BY: KYLE WALDEN
Refugees: victims of forced migration; it was hard to imagine that my best friend’s dad fit under that label. I had never met a refugee personally. I asked Houtan who he was going to interview.
Responding casually Houtan responded by saying, “Uhhhh. My Mom.” I gave Houtan a quizzical look.
After a short pause, I said in a doubtful tone, “Your mom is a refugee?” Houtan nodded and began to explain that his mom and dad escaped the Iranian Revolution that occurred in the 1970s. Struck by an epiphany I responded optimistically with, “So….I can interview your dad then?”
Houtan got tired of nodding and instead expressed his answer with a look that could not be read in any other way than, “Duh!”
I worked with Houtan in order to get a suitable time to interview his father, who was able to share details of his life. While in Iran he participated in protests against the Shah and sometimes got dangerously close to being arrested. His family, concerned for his safety, encouraged him to leave before the Iranian revolution spiraled out of control. Mr. Bozorghadad had lived in Iran until 1976 when he attended college at Pasadena and then proceeded to study at Louisiana State University. He is a successful businessman who resides in the beautiful hills of Los Altos with his wife, two daughters, and son. Mr. Bozorghadad is a hard worker who was determined to succeed in America. He enjoys spending time with his family as well as enjoying the fruits of life. However, inside this humorous adult is a man who experienced conflict in a country thousands of miles away. Escaping the Iranian revolution in 1976 when he was 17, he adapted quickly to American culture. However, his diverse ethnic background creates an interesting story about his life and also his views on the world. I had many questions to ask him. I was curious to know how a man with such opposite backgrounds of eastern and western culture could become successful.
Late Monday night I drove over to the Bozorghadad residence, prepping myself beforehand with a much-needed shower and change of clothes in order to bring an aura of professionalism to the interview. Despite having just returned from the gym, Mr. Bozorghadad was dressed in very formal attire. His child-like personality was balanced by his respect for himself and others. This man seemed capable of any task. His determination and intellectual brilliance is so strong that it wouldn’t surprise guests if he built his own house. His Americanized sense of self and material comfort is balanced by with Eastern values of family and morals that have driven him to success. Mr. Bozorghadad is a man of diverse background and abilities that helped him to succeed. I was excited to interview a man who was held in such high esteem by those who know him.
Once Mr. Bozorghadad had a moment, I asked with sincerity, “I have this project for English and I was hoping I could ask you a few a questions for it?”
“Of course! Of course!” Mr. Bozorghadad said, while smiling enthusiastically. I could tell he was excited about this experience just as much as I was.
We went into the living room and sat down on the spotless white couches. The room was a retreat from his busy life, containing comfy furniture, foot rests, a large plasma screen television, and a bar in the corner. “This is how the elite live,” I thought to myself. Along with the room being an escape from the workplace it was also a direct reflection of his cultural background. The room was covered in jazz paintings that reflect his time spent in New Orleans. Also, the carpets and some of the pillars gave off a strong Persian feel. Coincidently, the Lakers game also just happened to be on, which represented his time spent in Pasadena. Taking in all the details in the room, I took out my laptop and recorder while Mr. Bozorghadad sat down actively playing on his phone. “Do you want to begin the interview now?” I asked.
Mr. Bozorghadad put away his phone, sat down with perfect posture, and turned his shoulders towards me.
“So you are a refugee of the Iranian Revolution. Correct?” I began.
He nodded and replied, “Yes, Yes I am.”
Getting the answer I expected I continued by asking, “How old were you when you left? Why did you leave? How did you leave?”
Mr. Bozorghadad looked up as if to remember all the details. He looked around the room and a grin of nostalgia began to form around his lips. “I was 17 when I left in 1976 by air plane. I left because of my parents’ concern for my safety and my dream to come to the United States. My family wanted me to leave and get a college education in the United States. So I left!”
A huge smile began to form on my face. “Sounds simple enough! Did you have any regrets about leaving?”
He laughed a little. He then answered, “No not really. I of course really missed my family and didn’t want to the leave the place where I grew up in. But, going to America has always been my dream since I was like five.”
I was silent and sat there for a second with an open mouth. I couldn’t believe this. He was still able to follow his dreams despite the political turmoil that was spreading in his country. I asked with full interest, “Since you were five? Jeez, high expectations. I hope we (America) lived up to those standards! What was your first impression of America like?”
He nodded while laughing, “Yes, yes. I really loved America and always wanted to go. Everything was big, cars are big, food is big, houses are big. It was really exciting for me. I felt like coming to America was like a destiny.”
Pleasantly surprised and smiling uncontrollably, I felt myself getting closer to this man and continued to ask questions, in hopes to quench my interests. “Was your transition in America relatively easy?”
He stopped for a moment and answered, “Uhhh. No. No. You know I came all the way from Iran all by myself. So I hard to learn the language, get a job, it was-it was difficult.” His smile faded for a second but sparked back up again when his dog Kiely, went up to him and whined for attention.
