My parents are two incredible people who immigrated to Salt Lake City, Utah from Iran in the 1980-90s. They were escaping the Iranian Revolution in 1980 and the oppression that came from it. I have never really sat down and asked them about their experience coming to a country that was so vastly different from their own. With all of the recent anti-immigrant tensions I thought it would be beneficial to hear the immigrants’ side of the story. To help answer some of my questions, I asked my parents 13 questions about their immigration process and life in America.
I asked both my mom and my dad these questions and let them answer with their own experiences and thoughts. It took a while because of their constant interrupting each other, leaving in the middle of the conversation to attend to other things, and phone calls but we eventually got through it. Here is the content of my interview with my parents:
HC: What country are you from?
Mom and Dad: Iran
HC: What was your life like before Immigrating to America?
Dad: Eventful. I had the luxury of living in different cities and regions in Iran and I got to be friends with different types of people in different areas of the country. I lived a student life and I went to university in Iran and graduated with a BA in accounting.
Mom: I graduated from university and got a good job with a good salary close to my family. My life was really good, and I really enjoyed my life.
Dad: She was the life of the party in Iran until she met me.
HC: What was your life like after immigrating?
Mom: For a couple of years it was really hard, it was a whole new country with a new language, new culture, new people and I was far away from my family and friends. I didn’t have any friends, but little by little I learned English and met people. After having kids my life changed a lot.
Dad: It has been a really hard-fought life. When I immigrated to the United States it was after the Iranian Revolution, and we didn’t have the means of getting the family wealth to the US so we had to start from the beginning. It was a really hard period of our life to try and integrate to a society that we weren’t really used to in terms of culture and lifestyle. I went to graduate school here and every success that I had came with a big price.
HC: What was the process like?
Dad:I came as a student and because of the Iranian Revolution I decided not to go back. I had to wait for the process to play out so I could get my immigration status. When I first came here, the US was a haven for all the oppressed people around the world. Unfortunately, after 25 years gradually one by one all of those positive privileges have been diminished. It was easier to immigrate back then and xenophobia wasn’t as pressing then. There was more accommodation for immigrants back then, especially since I was a student.”
Mom: My experience was different, I first migrated to Canada and stayed there for a year while I learned French. I then moved to the US with a fianceé visa and, after 3 years, I had an interview, and my status changed to permanent resident. 3 years after that I became a US citizen.
HC: When did you immigrate?
Mom: August 1996
Dad: February 1984
HC: Why did you immigrate?
Dad: Again, I came as a student to get my Master’s Degree in Business Administration. The plan was to go back to Iran after but after the revolution, I decided not to go back because it wasn’t as good of a place to live anymore.
Mom: I came here because I got married and your dad lived here.
HC: How did people treat you when you got here?
Dad: Back then there was a lot of compassion for foreigners. I was lucky enough that my Dean in college had served in Iran after the revolution, and he introduced me to my class and explained to the class what we had gone through in Iran. My classmates were very understanding. They took me in and we would study together and we eventually became friends. I was treated like somebody that needed more care.
Mom: I was treated very well, most people were very kind, especially in Salt Lake City. Most people tried to understand me and help me and because of that I decided to stay in Utah.
HC: What expectations did you have about America? About Salt Lake City?
Dad: I was expecting that there would be more accommodations and more freedom of expressing yourself. I expected that you could believe whatever you want to believe in without being persecuted. I knew Salt Lake City was a hub for the LDS so I was expecting to have a lot of religious people try to convert me, but I never had that experience.
Mom: Since I moved from Montreal to Salt Lake City, I was expecting SLC to be like it was there, but when I came here I got a big shock. Montreal is a very lively city and has a great nightlife with lots of culture and events and festivals. The first week I was in SLC I tried to find a coffee shop that was open after 4 pm and they were all closed. This was a symbol for me that the city was different than what I expected.
HC: How long did it take you to become an official citizen? What was that like?
Mom: 5 years.I had a fiancee visa for 2 years, then I had an interview and became a permanent resident. 3 years after that I applied for citizenship and they approved me after another interview at the immigration center.
Dad: It took 12 years for me to become a citizen. I had my permanent residency in 1991 and I became a citizen in 1996. It took so long because I came with a student visa, after a student visa, my parents applied for my green card (permanent residency). It took 5 years for me to get my permanent residency.”
HC: What was your first 24 hours in America like?
Dad: I had my immediate family living in SLC already, so it wasn’t a big shock. The biggest shock was when my youngest brother decided to go to the university to study at 2 am, I couldn’t understand how a university could be open at that time. I went with him to the library and he introduced me to his friends.”
Mom: I was very happy because after 2 years I had been married to your dad, I finally got to live with him to start my life. I spent the whole day celebrating.
What is the best thing about your immigration here?
Mom: Getting to know a different culture and different people, learning a new language and new work ethic. I got to experience freedom that I wasn’t currently experiencing in my own country.
Dad: The same for me, when you travel to different parts of the world and meet with different types of people, you lose your prejudices and learn new cultures, learn how to adapt, and understand different ideologies and ways of life. It makes you stronger and hopefully, you will then teach your children to be more accepting of different cultures.
HC: What was the hardest part of immigrating here?
Mom: For me, it is being far away from my family. Unfortunately, they can’t visit me here. That is really hard.
Dad: For me, it was losing my lifetime friends that I had back in Iran. Not being able to be with large portions of my family that I was so close to was also very hard. Not being able to visit my mother country as much as I wanted to and leaving behind all the good memories there.
HC: Are you happy with where your life is now?
Mom: “n general, yes. We do have a lot of regrets and hard days assimilating to a new country. My biggest regret is not being able to attend my dad’s funeral because it was in Iran and I couldn’t go there at the time.
Dad: I am happy that I have a family that is successful and happy. I have a good group of friends that I am hoping that it will save me from going insane in old ages, like what my dad is going through right now. I feel like I have accomplished a lot in this country for a first-generation immigrant. I have a very loving family that supports me no matter what I go through, so, yes, I am very happy. I love the city and state that I live in and think it is one of the most beautiful places in the world to live in. It will never be like my country, even though this place is prettier. The nostalgia will always drift me back to Iran.
So there you have it! My parents are lucky to have a generally good experience with immigration — in recent years I know it has become a lot harder and a lot less accommodating. I hope this can make people understand that many times, immigrants are coming here to have a better life and escape harsh conditions back home. America is the land of freedom and opportunity to them. I am grateful to get to learn so much about my parents and their experiences, and I want everyone to be able to understand how it can be very hard for an immigrant in the U.S. Maybe one day we can all see each other as people and there will not be so much hatred against immigrants.
Shout-out to my mom and dad for letting me bother them for a half an hour, love you!