In 1978–1979, millions of Iranian men and women from all social backgrounds marched through the streets of Tehran to end the fifty-year reign of the Pahlavi dynasty. During and after the 1978–1979 revolutionary upheavals, for various political and social reasons a great number of individuals and families from diverse socioeconomic and religious backgrounds left Iran and settled mainly in Europe, Canada, and the United States. This book presents the experience of Iranian immigrants in the United States since the Iranian revolution in the context of the ongoing political tension between Iran and the United States precipitated by the Iranian government's taking of fifty-two Americans as hostages for 444 days in 1979. I chose the Iranian revolution and the hostage crisis as my point of departure for three reasons. First, with the exception of a massive migration of a large number of Iranians to India in the seventh century, the revolution of 1978–1979 was the only time in Iranian history to witness an enormous number of people uprooted and forced to live in exile. Second, the Iranian revolution and the U.S.-Iranian hostility generated by the hostage crisis has not only shaped the ebb and flow of Iranians' immigration to the United States during the past thirty years but also influenced the attitudes of Iranian expatriates toward the United States and their relations with American people. Finally, the Iranian revolution and hostage crisis marked a radical negative shift in American public opinion toward Iran, Iranians, and Muslims.
The hostage crisis and its subsequent sanctions against Iran and Iranian immigrants shook the foundation of social life for Iranians in the United States both individually and collectively. Suddenly, thousands of Iranians in the United States were stigmatized and viewed as enemies because of political actions by their government. Widespread hostility, prejudice, and ongoing discrimination against Iranian immigrants in retaliation for the political behavior of the Islamic Republic of Iran since the hostage crisis marginalized many Iranians, retarded and minimized their integration into American society, and pushed them to conceal their Iranian national identity and to construct a new, less threatening ethnic identity. Furthermore, these political forces and the prevailing stereotyped and politicized portrayals of Iranian immigrants and the extensive overt discrimination against them slowed down the assimilation of Iranians thus restraining them from full participation in American society and contributed to a wide range of institutional crises and personal dilemmas.
In focusing on U.S.-Iranian relations during the past half-century, this book is grounded in two major theoretical perspectives. First, unlike many migration scholars who emphasize the role of human capital as well as cultural beliefs and practices of migrants in the host society, in this book I emphasize the political nature of immigration, underscoring the powerful impact of political relations between migrant-sending and migrant-receiving countries on the integration and incorporation of immigrants. As research has shown, the mode of entry as well as the social, political, and economic conditions of the host society at the time of a migrant's arrival are the key factors that shape the experience of an immigrant in the United States. Equally important, the degree of stability or social change in the migrants' society of origin has a profound impact on their community and lifestyle in the host society.
The second theoretical thrust of the book is to show the impact of exclusionary and discriminatory practices of the United States' immigration policy on the formation and perpetuation of the Iranian family in exile, ethnic identity formation among Iranian immigrants, and their attitudes toward American society. The cumulative effect of the Iranian revolution, the hostage crisis, and the political rupture between the United States and Iran and its impact on the integration of Iranian immigrants in the United States have not yet been subject to comprehensive analysis. Despite the increased interest in Iranian immigrants in diaspora by social scientists in recent years, there is a lack of theoretical work that focuses on both the sending and receiving political ends of the migration process for Iranians. Moreover, given the theoretical significance of contexts of reception and the policies of the receiving government in the incorporation of newcomers, there has yet to be a book-length study of the impact of U.S.–Iranian conflict, negative persistent media stereotypes, and discrimination and prejudice against Iranians since the hostage crisis on integration and incorporation of Iranian immigrants in the United States. This book is a major step in that direction.
In my attempt to show the consequences of the political clash between Iran and United States and integration of Iranian immigrants in exile I draw primarily on theoretical works of such prominent figures as Max Weber, C. Wright Mills, Edward Said, Erving Goffman, Robert Merton, Robert Park, Edna Bonacich, and Jeffrey Alexander. I endeavor to synthesize the literature on cultural racism, stigma, cultural trauma, host hostility, marginality, and ambivalence. By combining and synthesizing the works of theorists with different orientations, I do not intend to develop a "meta-theory" of ethnic relations and integration that would be applicable to all immigrant populations but rather to combine propositions from different perspectives in a complementary way in order to explain the situation of Iranians in the United States.
This book is both descriptive and explanatory and is written for general readers who desire to gain a better understanding of migration politics and the impact of political forces on the integration of immigrants into American society. It is based on ten years of periodic data collection including formal and informal interviews with first- and second-generation Iranian immigrants, two surveys, and systematic participant observation in three Iranian communities (Houston, Dallas, and Austin) in Texas. My first goal in this book is to describe who Iranian immigrants are, why they have come to this country, what kinds of dilemmas they confront, how they perceive Americans, and how they feel about their own community in exile. In my description, I attempt to echo the diverse voices of Iranian immigrants and reflect their innermost subjective feelings, dilemmas, and paradoxes. Through extensive quotations, I invite the reader into Iranian immigrants' private world of personal identity, cultural pride, religious experience, marginality, ambivalence, and clash of cultures that is often hidden from ordinary eyes in the public domain of everyday life. But of equal importance, I also attempt to explain what the sources of these dilemmas are and why first- and second-generation Iranian immigrant men and women feel the way they do about Americans and their own co-ethnics.
The tone of anger, bitterness, and discontent with American society and culture reflected in parts of this book derives from the actual voices of hundreds of Iranian men and women who participated in this project—not from my authorial voice. I have simply gathered their individual views and attempted to echo them collectively and systematically in a single manuscript. To be sure, there are major demographic differences between Iranians in Texas and other parts of the country in size, entrepreneurial activities, ethnic associations, ethnoreligious diversity, and community organization. But there is a striking similarity across Iranian communities in American cities, and most Iranians confront the same challenges and are affected by the same social and political forces in Iran and the United States. Veiling national or religious identity among many Iranians, for example, lies not so much with the characteristics of Iranian communities in Texas or California as with the inevitable political and social forces in Iran and the United States within which Iranian migration has occurred. Most people probably think of an immigrant community as a small territory or clustered ethnic neighborhood in a large city composed of people with common ethnic or national origins, ethnic businesses, and native signs where a homogeneous, nostalgic people speak their native language. By Iranian community I refer not to bounded neighborhoods where Iranians live and interact with one another. On the contrary, by Iranian community I refer to a nonterritorial field of people manifesting a collective consciousness, experiencing the same collective traumas, and confronting the same collective social issues. Within this rather amorphous, postmodern field, social networking and interaction are facilitated by shared identification with language, religious tradition, subethnicity, political orientation, occupation, and lifestyle.
