Lost in Translation

By Elaheh Farmand

My hair was very short. I remember our friend's daughter told me that I looked like a boy.

Imagine.

Imagine that you are in a foreign country, dressed for the first time, not in a school uniform, but in denim overalls and a yellow tee. Your hair is uncomfortably short because your mother always cuts your hair for her convenience. You don’t speak the language and yet you are starting school, in a mixed-gender school, which may not have been a big deal had you not spent the last five years of elementary in an all-girls school, and had hardly any interactions with boys other than your male cousins and brothers.

So there I was, ashamed and embarrassed. I had no control over the situation. I didn’t want to be in America. Iran had done nothing wrong to me.  My siblings and closest cousins were still in Iran. I was alone, with parents who were also struggling with their English. Struggling already to make a living. Before our arrival, I imagined that my father had bought a house. It was natural, at the time, to think that my father could have afforded a house for my mother and me. He was my father, after all. A father who had provided for us back in Iran, who went to work everyday in a suit. We never had money problems. I knew we weren’t rich. We didn’t have a car, for one. But we didn’t really need a car so I didn’t care much. We had a comfortable home. We never went hungry. Money was never discussed, not in front of me.

To say that middle school was rough may be an exaggeration, but it was emotionally hard to accept myself as an immigrant. My mother was working at a high school cafeteria, my father the night shifts at 7-Eleven. Anytime we went shopping, money was a concern, which embarrassed me. Getting to the cash register was worse – hearing my parents struggle to communicate. I always looked away. I often tried to hide.

But I was fortunate still, to go to a school that offered an ESL program for non-native speakers.