Shirin Assemi and Ava Ahmadbeigi

Recorded March 9, 2020 Archived March 9, 2020 39:55 minutes
0:00 / 0:00
Id: mby019734


Shirin Assemi (41) talks with StoryCorps facilitator Ava Ahmadbeigi (26) about her memories of growing up in Iran in the '80s, differences she sees between Iranian and American culture, and what she hopes her children will know about Iran in the future.

Subject Log / Time Code

SA talks about her parents and their lives in the United States and Iran.
SA shares memories of being raised around all of her family in Iran.
SA reflects on her personal connection to being Iranian.
SA recalls what her house and neighborhood in Tehran were like.
SA talks about bombings during the Iraq/Iran war and how her family moved away from Tehran towards the sea for safety. She remembers the serenity of their new location and having to leave it.
SA shares what she remembers of her family's move to the United States and how she felt about the transition.
SA talks about when she decided to pursue more knowledge about Iran, specifically pertaining to history and culture.
SA talks about her husband.
SA expresses sadness about US/Iranian relations and how her dad might not be able to see his family in Iran.
SA shares what she wants her children to know about Iran if they are never able to go.
SA talks about her children.


  • Shirin Assemi
  • Ava Ahmadbeigi

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00:05 My name is Sharon a semi I am 41 today is Monday, March 9th 2020.

00:14 Where in Fresno California and the name of my interview Partners Ava and she is a story Corps staff member? My name is Ava ahmadbeigi. I'm 26 years old. Today's date is Monday, March 9th 2020. Where in Fresno California and I'm talking with new friend. She didn't upset me so she didn't.

00:43 How are you? I'm good. So we're both Iranian. Yes, we are and were both born in Iran. You do actually now that was born in Louisville, Kentucky 1979. What's the okay tell me all your boss Revolution and my mom that you're my mom sent it my parents are here for school and my dad had finished cuz I'm board certification residency in divorce certificate and my mom had just finished her PhD and so she literally gave her dissertation and then two weeks later he was back to Iran because they wanted to go back and make the country great and all that and you know, but that didn't quite work out. So we're can tell me a little bit about your parents and what their background was. So my dad is a surgical oncologist. He actually retired several years ago. My mom has

01:43 And EDD in education and all these Masters and what not and she taught a present stage Butch for years and years. She was a program director for mental health. I don't remember with a program has anymore but it's like a mental health bridge between maternal.

02:06 Child health care and mental health and Maternal Child Health Care, so I'm she did that for years and years in the finally. I think five years ago she retired so they both went to they dip their masters and need a PhD work in the states and they went back right after the Revolution and my end soon after the war started the iran-iraq war started. So, it's me. My brother is two years younger than I have another brother who's 6 years younger. So we go back and soon after the war started and being that my dad was a surgeon he had to go back to the front.

02:54 Every however many months for like, you know a certain amount of time. So every time you would leave he would in a writer. Well not knowing it was going to come back and all that. So the very last year so weird got here in 89. So basically an 86 85-86. He's out at some like underground hospital. He's sick has a fever and he said I could go home cuz I'm going to get everybody sick. So he leaves like within 10 minutes. This place gets bombed everybody dies. And so he basically steals the car. He's in and drives all the way back to Tehran and packed up. His bags causes old professors and says, hey I can be that can do this. So.

03:40 What is it within a month? He was in the states and then we came about 3 years after once I got his green card and had applied for the rest of us or my mom and my brothers. Okay. So both of you where did they meet your parents? They mad I think my dad was one of my mom's professors are like, you know Pas or something or tears AIDS or whatever. Yeah, they met in college. Okay. University and then they both came with the visas for u.s. You were born here your younger brother. No just me just you and the other two were born in Iran. So how old are you and you had moved back to you on like not even a year old American citizenship until I Was Eighteen cuz at that point you get the pic. Yeah, so, okay, so you're not even a year old and when was it that you ended up moving back to the US in 89?

