By Charlotte Safavi
Sunday, July 19, 2009
"Mom, don't go. I'm worried."
My son R.J. knows exactly where I am headed -- and he is nervous.
"Honey, there's nothing to worry about," I reply. "People do this all the time in America."
Earlier, I had told him and my American husband that I planned to skip the Alexandria Little League picnic and instead attend a peaceful rally in downtown Washington. The demonstration had been organized in support of the protesters in Iran who were disputing the reelection of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
A multicultural woman of Iranian parentage and British birth, I spent a few years of my childhood in Tehran, but attended the British School and identified more with my English peers than with my fellow Iranians. I immigrated to America in 1985 after graduating from Oxford and have been here ever since. Though I look the part (olive skin, dark hair and almond-shaped eyes), I rarely feel Iranian as I go about my daily life as a mother, writer and wife in Northern Virginia.
Today, however, I found myself uncharacteristically weeping over a YouTube video showing various clips of Iranian women protesting on the streets of Tehran. I did not expect to feel such kinship. But I was compelled to support them, even from a world away.
Before I leave home, I reassure my 10-year-old, whose head is full of CNN snippets of demonstrators under assault by Iranian authorities, that I will be fine. "The cops help us here, R.J. They clear the route."
The last demonstration I attended about Iran was in 1979, when I was a teenager living in England. Two of my Iranian cousins -- outspoken women in their 20s -- had recently fled to London, seeking political asylum after the Islamic Revolution. They took me to the Speakers' Corner at Hyde Park, where the event's organizers placed us front and center to lead the march.
A few days later, photographs of the rally ran in the Iran-based magazine Zan-e Rooz -- Today's Woman. In almost every picture, a female member of my family looked back at me, including myself. The magazine had labeled us foreign agents and SAVAK sluts, referring to the notorious secret police force.
"I guess we're not going back," said one cousin, laughing and pointing at her image, mouth agape.
"Not unless we check in at the Hotel Evin," cracked the other. Evin Prison is the notorious detention center in Tehran that has held political prisoners since the early '70s. It has a special section for women.
Now, 30 years later, I dress for the D.C. protest. I defiantly slip on a scoop-neck, sleeveless shirt in green (the color of the reformist movement), blow-dry my hair, which I will never cover, and put on the tightest jeans I can find in my closet. I slash fuchsia lipstick across my lips. I want to make a mullah sweat under his turban, blush beneath his beard, point his wagging finger at me.
At the meeting spot in Georgetown, I join the swelling ranks of green. Most of the women are Iranian Americans or Iranians with temporary visas. They cross generations: a baby girl in a green onesie with polka dots, an Audrey Hepburn look-alike, an elderly woman in sensible shoes surrounded by her middle-aged daughters. Despite the rain, we set out down Wisconsin Avenue.
On the way from M Street to the White House, I join the chants but walk alone. I feel both at home and not: My mixed-up background makes part of me an insider and part of me an outsider. But the women ground me. There is a fellowship in sisterhood that knows no borders.
I see a little girl with hazel eyes in a green dress holding her mother's hand. Born here to an American father, as her mother divulges, the child reminds me of my son, a mutt. Not long ago, my family ate at Moby Dick's House of Kabob in Arlington; R.J., who loves their food, suddenly said, "Let's go to Iran sometime."
"Sure," I replied, but privately I wondered how welcome my American family would be under the present regime. I realize as I continue to march that I want my boy to know Iran.
When the rally ends, I talk to an Iranian woman in her early 30s who moved to this area three years ago. "It's horrible being a woman in Iran," she says. "The government allows you no dignity. They don't count you, no matter how many years you study, no matter what background you have." I feel her outrage. I also know I would never have lasted there as long as she did.
I resolve to march again soon. Because I can. Because I want Iranian women to be able to do so safely. Because I want to take my American son to Iran one day. And when we arrive at the airport in Tehran, I hope to run my fingers through my long hair -- not obscured by a compulsory headscarf -- and walk freely into a country I once called home.