In the sleepy college town of Davis, California where I grew up, there were Iranians who were religious and those who weren’t, those who wore headscarves and those who didn’t, those with whom we played and those whose moms walked quietly past us, down the paths that led to and from the playgrounds, without the usual exchange of hellos or salams or eye contact that my sister and I had learned to share with other neighboring grad student families. My mom wore a long overcoat and a headscarf. Their moms’ heads were uncovered, hair dyed or long, always a precious point of pride. I couldn’t tell from the outside that they were Iranian. We stood on opposite sides of a divide that might have been mislabeled religion. They had left Iran because of the Islamic Revolution while my parents had left a few years before the Shah was ousted for the sole purpose of studying here. In retrospect, there was too much pain or misunderstanding to risk a connection, or approval, or hello.
Slowly, over the years, my family and I took turns making friends with those Iranian families we didn’t much speak to and who didn’t much speak to us. And meanwhile (I can’t remember which came first), they took turns making friends with us: The seeds for one friendship were planted when one of those girls found me crying outside violin class. Our parents’ recognized an opportunity to shave thirty minutes off the commute to summer school by carpooling in a group that included other parents. The shared grief of a religious grandma passing away sparked our moms to hug. Then one dad arranged financial aid for me to attend a high school math competition in Las Vegas. We began to develop a common narrative, strengthened now through decades of shared experiences and even contrasting ones for which we have a common vocabulary. Today, I thrill with joy when our paths cross, as do my parents when they call to tell me they ran into their old friends somewhere in Davis or nearby Sacramento. What could be better than finding out how living across the country from their families have treated them or how their personalities have grown or what dreams they are trying to accomplish. Our friendships were the first thing that established in my young mind the truth that people can indeed change their most practiced and committed ways, even when adults have explained that those ways are the ways of the world that must be accepted.
So this is why, in a time when misunderstanding is advanced by a disturbed man in Christchurch as much as it is by political organizations here at home, the following pieces which could not happen at any other time and place delight and warm my heart. In each, there is a decision to choose connection over tribalism, the struggle be true to one’s own feelings and identity while acknowledging the truths and experiences of others’.
Washington Post: The meeting was supposed to ease tensions between Muslim and Jewish Democrats. It ended with tears. What the title doesn’t say is that they were tears of connecting, understanding each others’ pain, and maybe even healing. We need more of this in Congress.
Longreads: Revisiting My Grandfather’s Garden A beautiful piece about returning to Iran after decades from my friend, Mojgan Ghazirad, who had religious family members and family who worked with the Shah, edited by the incredible Sari Botton.
Vice: Reflections on Living Over the Fence From New Zealand’s Worst Mass Shooting
Somehow, Laura Borrowdale managed to write this gorgeous, lyrical, honest, and direct piece in the day after the shooting happened, practically in her own driveway. When the news broke, I was recovering from a bad stomach bug and saw the alert on NYTimes but I held off on reading beyond headlines for a few days. This was the first piece I saved to read because I prefer a first-person experience or connection to a media maelstrom.
I’d love to hear if you enjoyed or hated something about this list, found your own connections and threads, or have your own way of reading in heavy news weeks. A huge thank you to all my friends who reached out to remind me I am loved and supported after the shooting. I’d like to keep sharing what I’m reading and connecting with as a way to stay in touch with the people I don’t get to see or chat with as often as I’d like. So please drop me a line if you’d like that too.
Cross-Posted to Medium.com
Photo Credit: Felton Davis “37 United Against Islamophobia”