I approach my topic from the perspectives of anthropology and sociology. I am not a historian or a political scientist and intend neither to examine the political development of U.S.-Iranian relations in the past half-century nor the roots of the Iranian revolution in 1978 and its social and political outcomes. It is beyond the scope of this book to engage in any political analysis of postrevolutionary Iran. I have carefully refrained from making any judgments about political actions of the Iranian government. A half-century ago C. Wright Mills in his seminal work The Sociological Imagination (1959) noted that many of the personal troubles individuals endure in their private lives are rooted in historical changes, structural transformations, and institutional contradictions that transcend the local environments of the individuals. Therefore, to have a better understanding of major "public issues," Mills adds, social scientists need to look beyond the character of individuals and their immediate environments and trace the links between individual biography and world history. Whatever the specific problems or points of interests and however limited or broad, Mills wrote, it is central for social analysts in any society to examine the intricate connection and interplay between biography and history and to ask questions about the structure of that particular society and its components, its place in human history, and the mechanisms by which it is changing and the varieties of individuals prevailing in that society. It is in this spirit that in the present book I attempt to tell the story of Iranian immigrants and the public or collective "issues" and challenges they have confronted in exile.
Each immigrant group in America has its own story. Some of these stories are about the successful adaptations and significant accomplishments of immigrants in their new homeland. Other stories, however, are about immigrants' challenges of adjustment and difficulties of integration in their host society. Still others are descriptive community studies, and the story is about who they are, why they came to America, what they do, what problems they encountered, how they feel about being in America, what types of relationships they have with Americans and other ethnic groups, and how they maintain contact with the home society and preserve their culture, language, and ethnic identity. This book is about an immigrant group with a relatively short record in the history of American immigration: that of Iranians. Although this book highlights some of the common themes often told in stories of other immigrant, it mainly focuses on the impact of a series of indomitable political forces in Iran and the United States during the past half-century on migration experiences of Iranians and their integration in exile. I highlight the political forces in Iran and the United States in narrating the story of Iranian immigrants for five reasons.
First, as indicated by most migration scholars, to better narrate and understand the story of any immigrant group experience we need a dual perspective that examines both ends of the migration chain, attending to the sociological context of migrants' country of origin and host society. If this is true, then we cannot hope to understand the story of Iranian immigrants in isolation from social, cultural, political, and economic forces in the United States and Iran as well as the relations between the two countries. In other words, the story of Iranian immigrants in the United States has been as much a response to political, economic, and social developments in the United States as it has been to the consequences of the Iranian revolution and political conditions that have forced as many as two million Iranians to leave Iran.
Second, I strongly believe that such distinctive political events as the 1953 CIA coup d'etat and the subsequent strong ties between Iran and the United States, the 1978–1979 Iranian revolution, the hostage crisis and the ensuing U.S.-Iranian hostility and diplomatic break, and the 9/11 attack have had a powerful impact on the migration history of Iranians and the mode of their integration in the United States. Had there been no strong political and economic ties between Iran and the United States after the 1953 CIA coup and restoration of the shah's power and the subsequent American aid and push for modernization of Iranian society, the immigration of thousands of Iranians to the United States for education and training would not have occurred so rapidly before the revolution. Similarly, had there been no revolution in Iran in 1979, thousands of disenchanted and alienated intellectuals, political activists, professionals, industrialists, artists, journalists, and members of religious minorities would not have preferred exile to life in Iran. Also, had fifty-two Americans not been taken hostage in Iran in 1979, there would have been no nationwide demonstrations, hate crimes, immigration restrictions, and various forms of discrimination and prejudice against Iranian nationals in the United States. Finally, had the 9/11 attacks in 2001 not occurred, Iranian immigrants would not have been stigmatized as a suspicious group once again and would not have become exposed to fresh instances of prejudice and discrimination. Therefore, to have a better understanding of Iranians' story in the United States it is essential to address the political context within which their mass migration occurred.
Third, much as with other political immigrants such as Cubans, the story of Iranian immigrants in the United States, particularly in the past thirty years, has largely been a political saga permeated with themes of loss, forced displacement, political asylum, exile, political resistance and opposition, and political activism stemming from consequences of the Iranian revolution, as well as tenors of discrimination and prejudice, exclusion stemming from the U.S.-Iranian tensions after the revolution, and persistent media stereotypes of Iranians as religious zealots, terrorists, and hostage takers. The themes of loss, alienation, and exile among Iranians are best reflected in the poetry of the Iranian diaspora. As indicated by Persis Karim, Iranian poetry in exile expresses the collective anguish, pain, and ambivalence that Iranians in the United States have experienced since the hostage crisis. It also addresses narratives of revolution, war, exile, becoming American, language, and self-identity, as well as gender and culture and critiques of both Iran's and the United States' governments.
Fourth, despite their overall high educational degree, completed mainly in American universities, and long residence in this country, the proportion of Iranians who have a favorable image of the United States and its people and who express high levels of satisfaction and fulfillment about living here is surprisingly low. As indicated in Chapter 3, except for a small number of optimists, a significant proportion of Iranian immigrants in the research sample remain ambivalent or conflicted about the American society. They make a clear distinction between the U.S. government and the American people. What is more, they make a distinction between American people's benevolence and kindness and their lack of political knowledge and sophistication. Furthermore, these Iranian immigrants seem to have two distinct and conflicting images of the United States: a positive perception of a land of economic opportunity, democracy, pluralism, individual freedom, religious tolerance, and material comfort based on the rule of law and protection of civil rights coexists with a negative perception of political dynamics and cultural practices that generate hostile, duplicitous, arrogant, and malevolent behaviors around the world and with respect to their homeland of Iran. This latter perception includes images of a racist, imperialistic, ambitious superpower with a "young," "decadent" culture obsessed with materialism and individualism and devoid of humanitarian and family values. In addition to the optimists and the ambivalent Iranians, another small group is cynical about almost every aspect of life in the United States and categorically rejects the host culture and compounds rejectionism with conspiracy theories about the forces that run the American society. For the cynics, the government of the United States is no more democratic than that of any other country. To this group, Americans, despite their freedoms and myriad opportunities, appear no more open-minded and conscious of social and political events than illiterate people in third-world countries.