I was happy to see although he was a foreigner he was still able to be successful in America. I began to think about the media and how they portrayed the Middle East on the news. Uneducated and ignorant Americans then begin to have this idea that all people from there are Islamic extremists. Which personally, I can see would cause disturbing prejudices at time. So, I asked a follow up question, “Were you ever discriminated against?”
He looks right into my eyes. “Yes.” He pauses. “But, I think if you go anywhere that you are not from, that you are an outsider to you would be discriminated against. It is not just the world hating one group of people. I’m sure if you went to Iran you would be discriminated against as well.”
I never really had thought of it that way. That feeling seems to be unknown for so many white men in America. His answer appeared to be so educated and so right that it really stuck with me. It’s not just one ethnic group picking on another; it’s a global issue. That brilliance was something my thoughts could never reach with out some helpful insight like Mr. Bozorghadad’s.
My brain was stimulated and I was craving to ask more questions. Since we were on the topic of the media, I asked, “At the time when you arrived to America, was the Iranian revolution being fairly written about in American media?”
He laughed and exclaimed, “Actually, yes! They were doing a good job of documenting the events that happened.” His bubbly personality was contagious and I began to laugh as well.
I was surprised. The media, telling the truth was a doctrine I felt was unheard of. Curiously, I asked, “Well, what events did occur when you were there and did you ever participate?”
“There was a lot of protests and of course some violence. My friend actually got arrested! I only participated in protests.” He laughed. “You know, We were just a bunch of college kids looking for something to do.”
I immediately thought of the University of California Berkeley incident with the students protesting and the police started assaulting the unarmed students. My thoughts trailed off to the United States government and its recently oppressive state with the NDAA bill and congress trying to pass SOPA. Perhaps this country is fermenting a revolution waiting to happen. I would feel betrayed my country if something like that happened to me. I wondered what Mr. Bozorghadad thought of Iran now that he had left. “Do you still feel loyal or patriotic to the country you escaped? Or do you have physical or emotional scars that have sort of stained your perspective on Iran forever?”
“Yes. I’m a proud Iranian!” He chuckles. “I still identify myself as that, I am still Persian and still Iranian.” He pauses for a second and says proudly, “But I think I am more American!” He then allows the comedic mood to evaporate and checks his phone as if it was a nervous tick. “I do not have any physical or emotional scars from the Iranian Revolution. I was very fortunate. My family is still there, alive and well. My wife is also a refugee and we got married, I didn’t lose much and for that I am very grateful for.”
Taking a moment to soak it all in. I didn’t know he identified himself as an American. I decided to tie it back to one of my English class’s current theme: forgiveness. Curious to hear what kind of philosophical insight he has to offer I asked him, “Would you forgive your oppressors? Who would you forgive and who wouldn’t you forgive?”
Taking a moment to fully understand what I am asking he answers, “I would. A lot of these people were brainwashed into thinking what they were doing was right. If they weren’t brainwashed they were forced too. I can forgive those men. I cannot forgive the leader. He has-has- a guilty”
“Conscience?” I interrupted.
“Yes, conscience. I also think its important to move past it and become successful even though something like that happened.”
He reminded me of Dith Pran, a survivor of the Cambodian genocide, and Eva Kor, survivor of the Holocaust. Mr. Bozorghadad would only grant forgiveness to the minions just like Dith Pran would. He reminds me of Eva Kor because he thinks it is important to forgive in order to move on and rise above being a victim.
Finishing my notes, Mr. Bozorghadad disrupted the silence and said, “Iran is a good place. You should really visit it.”
At that point, I left the recorder on but stopped taking notes. At this point I wanted to converse with Ali Bozorghadad more informally. I felt that since he assimilated to my culture so fluidly that I should at least learn more about his native background. Kicked back on the couch, feet on the table, we conversed. I learned that Iran was actually a very tolerant culture. He grew up celebrating Hanukkah and Christmas along with his Persian traditions. In a matter of fact, his best friend was Jewish. I was amazed at how westernized the government was when he left and how much I didn’t know.
I had learned many new things about this man that I could have never guessed. As I said my goodbyes and was leaving it all came to me. How was Mr. Bozorghadad able to become so successful despite all of the obstacles that seemed greater than he was? With no hesitation he said, “I don’t really do excuses. I show up and I work.”
While working on the paper and thinking about his answers to my questions, I realized that diversity is important. Mr. Bozorghadad, escaping a revolution and coming to a completely foreign country, was able to be successful because of his diverse background. His tolerance from living in a diverse community allowed him to adapt with the progressive ideas in America. His work ethic came from his Persian parents that demanded the most out of him. Finally, his love for jazz, basketball, and relaxation came from his time spent in America. It is reassuring to see a person finding a happy balance between supposed opposites such as eastern and western cultures, material success, and firmly connectedness.