Americans, we suffer discrimination daily in our lives. Most of us keep our mouths shot because we think we are lucky enough to be here and that in itself should be enough. I personally feel like an unwanted distant relative barely tolerated and try to make my presence very inconspicuous. 

I used to be a proud member of my family and clan and had no feelings of inferiority, but living in this country for 33 years has changed my psyche. Because of covert discrimination I have become very cynical, non trusting, bitter and resentful. I have never felt that I belong, included or free. This is the price I paid.

Monday, August 4, 2008

The Black Complex

Recently I got got an email directing me to a news story about an Armenian gang who call themselves Armenian Power. From what I gathered was that they were involved in debit card fraud by stealing card numbers and pin codes and taking millions of dollars from the victims. The reporter also said that apparently the leader orchestrated the whole operation from prison. Then there were pictures of the gang leader and the members with their shaved heads and tattoo  covered bodies. I was so overwhelmed by so many different emotions that even I was surprised of my reaction. I was furious, disgusted, ashamed, and very saddened. True I've been known to overreact to certain issues or situations but in all honesty that was me a long time ago. Like most people who have heard or seen a lot, I'm also desensitized and almost nothing shocks me anymore. But seeing these young Armenian thugs was very unsettling. To me they are a bunch of Black-gang wannabe criminals. Actually they dressed more like Mexican gangs.  What made my blood boil was the use of the Armenian flag in their insignia. How pathetic that they use their genius to commit crimes that they surely know will land them in prison one day. Why couldn't they use that creativity to start a new "Google" or "Yahoo" or"My Space" or any thing else that would make them billions without committing crime. How dare these scums use the sacred tricolor as their symbol. What unfortunate parents sire them and did not teach them the history of the great Armenian nation, and the long, bloody and tortured road it has taken to finally be an independent country and be able to fly that beloved flag. I'm secure in my knowledge that they do not represent the Armenian community in the Unites States or in Armenia. I know full well that we have the full spectrum of respected and honorable professions represented by American-Armenians. Anyone worth their salt knows that. That is not what upsets me. What upsets me is their use of the word Armenian and the flag. They can call themselves "A Bunch of Crooks", "Criminal Bastards",  "The None Achievers" or the best one yet "Mommy I Think I'm Black". Oh another thing, the reporter said that some of the criminals are here illegally or have been deported and added that unfortunately the government of Armenia says they are not her citizens. Needless to say most governments would deny their citizenship too, but I think they may be citizens of the other ex-soviet republics but just because they have Armenian last names they are thought of as Armenian citizens. As far as I'm concerned they could all go to hell.