Finally, in my opinion, other than the relocation and internment of Japanese Americans after the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941, and the post-9/11 treatment of Muslim Arabs from the Middle East, no other immigrant group in the most recent migration history of the United States from an "enemy state"—as proclaimed by mainstream media, public opinion polls, and government officials—has been so politicized, publicly despised, stigmatized, and traumatized by the U.S. government as have Iranians. Indeed, many Hispanic, Asian, black, and Middle Eastern immigrant groups in the United States have faced substantial and often similar prejudice and discrimination. Nevertheless, no other immigrant group from a former ally country of the United States has lost its positive social image so quickly and has been so misrepresented, stereotyped, misunderstood, and made to feel unwelcome despite its overall high socioeconomic status and record of accomplishment in a short period as Iranians have. Unlike many other immigrant groups who suffered much discrimination and prejudice because of economic forces and labor-force competition, as aptly indicated by Bakalian and Bozorgmehr, civil rights violations and the nativist backlash against Iranian immigrants in the United States were caused by a political and ideological conflict or followed a major national crisis. In less than fourteen months, between the time that President Carter visited Iran in 1978 and when the hostages were taken in November 4, 1979, the image of Iran changed from, in Carter's words, an "island of stability in one of the more troubled areas of the world" to what another observer terms an "extremist," "terrorist," and "fanatical" country dominated by a "crazy group" of mullahs. Shortly after the hostage crisis, Iranian diplomats and military trainees were expelled from the United States under instructions from Carter. A massive crackdown on Iranians began in the United States, and they were given one month to report their location and visa status to the closest U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) office. Furthermore, all Iranian assets in the United States were frozen, tighter restrictions on visas for Iranians were implemented, all visas issued to Iranians in the United States were revoked, and as many as 6,906 students were subject to deportation. Government abuses of civil rights of immigrants and ethnic populations who were victims of hostility between the United States and their countries of origin are not without historical precedent. As described by Bakalian and Bozorgmehr, the Japanese internment during World War II, the mandatory registration and detention of German immigrants and citizens during World War I, the harassment and deportation of communist sympathizers after the Palmer raids (1919–1920), and the witch hunt against suspected Communist Party members during the era of McCarthyism are other examples minority targeting by the U.S. government in times of war or political and ideological crisis.
Prior to the Iranian revolution and the hostage crisis, Iran and the United States had very strong economic, political, and cultural ties, and Iran was viewed as a close U.S. ally in the Middle East. Also, the U.S. government and informed American citizens considered Iran as an ancient civilization with a rich cultural heritage and viewed Iranian immigrants as professionals who made great educational and entrepreneurial contributions to the United States. The hostage crisis created an unprecedented, xenophobic, anti-Iranian, and anti-Islamic reaction with new images of Iran, Iranians, Islam, and other Muslim immigrants as barbaric, uncivilized, and terroristic. This perception has continued until today. In a Gallup poll conducted in June 1976, two years prior to the start of the Iranian revolution, only 37 percent of Americans gave Iran low ratings. In a poll taken about one year after the Iranian revolution, 60 percent of Americans viewed Iran as an enemy of the United States, and another 34 percent as an unfriendly country. In a poll conducted in 1989, a decade after the Iranian revolution, the number of Americans who held an unfavorable opinion toward Iran had increased to 91 percent. Seven years after hostages were released a majority of Americans still believed that Iran was the only "enemy" country, compared to 39 percent who considered the Soviet Union as an enemy. In another poll, more than half of the respondents cited hostages, Khomeini, oil, the shah, anger, hatred, trouble, and troublesome country as coming to mind when Iran was mentioned. Moreover, close to half of the respondents described "all" or "most" Muslims as "warlike," "bloodthirsty," "treacherous," "cunning," "barbaric," and "cruel". As Edward Said' critical evaluation of "the Iran story" indicates, after the hostage crisis, night after night programs such as America Held Hostage and Nightline represented the Iranian people, culture, and religion as "militant, dangerous, and anti-American."
The unfavorable attitudes of Americans were not limited to the Iranian government and people; they were applied as well to Iranian immigrants living in the United States. Between 1985 and 1993 the percentages of Americans who believed that the presence of Iranians in the United States created problems for the country increased from 40 to 60 percent. Only 20 percent of Americans interviewed in 1993 held a positive view of Iranians and perceived their presence to be beneficial to the country.
After 9/11, George W. Bush's declaration that Iran was a terrorist sponsor state and a link in the infamous "axis of evil" deepened and added fuel to the existing anti-Iranian attitudes of Americans. Immediately after 9/11, the U.S. government targeted persons of suspect nationalities and ordered males between the ages of sixteen and sixty-five from twenty-five Middle Eastern countries including Iran who entered the United States by September 10, 2002, to register with the INS, comply with the new federal alien registration program, and submit to being fingerprinted, photographed, and interrogated by federal agents or face deportation. The process was called the National Security Entry Exit Registration System (NSEERS). In Southern California, after approximately one thousand Iranians voluntarily registered, U.S. immigration officials handcuffed, arrested, and detained between five hundred and seven hundred men; they were not allowed access to attorneys, their families, or doctors. Although the order was directed at immigrants on temporary visas, many Iranians who were arrested, however, had green-card applications pending and assumed they were protected under the law while they waited for the INS to finish processing their paperwork.
