Emad Shahnooshi is an Iranian American student. Here, he recounts his own identity and journey in being accepted as a part of his community.
I was born in Esfahan, Iran to an amazing and loving family. So loving that they sacrificed everything for me, from seeing their families, their friends, and their entire life as they knew it, just to bring my brother and I to the United States of America.
My dad left Iran when I was only 8 months old, traveling all across Southeast Asia until landing in Hong Kong for two years. Then, he was able to come to the United States and settle in Grand Junction, Colorado. I didn’t see him (or really know him) until I was 6 years old. The first time I came to the United States was the first time that I had seen my dad. Everything he gave up, including not seeing his youngest child grow up until he was 6 years old, was to give his family and children a better life in America.
Grand Junction is an extremely small and closed community, with extremely closed-minded values as a whole. So having Muslims in that community was (and still is) something that is very hard for the community to be able to handle, sometimes too hard. My entire life in Grand Junction, I have been thrown racial slurs, been told to go back home, been called a terrorist, and even told that I didn’t deserve to go to school where I did solely because of my religion. I am the only Muslim student in my entire school, and the only Iranian student as well. That meant I was the only spokesperson for an entire ethnicity and an entire religion.
As a nine-year-old, I never understood what people said when they said, “go home,” I was home. I was where my parents were, where I slept and ate, where I had a life. The United States is my home. I never knew why I was called a terrorist, when even the idea of a human being dying breaks my heart. The hatred I faced and the prejudice that was directed towards me just made me stick closer to my culture, my religion, and my background.
I’m a member of speech and debate, and it’s an amazing platform of people with different types of opinions and views. Well, one day, as most speech and debate students do, we were talking about politics. Then, Donald trump came up, and one of my teammates defended Donald Trump’s ban on Muslims saying that Muslim immigrants are all terrorists and that it was the government’s job to protect its people from terrorists. I had never been so disappointed in my life, how, someone who knew a Muslim immigrant, just hated me for no other reason than my religion. Instead of trying to understand diversity, he just bought into the rhetoric of hate.
It’s not about just facing adversity, its about what you do afterwards. So far, I have constantly been using social media as my voice, trying to educate my friends and followers about domestic and foreign issues, I speak with members of the community to try and allow them to be exposed to Muslim Americans, and I have even raised money for Syrian refugees by just writing people’s names in Arabic calligraphy, trying to promote Black Lives Matter, and many more organizations and groups that I am a part of like the National Honors Society. I stand for women’s rights, LGBTQ rights, as well as freedom of speech and expression. Those are the values that I hold as an American citizen.