04:40 I was nine. I think I'd my 9th or 10th birthday in the states. I don't remember anymore. But yeah, I was nine or ten. We came back. How much do you remember from being anywhere on this year's Oliver, but it's awesome. I mean, it's great memories. I mean, there's like some scary ones in the middle there, but the whole thing is just nothing but great memories being that you're in bed and family and most that me that culture is multi-generational so and not only has multi-generational but it's so it it does not just that nuclear family is everybody around you. So I remember Summers. My dad's family would come to Tehran from kermanshah and me and his cousins that I wouldn't see you throughout the year except for the summer. So it was a lot of fun hanging out with his cousin and then

05:33 We would take trips up to the Caspian and hang out up there cuz my mom's family is from up there so we can get to hang up but they're all older folks. So we get to hang out with all of them and a lot of good memories lots of good memories and

05:52 I we don't have any family here just the five of us, honestly, and so it's it's hard having kids who like didn't mean they don't really know our side of the family, right? So they know my husband's family and he's got a try for a family and which is awesome. They have also maintained those Iranian this within that like family family tradition. So, you know, we've got dinner is at grandparents house. Do you know every other week and all the cousins get to hang out and the children get to hang out at siblings almost stuff.

06:31 As much as I'm sad that they don't know my first cousins but there I mean there for their own first cousins are very much like their siblings. So it's trying to pass a little bit of that on it gets harder and harder as they get me the my kids are 4 and 5 but it gets a little harder every time I feel like they move away from the language. It's because I get lazy weekend for a suit lazy about it. So but as soon as you show interest then we're all about Farsi again, but then just like lyson convenience. That's then and yeah math. How do you think I'm either four or five? How do you think that they might identify culturally ethnically nationally and then how would you hope that they identify?

07:26 Really?

07:29 I still identify as Iranian when somebody asks me what I am mad. I was born here and I was most of my life. I've been in the States but I still connect with the Iranian. So sing the my kids have no connection to it whatsoever except for grandparents and the rugs and my New Year's table. I would not blame them if they really had no connection with it. Honestly. I didn't become curious and field is weird backwards connection until much later like in my twenties. I want to say that's basically when I got interested in the artwork and the the rugs and what every different region has to offer I'm last time I was in Iran. I was about eleven years ago and I moved through the country like a tourist. It was amazing. It's like I thought that I'd read them books on my cat come with

08:29 Never been to a salon. How come I never been to Shiraz? Why have I never been to pyrsopoulos and you see these things and but so it was it was nice to be able to

08:40 Take that trip.

08:43 But it was hard to take it as a single female butt.

08:49 Yeah, it was it took me until about I don't know late twenties to get super interested in it. So I wouldn't I wouldn't find the blame with them if they never.

09:01 Yeah, I thought of themselves as Iranian, but I would hope that they would keep some parts of it. But if it's some words like right now what they do have down as happy birthday. They totally know how to sing that one but aside from that it's a struggle.

09:23 So could you if you don't mind kind of going backwards a little bit back to you on because so you were there in the 80s. I was born in 93 and I we had the kind of like weird. I was born in Iran and left when I was eight years old and we had like just the same kind of amount of time in Iran, but for me, I don't remember a whole lot and I certainly didn't I didn't see that they do so you were in town right now. Okay. I was born there too. And that that's why I lived. What do you like? What do you remember? Like? What did it look like for you and your family's house what it just would have hair on tail like to you at that age.

10:07 It's huge. It's all the huge we lived in if I remember the address. I think it ended with me. Have a knack. So we lived in this just like giant box. I feel like everybody lived in a bottle, right? It was a huge house spiral staircase is that when they were marble I think and it was super sharp at the edges like I kid you not I feel like every time I came downstairs I would get my heel caught on a desktop and a bleeding. I remember that house being such a safe place even during the bombs. So we would basically go to school come home and

10:58 Live in the basement because that's what everybody did during the war. So my mom was a professor at University. I said her on and she had a TV show called the driver seat and Doris Day so should can you say what 10 cc means Wellness path to Wellness you so

11:22 She

11:25 So as a

11:28 But she was a bit to this day. She still a big deal like her students still call her and ask her to help them with planning and implementing things and conferences worldwide.