Labeling Iran as a state sponsor of terrorism increased the number of Americans who view them unfavorably. Results of a public opinion poll taken after the 9/11 attack indicated that 27 percent of Americans considered Iran as the country that posed the greatest danger to the United States, and 47 percent thought Iran was a greater threat to the world than Iraq was before the removal of Saddam Hussein. This poll puts Iran as a greater threat to the United States than China (20 percent), Iraq (17 percent), North Korea (11 percent), or even al Qaeda terrorists (4 percent). The number of Americans who consider Iran as the single biggest threat to the United States has quadrupled since 1993. The results of a Harris Interactive poll conducted in March 2006 indicate that an overwhelming majority (85 percent) of Americans believed that Iranian nuclear research is a cause of concern. In a Pew poll the month before, nearly 65 percent of Americans believed that Iran's nuclear program was a major threat to the United States, and another 82 percent believed that a nuclear-armed Iran would be likely to provide nuclear weapons to terrorists. In a poll taken by the Washington Post and the ABC television network, Americans were asked if they would support U.S. bombing of Iran's nuclear sites if diplomatic efforts and economic sanctions failed. While 42 percent of Americans were in favor of such a bombing, 54 percent opposed it. Asked if it would be responsible or irresponsible for the United States to have war plans for Iran already prepared, 67 percent responded that it would be a responsible action. Another 47 percent thought the United States would eventually have to take military action against Iran. In case of a military attack, 54 percent of Americans supported only air strikes, and another 42 percent supported using air strikes and ground troops.
As indicated before, Iranians are not the only immigrant group in the United States whose members have either suffered great oppression in U.S. history or have collectively been stereotyped and traumatized by the U.S. government because of political actions of their home countries' governments. There is a long list of immigrant groups that have been and remain stereotyped and discriminated against for economic and political reasons. Nevertheless, the case of Iranians is very similar to the those of Japanese and Cubans in some respect. Nearly forty years before Iranians, more than seventy thousand American citizens of Japanese ancestry and another forty thousand legal permanent resident Japanese on the West Coast were evacuated, relocated to camps, and imprisoned without any charges, trials, or criminal convictions because of hostility between the United States and Japan. Just as Japanese immigrants who were never proven to have collaborated with the enemy during World War II, Iranian immigrants in the United States have never been proven to have been involved in 9/11 or any other terrorist act before or since. Although much less traumatic, the experience of Iranian immigrants after the hostage crisis and 9/11 terrorist attack (to be discussed in Chapter 1) has been humiliating and dehumanizing with significant emotional costs. Despite their innocence, Iranian nationals experience discrimination, racial profiling, and prejudice at all levels. For example, immediately after the hostage crisis, the INS ordered all Iranian nationals residing in the United States to report to their local immigration offices for interviews.
The migration experience of Iranians in the United States also bears a strong resemblance to that of Cuban exiles. Both groups came to the United States because of revolutionary change and political turbulence in their home countries. Emigration of a large number of Iranians to the United States was the consequence of a revolutionary change in Iran that occurred after the overthrow of the shah and his monarchy in 1979. Just like the Iranian revolution, the Cuban revolution threatened the economic and political interests of the U.S. government and led to open hostility between the two governments that has continued until now. Nevertheless, unlike Cuban exiles who benefited from the approximately one-billion-dollar federally funded Cuban Refugee Program for resettlement, employment, health services, food, and educational training programs, Iranians were subject to various forms of individual and collective prejudice and discrimination. In the face of overall similarities in the situations of Iranian immigrants with Japanese regarding host discrimination on the one hand and Cubans with respect to political forces of immigration on the other, there is a fundamental difference that makes the case of Iranians more complex and sets it apart from these two and other immigrant groups. Although Japanese nationals in the United States could and often did turn to their government for assistance when they experienced discrimination before the aerial attack on Pearl Harbor, Iranian immigrants have been deprived of any support from their new government and have had nowhere to turn for legal support since massive discrimination against Iranians began in 1979. Moreover, while the financial aid provided by the Eisenhower and Kennedy administrations was a major asset in helping Cuban exiles to build and sustain their community and economic infrastructure, canceling visas issued to Iranians and freezing their assets by President Carter decimated Iranian communities and punished many immigrants who had fled the same "enemy" a few years earlier.
In sum, it can be argued that no other recent refugee or exile group in the United States has experienced the same intense, sudden sense of double loss or double exile and trauma that Iranians have. On one hand, the disastrous consequences of the revolution—including social disorganization, war, cultural breakdown, economic chaos, population explosion, and deterioration of social life and standards of living—forced thousands of Iranians into exile and detached them from the pre-revolution familiar home culture. The Iranian revolution not only reversed the foundation of the earlier system and touched every aspect of Iranian culture but also affected the collective identity of Iranians in exile and deterred many from returning to Iran. On the other hand, the anti-Iranian attitudes of many Americans since the hostage crisis in 1979, the end of political and diplomatic relations between Iran and the United States, and sanctions against Iran in response to the Iranian government's continued support for international terrorism (as claimed by the U.S. government) stigmatized and humiliated Iranians, resulted in loss of cultural and ethnic pride, and pushed many Iranians to conceal their religious, national, and ethnic identities. These events separated most Iranians from mainstream American social, economic, and political life and hampered their integration into American society. In short, unlike most other immigrant groups, Iranians as a whole have confronted simultaneous loss of home and perceived repulsion by the host society. This double loss and double social trauma left an indelible mark upon Iranian immigrants' collective consciousness and affected their ethnic identity fundamentally. It imposed upon them a social life full of dilemma, cultural inconsistency, religious and political ambivalence, ambiguity, and paradox personally and collectively. This situation encouraged the employment of a variety of new adaptive strategies to cope with the following dilemmas: the choice between revealing one's Iranian national identity versus avoiding the stigma attached to being Iranian, practicing Islamic faith versus giving in to the fear of being viewed as a fundamentalist Muslim or a terrorist, defending Iran's right to pursue its economic and technological goals versus remaining adversarial to its government, desiring to return home versus abhorring the social conditions of life in Iran, and last but not least, maintaining ethnic attachment and preserving the Iranian cultural heritage versus acculturating into American society and being accepted as an Iranian.
