I lost my home. I lost my childhood. I lost my family. I lost the rock that held my life together: my father. They told me I was going on vacation. They said France was beautiful. They said they would ship my toys and they told they would come and visit. They said I was going to a “heaven on Earth”. They said I’ll have a future there and that I should feel lucky…
What they didn’t say is that I would never return home. They never said I would have to hide my nationality and not be able to attend my grandma’s funeral. They never told me that I would be ashamed of the color of my skin. They never said that I would have to stop speaking for six months out of fear of being heard with my Farsi accent around other kids at school. They never told me that I would have to become a new person in order to fit in. All I knew is that we had to leave.
I still remember fighting in the airport, trying to run back to my father, but a window separated us. He had a warm smile that I remember to this day and tears in his eyes. As soon as we crossed security, he fainted. I will always remember this moment like it was yesterday. My mother, sister, and I somehow got to France. I was so exhausted from crying that I slept during the entire flight (around 10 hours). That day, it rained hard, and it kept raining for another 8 years. Mother Earth felt our pain- not only the pain of my family, but also of everyone who had to leave behind their homes and travel to God knows where.
My parents had enough money to acquire a touristic visa to France. My father had to stay in Iran in order to trick the embassy. By staying, my father made them think that we would come back. The greatest question embedded in my mind to this day is what would ever push a family to split like this? Was France really worth it? I was a very curious child who always asked way too many questions, but my parents could never really give me concrete answers. Even today, they remain silent.
Once in France, my mom, sister, and I stayed at my mother’s aunt house for about 3 months. My mother’s aunt was the one who sent us the touristic visa. After that, the French government helped us rent a room on the last story of an eighty year old building which was infested with cockroaches and scary men. My mother slept with a knife under her pillow every night. I had never seen her so afraid. I still didn’t understand why we had to leave our beautiful home to come and live like homeless beings in this foreign place. Maybe we were actually homeless. As my mother would say, “we refugees are a rootless forest.”
The French government had immense control over my family’s life, especially for the first six months. The government chose where we could live, eat, and go to school. They really helped, but not enough for us to have a decent life. We weren’t the only immigrants, and they had millions of others to deal with. My mother, who cooked her entire life, had to discover the horrors of premade food, since that was all we could afford. Everyday, she would wake my sister and I up at 4:00 a.m. and take us to school. We would walk for two hours before getting to the closest train station. A few hours later, we had to repeat the same thing in order to go home from school. We would usually get home around 8 p.m.
The school that the French government designated my sister and I to attend was the only school in the region that had a teacher specialized in dealing with non-French speakers. Every afternoon after class, I would run home crying, feeling horrible because I was betraying my origins. I told most people that my name was simply Mary and that I was from some country they didn’t know about. I told them that my family has always been connected to the French cultures and that at night we always have “du carambar” (cheese) and “du saucisson” (sausage). Kids were ruthless at school. I only came to France with one suitcase of clothes. We didn’t have a washing machine, so I would wear the same clothes for a week straight. Because French people have a very high sense of fashion from a young age, they noticed my worn clothes before they even noticed my face. They would look at me and make fun of me. As a child, especially a girl, I was very affected greatly by bullying.
As I grew older, I realized that no matter what, I wouldn’t be able to hide my story. Instead, my story might have been the identity I have been searching for. When Marjane Satrapi, the Iranian author, wrote about her Persepolis Collection, I was able to relate with her. She left home against her will but made something great out of her pain. This is what I decided to do, too. She allowed me to gain pride in who I was, and who I wanted to be. There are certain truths about being an immigrant; the most important being that we have have to work twice as hard as any native in order to succeed. I was born with a dream that could have not been achieved in my Iran. I am now a free person who stands up for what I believe. By immigrating to France, I lost it all, including my dignity. We had to deny where we came from in order to blend in. But eight years later, I was my school’s president, had worked in the French Assembly for a week, and had obtained my pilot’s license. I had to grow older to realize that by being ripped away from my roots and home, my parents allowed me to accomplish the things I had otherwise never been allowed to.
The hardest changes can sometimes lead to the best things. Today, as the world is still fighting against the immigrant influx, I ask you to remember these peoples’ pain. Believe me, being a refugee is not something you wish. We don’t intend to come and steal jobs or benefits from the government. Most of us come here with the hope of becoming better people who will actually serve the country in which we reside. We couldn’t make something out of our lives at home, so we come here to accomplish the dream of gaining the right to live a normal life. The access to opportunity should be a human right. No one should be limited to one country. I am a first generation immigrant and I have promised myself that I will create the life I never had for my children, so they can have the opportunities that their grandparents fought for.