11:44 She does not always feel up to it. But it's super impressive that she does get these phone calls. So some mom would get home and like what she has super busy days. But then once she was home and she was all about three of us kids. So we really played in the basement a lot in the evenings because you most civilians try to keep a light like residential lights to minimum. So I don't know in case it was a big bombing night, you know, they wouldn't see your literary. I so the last time I was I was in 4th grade.

12:24 In the middle of 4th grade the bombs had somewhere really close by you no windows shattered and it was just it was really scary. And that's when my mom was like wool. Okay. Let's just go out and live up by the Sea and we'll buy house up there live there until some of this is over and then we'll go to the state soon anyway, so so we moved up to the Caspian.

12:51 I've got to say like I think the 3-4 months apart is longer than that. We lived up there. It was it was so real I never met.

13:02 Such a Serene life ever and everybody in it is Serena's. Well, we live near the water mornings. My mom would get up go to the bakery. Get some fat already bread. Come home like hot bread you're eating in the end to go to school. Everybody just walk to school. But so did all the Ducks along the way it was it was bizarre we go to school very friendly environment come home. And I think we all cried we were leaving cuz it's it was such easy living thing and it was beautiful and it was Serene and it was green and it's nothing like that what Tehran is like

13:47 An absolute opposites

13:52 Tehran just so like go go go everybody's after their own thing people out like for jobs just to make ends meet so

14:03 Where is going with that? I can report your question. Sorry, if my question was just what was it like and you did a good job with like painting a picture of it for me to imagine it was it was good. We used to go my brother and I we will I went to a girls school. He went to a boys school right next to each other. We went to Magic City draws Eve.

14:23 And it was a lot of fun.

14:27 I just remember like a whole lot of.

14:31 Strictness at school like you couldn't eat during start now or then you couldn't chew gum or have water like compared to school here with a different like I need to go to the bathroom. I got to go but wasn't quite like that. Yeah. So at that time it was also the revolution had just happened but then the cultural revolution revolution took a couple more years, but I think you are probably in school and I was in full force by that time right like you have to wear hijab probably to school. Yes. Oh, yeah, like everything was just

15:09 My mom didn't really feel like really bad held off on that hole like putting from Satie on me and all that but like it got to the point where like the neighbors are like well, how old is she? Why does she wear shorts? She's outside playing with the rest of the boys. And so was she really never cared about at all. But my dad's side of the family is of a lot more traditional than my mom's side and they're from Terre monterosso. It's a very conservative culture and so they are like when someone says that that don't you think she should probably wear pants cuz I feel bad for my mom died last three years, but there's a lot of personalities she had to navigate through so that the three of us could have as unknown touched a life as possible. Did they speak English with you guys at all, or was it snow?

16:09 Do you like the first like the only things I knew when we got here was ladder cap and cup. Those are very random things a very random. Yes. What are you a member of the US the first time the other first time I remember being super excited when I had seen my dad in 3 years to

16:33 I was excited for my outfit. So my mom bought is all these little outfit. I had this pink Adidas suits like top and bottom.

16:42 I ain't like I need to eBay this just so I can relive.

16:49 Yeah, I had a pink little Adidas outfit.

16:53 I think I'd like the red shoes or something. My brother is kind of the same. They both had their little outfits and I just I do I was so excited. The flight was so long do not any of the nine-year-old. I was not really expecting to sit for that long. Yeah, they didn't have TVs. Yeah. I don't I don't remember that part. I do not remember I just remember being really long, but then we landed in Danville, Illinois, cuz that's where my dad was and

17:25 It was a it was if he picked us up in this white Oldsmobile had rat like dark maroon velvet interior. Holy moly. It was this is America a big car smooth and wave them like you just go in your own land. No one tries to cut you off OU stop at the red light. Okay, but since this thing does that apparently the US very different. So then what's what was that transition like all of a sudden being in this place where you don't speak the language? It was hard for me was hard. It wasn't so hard for my for sore up my middle brother and my youngest brother 6 years younger. So he was like three of the time so it was pretty good with it. It was really hard for me cuz I had no friends was one thing than the language was the

18:25 And in my mind if I didn't learn English would move back. I don't know why it worked out that way but I just very much made a case for it and I will try not to speak English, but I would keep practicing my Farsi like reading like older bucks. But at some point you just I don't even know how I learn English aside from TV, but school like within a week of moving to the states. My parents are like here is where you go to school like, oh, yeah. Yeah. Yeah. I just got thrown in and you just picked it up and bless their hearts. My they did have an ESL teacher that walked around with us.