Inability to find effective coping mechanisms for these sustained dilemmas has culminated in a considerable number of institutional crises within the Iranian community in exile. In spite of nearly three decades of diasporic history and remarkable intellectual, entrepreneurial, and educational accomplishment, as will be discussed in the chapters that follow, the Iranian community in exile is plagued with a number of cultural, political, religious, familial, and other social problems causally contextualized by the aforementioned, more macroscopic issues. For instance, religious values and rituals have lost their moral and symbolic significance and are no longer a major basis of family and social conduct for most Iranians. Moreover, there has been a sharp increase in the number of Iranian-born Muslims who either have converted to Christianity or advocate return to the pre-Islamic faith. At the same time, many Iranians have become resentful of Islamic teachings and faith and publicly express their anti-Islamic sentiments. The number of Iranians who celebrate or observe religious events has declined sharply. Practicing Iranian Muslims, particularly women, who aspire to maintain their religious identity have become detached from the ethnic community and have created their own sub-ethnoreligious community within the larger Iranian community. Iranian identity has become a contested and problematic issue for many Iranian immigrants. The Iranian community in exile suffers from an identity crisis. It lacks a unified sense of national identity strong enough to bind Iranians together. While weak collective consciousness is characteristic of all urban industrial and post-industrial societies, Iranian American subculture is especially fractured in this respect. Some members of the community identify themselves as Iranian, while others call themselves Persians. Many others vary their self-descriptions among several possibilities—Iranian, Persian, Persian American, Iranian American, and American Iranian—depending on the situation and the audience. Similarly, members of Iranian religious minorities (Jews, Christians, Armenians, Assyrians, and Baha'is) often identify with their ethnoreligious backgrounds rather than with their Iranian nationality. Rivalry and competition caused by different political and religious ideologies and factions have divided the Iranian community. As a result, political organizations and activists have lost their reputation for working together for a free Iran. Professional associations are weak and unable to attract enough members. And participation of Iranians in intellectual activities is lower than ever before. In addition, most are disenchanted about social relations among Iranians and complain about dishonesty, rivalry, back-stabbing, gossip, distrust, disorder, disorganization, chaos, and disarray within the community. As such, many Iranians have lost pride in their culture and community and have become detached and dispassionate about community affairs. The lack of community support and low turnout in community events, in turn, has driven many ethnic establishments and ethnic associations out of existence, causing concern for community leaders and organizers.
In the past twenty-five years a considerable amount of research and theoretical effort has focused on understanding the root causes of these problems and examining patterns of acculturation and integration of Iranians in the United States. Most of this research, however, has been primarily based on the assumptions of the assimilation theory developed by Robert Park, a sociologist, and his students at University of Chicago in the 1920s and 1930s. Park's pioneering work on race-relations cycles and the marginal status of immigrants guided the scholarly research for several decades on immigrants' assimilation into their new society. According to Park and his colleagues and students at the University of Chicago, new immigrants would eventually lose their cultural distinctiveness and gradually adopt the customs and attitudes of the prevailing culture and "assimilate" into the host society. Park asserted that assimilation is a "progressive" and "irreversible" process that would remove "the external signs" such as patterns of speech, dress, manners, and food preferences that would distinguish immigrants from native-born Americans. The first-generation immigrants probably would not be able to make a complete transition to the new way of life, but their grandchildren, the third generation, eventually would make "progress" and become full members of the host society. Social problems of immigrants such as finding jobs, family and community disorganization, and conflict with members of the host culture, the Chicago social scientists argued, were inevitable, temporary conditions on the path toward complete assimilation and would ultimately disappear.
Since Park's pioneering work in the 1920s, many race/ethnic relations scholars in the United States have adopted and made new and significant contributions to the assimilationist perspective. One of the most valuable contributions to Park's framework is the influential work of Milton Gordon, author of Assimilation in American Life, in which he distinguishes an array of possible assimilation outcomes. Unlike Robert Park, who contended that a group might assimilate culturally without necessarily going to the remaining stages, Gordon identified seven subprocesses of assimilation, each of which may occur simultaneously and in varying degrees. According to Gordon, the complete merging of one group into another requires more than accepting and practicing the culture of the host society or the majority. It also requires structural assimilation or primary relationships. By primary relationships Gordon means intimate, enduring interaction of a large number of a minority or immigrant group with members of the host society as close friends, neighbors, and social club members and in other private sphere of social life. Relationships between members of minority and majority groups that take place in such public spheres as work, school, and public recreation, although important, result in secondary structural assimilation. The next phase of assimilation involves gradual merging of minority or immigrant groups through intermarriage or marital assimilation. Identification assimilation or identifying with the host society does not happen until the members of both the immigrant minority group and the host society share the view that they are part of the same group subordinate to their original ethnic subcultures. This stage of assimilation is a two-way process and involves recognition of minority group members by members of the host or majority society.
When immigrant minority groups no longer have mental ties with or identify with their countries of origin or ethnic communities and are no longer perceived by members of the host society as foreigners, prejudice and discrimination against the minority groups disappear. Gordon refers to the disappearance of prejudice as attitude receptional assimilation and to the disappearance of discrimination as behavioral receptional assimilation. Finally, in Gordon's terms, when the remnants of group differences are eliminated and the conflicts between groups over values and power subside, separate groups become one and civic assimilation occurs. The crucial stage in the assimilation process for Gordon is the formation of primary group relations, or entry "into the social cliques, clubs, and institutions of the core society at the primary group level". Once immigrant minority group members develop intimate relations with members of the host culture in the private sphere, marital assimilation will follow. As intermarriage advances and more members of a minority group marry partners from the host society, intergroup prejudice, discrimination, and conflict will decline.
During the past few decades scholars have raised serious questions about major assumptions of the assimilation theory and have criticized it for being ethnocentric, linear, and based on experiences of white European who migrated more or less voluntarily to the United States; they have developed new, broad theories of racial and ethnic relations. Unlike the assimilation theories that emphasize the orderly adaptation of immigrants to the culture and institutions of their host society, the new theories place much greater emphasis on institutionalized discrimination, social inequality, power relations, interrelationships of racial inequalities, the role of government, cultural stereotyping and racist ideologies, and the importance of oppositional cultures in resisting racial oppression.
