By Elaheh Farmand
We stood in line: a formation of little women in uniform, covered from head to toe, our little faces only apparent through the headpiece, like nuns. We were little children, but expected to behave as adults. We raised our fists in the air, and chanted: “Death to America!” “Marg Bar America!” This was a daily practice, part of our routine.
America was evil, we were told, and our soldiers had their bloods shed, defending our country against the West. We stomped on the American flag and burned it. Uncle Sam was our enemy. We cried for our prophets, and mourned them for their martyrdom. We prayed and quietly accepted the silence that weighed heavy on us. When we turned nine, we became women. Women, forbidden to run around during recess. Women, forbidden to chatter with our classmates. Women, who would later be afraid to speak up. Women, who would later question our hatred for the West. Women, who would later immigrate to America, to the very land we were told to hate. Those of us who were lucky, may have been enlightened to learn that we were all part of an unfortunate political ruse.
After my father moved to America to tend to his illness, I stopped chanting “Death to America.” But my fist remained in the air, in compliance. My mother said: “We are not saying death to the American people. We are against their government.” Her words comforted me at the time. She taught me at a young age that the citizens were not at fault, but that it was governments and dictators that were at war with each other.
I grew up with so much fear. I cried before school everyday in the third grade. I prayed everyday, hoping for comfort to set in, for hope to grow within, but the prayers did nothing. I cried and I remember my brother Hamed approaching me one night to talk to me about it. I don’t remember our conversation. I wish I did.
Timidity and fear would burden me through adulthood.
It became especially hard as an immigrant to let go of fear, but I had to learn to raise my voice. I turned to writing because it didn’t require me to speak. It allowed me a space to express myself without having to raise my voice. Writing allowed me to make mistakes that could be edited.