In recent years two new perspectives on the integration of immigrants into their newly adopted societies, called "segmented assimilation" and "transnationalism," have emerged. Like traditional assimilation theory, segmented assimilation theory emphasizes integration of new immigrants into the new society. Unlike the traditional assimilation theorists, however, the segmented assimilation theorists assert that the process of assimilation and adaptation among new immigrants may be different from those experienced by earlier European immigrants. Moreover, in contrast to the classical assimilation theories that linked assimilation and upward mobility and expected higher social and economic status for each subsequent generation of immigrant descent, the segmented assimilation scholars assert that the United States is a stratified society with different "segments" to which immigrants and their children may assimilate. Therefore, instead of assimilating to the American mainstream, immigrants may assimilate into three distinct segments of American society, each with a different outcome. The first path is to assimilate into the American middle class, leading to upward mobility as predicted by classic assimilation theory. The second is acculturation and assimilation into the urban working class, which leads to poverty and downward mobility. The third route is "selective acculturation" and leads to deliberate preservation of immigrant cultural values and practices along with economic integration. Various social settings have an impact on assimilation of different immigrant subgroups in different ways. Moving into the mainstream and adapting to their new society, the segmented assimilation theorists maintain, are swifter and easier to reach for educated, affluent, and skilled members of immigrant groups than for lower-class individuals with little education and fewer occupational skills.
While assimilation and to some extent segmented assimilation theorists have argued that immigrants would eventually abandon their unique cultural practices and homeland ties, scholars of a transnational perspective contend that immigrants and their descendents remain strongly influenced by their continuing ties to their home societies. Rooted in a global perspective, the central element of this conceptual framework is that immigrants establish and maintain cultural, social, economic, and political relations in both the home and host societies. Through these relations, immigrants link their country of origin and their country of settlement. In contrast to static theoretical models that viewed immigrants and their experiences in each society as a discrete phenomenon and "bounded" by separate culture, economy, and political systems, a transnational perspective views immigration as a dynamic process bound together by a global capitalist system and affected by the interplay of historical experience, structural conditions, and the ideologies of home and host societies. Although they acknowledge that many earlier immigrants were in some sense transmigrants who maintained economic and political ties to their home societies, transnational analysts argue that "the current transnationalism is a new type of migrant experience".
One important point that transnational analysts make is that by drawing upon their multiple identities grounded in their home and host societies, transmigrants create and maintain linkages between different societies in the context of families, institutions, economic investments, business, and financial and political organizations. Given their simultaneous participation in multiple transnational settings or social fields, transmigrants continuously convert the economic and social status gained in one society into political, social, and economic gains in another. Moreover, they can contribute both positively and negatively to global political and economic transformations, fortify or impede global religious movements, fuel social movements, and influence the internal functions of states. Therefore, to have a better understanding of immigrants we need to adopt a transnational approach that adequately captures the complex interconnectedness of immigrants to multiple nation-states as well as to multiple legal, political, and economic institutions.
Despite the increasing number of publications on Iranian immigrants in exile and the considerable contributions and insights regarding the experience of Iranians in the United States, the theoretical focus of the emerging field of Iranian American studies has been for the most part consistent with theoretical assumptions of the assimilationsts.9 These studies, in various contexts, stress either the impact of socioeconomic status (education, class resources, and so forth) of Iranian immigrants or the cultural practices and transformation of Iranian institutions—mainly the family—after they immigrated to the United States, and they view loss of ethnic heritage, religious beliefs, and family values as inevitable evolutionary outcomes of assimilation. Considering the theoretical significance of discrimination, host hostility, prejudice, and stereotyping in migration literature and their powerful impact on the integration of immigrants into the mainstream society, with the exception of one particular article by Bozorgmehr and a few brief references in some other publications, the published work on Iranian immigrants has generally ignored exploration of the link between the impact of these forces on assimilation and the integration of Iranians in any great detail in a book-length manuscript.
As I indicated earlier, this book takes as axiomatic the proposition that political forces in Iran and the United States as well as the hostile relations between the two countries constitute macroscopic conditions contextualizing the integration of Iranians in exile into American society. Understanding the impact of these political forces not only sheds light on the intricate integration of Iranian immigrants but also provides a more nuanced framework for explaining the loss of family values, changes in gender roles, rising divorce rate, rise of anti-Islamic religious sentiments, masking of Islamic identity, political apathy, loss of cultural pride, lack of community support, veiling of national or ethnic identity, and community disorder among Iranians. Therefore, unlike the proponents of the assimilationist perspective, I believe that these are some of the most critical forces best employed as starting points for understanding the experiences of Iranians in the United States. The Iranian revolution and the ensuing social, political, and cultural consequences were at least as powerful as host discrimination in shaping migration experiences of Iranians in the United States. In fact, one could argue that the enormous level of hostility, prejudice, and discrimination targeted at Iranians in exile was a reaction to the foreign policies of the Iranian government, instigated by the hostage crisis in 1979. We cannot fully understand the story of Iranian immigrants and their patterns of integration and address their institutional crisis in exile in isolation from all social, cultural, political, and economic forces in the United States and Iran as well as the relations between the two countries.
In emphasizing the powerful impact of the anti-Iranian media stereotyping, prejudice and discrimination against Iranians, and the Iranian-U.S. conflict on the lives of Iranian immigrants in exile, we should not ignore or deny the role of cultural beliefs in contributing to their detachment from American society, disassociation from American people, and ambivalence about living in the United States. Indeed, as spelled out in chapters 3 and 4, some Iranian beliefs regarding American people, American family, and the U.S. government and its powerful role in shaping public opinion represent cultural responses that often lead to marginalization of Iranian immigrants in the political scene and their detachment from the American society and its people. "Culture" refers to the totality of socially learned patterns of acting, thinking, and feeling, and it includes language, beliefs, tools, symbols, norms, and values. As a dynamic phenomenon, culture is subject to change, transition, evolution, and transformation. As a depository of continuity, heritage, tradition, and identity of a group, however, culture is most sensitive to traumatogenic changes, that is, changes that are sudden, comprehensive, and unexpected that touch the core aspects of one's personal life or the social life of a group. Traumatogenic changes may harm the cultural tissue of a group and bring shock, wound, normative chaos, anomie, and ambivalence and disturb the cultural equilibrium. The Iranian revolution exemplifies this notion of traumatogenic change. The wounds inflicted upon the Iranian culture made many Iranians ambivalent about returning to their homeland and contributed to the emergence of various institutional crises and paradoxes that Iranians in exile have experienced.
This book draws upon personal narratives of real persons, including myself, and empirical data collected from government sources, surveys, interviews, and participant observation. Most of the following chapters rely heavily on data collected during the course of two research projects in Texas. The first project was conducted between 1993 and 1995 in Dallas, and the second project was completed over a two-year period from 2003 to 2005 in Dallas, Houston, and Austin. Participant observation was the primary method employed for both projects. This approach helped me to acquire a broader—more "holistic"—view of the Iranian community and to understand the relationships among its various institutions. Government data sources including the U.S. Census Bureau's 2006–2008 American Community Survey 3-Year Estimates and the statistical yearbooks of the INS and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) from 1955 to 2005, although not completely accurate, made it possible to reconstruct the migration history of Iranians for the past fifty years and provided valuable information about the size and demographic characteristics of the Iranian population in the United States. To gain a better understanding about Iranian immigrants, the census, INS, and DHS data were augmented by three nonrandom surveys of first- and second-generation Iranians in Texas. Unlike the census data that provide information about demographic characteristics of Iranians, the survey data provide rich information about Iranians' patterns of behavior, political participation, religiosity, interethnic relations, beliefs about American people and society, social mobility, reasons for migration, concerns about their children, and views about the Iranian community and immigrants. The first survey was carried out in 1994 during my fieldwork in Dallas and included 485 first-generation Iranian men and women. The remaining two more recent surveys were conducted between September 2003 and May 2004 primarily in cities with the largest Iranian populations in Texas (Houston, Dallas, and Austin). The first of the two more recent surveys included a nonrandom sample of 105 young Iranians who were either born and raised in the United States or were born in Iran and migrated here when they were very young. The respondents from the second survey, however, included 507 adult Iranians, most of whom left Iran during or after the Iranian revolution.
To develop the historical aspect of Iranian migration to the United States, reconstruct the impact of political and social events on their lives, and obtain a broader view of the nature and roots of interethnic relations between Americans and Iranians in exile, I reviewed and analyzed about two hundred articles in major local and national magazines and newspapers including the Time, Newsweek, Dallas Morning News, and Houston Post published in 1977 through 1980. To get a better perspective on Americans' perception of Iran and Iranians before and after the revolution I reviewed more than fifty public opinion surveys by the Gallop poll and other public opinion polling agencies.
In addition to the questionnaire, fieldwork, and content analysis of magazines and newspapers I also turned to the Internet for supplementary information on organizations and associations that coordinate or sponsor activities and undertakings of Iranian immigrants. I was specifically interested in identifying organizations that made overt mention of second-generation Iranians as their core participants. In so doing, I sought to generate a reliable panorama highlighting the types of activities behind which Iranian immigrants are most likely to organize, to explore how Iranians choose to verbally identify themselves as part of their descriptions and mission statements for these organizations and activities, and finally, to detect the connection, if any, between the type of organization or activity and the lexical construction ("Iranian" versus "Persian" versus "Iranian American," and so on) that Iranians choose as ethnic demarcations to describe their members and participants.
Government documents, magazines and newspapers, surveys, and Internet sites, however, do not allow researchers to capture and understand immigrants' rich personal experiences and the feelings associated with them. To uncover and piece together the unobservable subjective experiences and emotions of Iranian immigrants I conducted face-to-face and telephone interviews with close to one hundred first- and second-generation Iranian men and women and crafted numerous life histories, including my own.
By sharing my own life history and personal narratives of other Iranians I aim to expose the reader, especially American college students with no background in migration studies, to the challenges of migration in general and the politics of being Iranian in particular, which are very hard to capture and appreciate through mainstream media and accounts of uninformed, biased individuals. I would hope that students would gain a better understanding of the politics of migration and the impact of social, cultural, economic, and political forces on the integration of immigrants into American society.
Since I am an Iranian and have been a member of the Iranian immigrant community, this may seem to be a biased endeavor of an insider. In some respects, however, it may actually be a more reliable attempt to understand what forces have shaped the migration experiences of Iranians and why Iranian immigrants have so many problems. I have been studying Iranian communities in Texas since I conducted my first fieldwork in Dallas toward completion of my doctoral degree at Southern Methodist University in 1993. My long-term relationship with the community as an anthropologist provides a great opportunity for a longitudinal assessment of change and stability within the Iranian community. Also, I do not have to spend years acquiring the Persian language or understanding the beliefs, values, and norms of Iranian culture. Being an Iranian native, having lived in exile for almost three decades, and having visited Iran seven times since I left the country, I have seen the changes in Iran and the United States and have acquired a broader view of both ends of Iranian immigration. I have also been an active member of the Iranian community and have met and been in close contact with hundreds of Iranians from various religious, ethnic, class, and political backgrounds since I immigrated to the United States in 1978. During this time, I have witnessed numerous political rallies and demonstrations for different causes, fund-raising events for humanitarian projects, the breakup of old ethnic and professional associations due to ideological differences, the formation of various cultural centers, business rivalries and competitions between Iranian entrepreneurs, and many other similar community events and developments.
I have attended hundreds of small and large community gatherings, cultural celebrations, film festivals, professional and scholarly seminars, and concerts. My close association and interaction with hundreds of diverse men and women from all over Iran both as a participant observer since 1978 have provided me with a great opportunity (for which any anthropologist wishes) for listening to stories told by elites of the former government, professionals, political activists and leaders, intellectuals, religious fundamentalists, other religious minorities, poets, artists, entertainers, refugees, entrepreneurs, housewives, students, homeless, homosexuals, punks, strip dancers, teenagers, drug addicts, and many of other social types in the Iranian community. I have listened to heart-breaking accounts of newly arrived Iranian brides who suffered from loneliness, homesickness, and lack of family support; husbands who complained about their empowered wives and the loss of the traditional Iranian family; Iranian parents who grumbled about the behaviors of their Americanized teenagers; second-generation Iranian American teenagers who expressed their frustration and disappointment with both the Iranian community and American society; Iranian elderly men and women who bore the pain of imposed loneliness and isolation of exile; and unhappy Iranian grandparents who complained about disrespectful grandchildren who had lost their native language and had become alienated from Iranian culture.
I have met and interviewed prerevolutionary Iranian elites who suffered from depression because of a loss of social status and displacement in the United States, political activists and prisoners before and after the revolution who dreamed about returning to a free and democratic Iran, unaccredited Iranian doctors and nurses who worked as cashiers and clerks, Iranian refugees who were disillusioned about America as a great "land of opportunity" and disputed constantly with case workers and managers at local refugee centers about the lack of services and resources. I have interviewed Iranian employees in Iranian-owned businesses, small and large, who accused the owners of unfair treatment and exploitation and Iranian business owners who complained about the lack of support from community members. Finally, often, the subjective experiences of migration and its emotional, cognitive, and behavioral transformations may not be perceived by scholars who have not personally experienced the process firsthand. Because I have experienced the same hopes, challenges, successes, ambitions, despairs, prejudices, frustrations, disappointments, and disillusionments that many other Iranians in the United States have encountered, I have a deep and intimate understanding or what Max Weber calls the "sympathetic understanding" (verstehen) in telling the story of Iranian immigrants. Thus, this story is my personal story as much as it is the social story of thousands of Iranian men and women in exile.
As indicated by Fischer and Abedi, storytelling comes in various genres, depending upon audiences. Despite its different forms, storytelling, Fischer and Abedi maintain, has "reinvigorated recent thinking about ethnography … and … use of cultural idioms, concepts, tropes, and discourse styles as epistemological guides". My own personal account or "autoethnography" serves as a starting point from which the history of Iranian immigration to the United States is told, and it is a detailed account of major social, cultural, and political events since my teenage years. Through my autoethnography or life history I have tried to contextualize my life in modern Iranian history and explain how complexities of culture, politics, revolution, exile, family, and social events profoundly shaped my social biography and those of thousands of other first-generation Iranians in exile. Following Roy Mottahedeh's creative and innovative style in his path-breaking work The Mantle of the Prophet, I have incorporated extended historic information and political facts from multiple authoritative primary sources between the accounts of the lived experience of migration from Iran and the experiences of Iranian immigrants in the United States. I have included census and immigration data about the migration and settlement patterns of Iranians in the United States for the past fifty years.
My goal in including these facts is twofold: first, to give the reader a better understanding about the major transformative events in Iran before and after the revolution and their consequences on Iranian immigration trends to the United States; and second, to offer a different and richer perspective than hitherto suggested that takes into account the impact of intergovernmental political relations and the politics of migration on the integration of Iranian immigrants into American society.
Scope and Organization of the Book
This book is organized into five chapters. Following this introduction, Chapter 1 narrates my personal life history and tells in detail what social, cultural, economic, and political forces in Iran and the United States contributed to my journey from Tehran to Texas in 1978 and shaped my life chances since then. Chapter 2 examines the links between the hostage crisis and American media and anti-Iranian stereotypes and narratives. This chapter demonstrates how unfavorable depictions of Iranians as terrorists, fundamentalist Muslims, and fanatics illogically stigmatized and devalued Iranians and pushed them to conceal their national identity and to develop a new, less threatening "Persian" identity. After a concise presentation of Jeffery Alexander and coauthors' cultural trauma theory, the second part of this chapter examines the role of political opponents of the Islamic Republic of Iran as a "carrier group" in construction of an anti-Islamic master narrative and promotion of a non-Islamic Persian identity.
Chapter 3 examines the impact of the discriminatory immigration policies against Iranians and anti-Iranian stereotypes in mainstream media on Iranians' perceptions of the United States and its people. Based on interviews with Iranians, this chapter presents and describes three distinct images of the United States and American people that exist in the minds of Iranian immigrants. The second section of this chapter looks at Iranians' perceptions of their co-ethnics and ethnic community in the United States. This chapter ends with a review of sociological theories of "marginal man" and "sociological ambivalence" and offers an explanation for Iranians' feeling of double ambivalence and double detachment. Contrary to fundamental premises of the assimilation theory, in this chapter I argue that Iranians' double ambivalence and marginality appears to be linked neither to a collision between the Iranian and American cultures and cultural transition nor to a simultaneous orientation to different sets of cultural values and normative expectations. Rather, the real source of Iranians' double marginality seems to be related to simultaneous rejection by both Iran and the United States.
In Chapter 4 I discuss the experiences of second-generation Iranians in the United States and discuss some of the major challenges they face in their interactions with their parents. In the second part of this chapter, I present a typology of second-generation Iranians and outline how members of each type define themselves and view the Iranian community and American society. The closing part of Chapter 4 examines the link between second-generation members' ethnic identity dilemma and Iranian parents' rejection of American family values as a form of cultural resistance.
Finally, the last chapter of the book focuses on the Iranian immigrant family and gender relations and discusses various cultural, economic, and political forces as well as conditions of exile that have transformed the idealized imagery of Iranian family fundamentally and have created new challenges, tensions, and conflict within families for Iranian parents and their U.S.-born children. The first part of Chapter 5 is based on a discussion of socioeconomic and demographic characteristics of Iranian immigrant families. After a brief review of the literature, the second part of the chapter offers a new perspective in understanding the challenges of Iranian immigrant families that extends beyond the simplistic assimilationist model and takes political forces of home and host societies into consideration. In line with my discussion in other chapters and consistent with the central theme of the book, I argue that postrevolutionary political forces in Iran and the sociopolitical conditions and discriminatory immigration laws after the hostage crisis not only created a set of unforeseen problems for Iranian immigrant families but also played crucial roles in slowing the family's reconstruction, transforming its structure, and disintegrating it in exile.