19:13 Mr. Martinez

19:16 In Danville, Illinois, like population 5000 everybody wise what happened to him, but he'd really tried. Yeah, I mean so so after you got adjusted you were just in the two Jeffer want to go back to Iran to live. No, not really what I mean is Similac once it happened it really stuck. Yeah. Just convenience.

19:53 Fairness little bit of Justice like it just adds up, you know when you don't have to do these things you do them because you want to or I don't soon School you'd had like in the morning. There was a morning prayer than a middle Day prayer. And so all of these things that kind of added up to I don't know what I'm doing and saying these prayers in a whole foreign language is Arabic. I've no connection to this language.

20:23 I could be swearing at you for all I know but supposedly the prayer and you know, I'm thinking something or somebody for this. So in me, I don't know if it's like this for anybody else, but in me that's five-year-old me kind of just built a huge resistance like y and

20:45 Yeah, and my dad was he kind of still is right there between like a fine line between an agnostic and an atheist, but he fluent in Arabic cuz he went to high school in Baghdad in a boarding school. And he used to the the afternoon prayers were they they sink through the minarets. That's what he used to do at as yeah, he knows of the oran forwards and backwards yet. He is just not something funny enough. He he was actually he was quite about until he went for hatch and

21:32 Yeah, he just had.

21:36 I don't know what happened there, but you just had this calling like a switch just got turned off for him. No actually talks about it. He's like you look on one side and it's God's house like the cab on one side and you look on the other and itzy's palatial structures and nothing but poor people and beggars in the middle and he's like I white if God, is that close? Why would this be?

22:13 Were you have eased with them?

22:17 Were you raised with any kind of like practic practicing a religion to do I used to go to church with friends. It was like an entertainment moralized. I've had friends all over the smorgasbord of religion. So been attended a whole lot of events with all of them, but it just never really interested me. Yeah, so what is kind of what was growing up you said in your 20s you got back into wanting to learn about the Iranian culture or history. Just kind of getting more curious about it.

23:04 What what Drew you to that?

23:18 I I had a little bit of like lack of sense of self. It wasn't that it was like not really a culture that has intended me. I just kind of needed to know more about me and it wasn't like some deep soul-searching or anything by any means, but they just kind of got like right in the middle of my twenties. I'm like, you know, I've got at the time I was working at Univision.

23:46 And I worked there as a crit like a Regional Credit analyst I did a lot of moving and not moving but traveling so

23:59 That was single at the time to very young.

24:05 I was a very

24:07 Nice fraying very young. I was sure in myself.

24:14 Not because of like my education but also because of my like the job I had like the job security and my your monthly paychecks. It was great. And you know, I live on the North side of town and all the stuff and I mean all of that is really exciting for so long and now there's you can only have so many drinks and talk to so many idiots and then you just still go home and look what that was.

24:44 I could have saved myself, you know the bad breath or whatever it is. So it was just that really just kind of phone down and can I learn about myself a little bit?

24:59 I have no idea what this has to do with anything but I curly hair and I couldn't once I started leaving my hair natural and not straightening it is when I had an actual shift in like personality. I don't I don't know who Waterhouse but I wish I didn't have to worry about it anymore. It was either everyday would like to look through different because of curls never landed in the same place. It was really freeing is very liberating, but I would say

25:33 Yeah.

25:35 None of that has anything to do with anything but it just like little Milestones. He's like a quiet little Milestones. But yeah, that's funny. You should say that because I remember I'm actually curious if you feel this way at all. I remember in high school like

25:53 Trying having a schedule for my hair and like washing it and then straightening it after after I tried because I thought that like straight hair is is what looks good and like in the white girls had and I look pretty white but like people always know that I'm not you know, and like I've wanted to pass and I think letting go of that of that like desire to be passing and something else for me was like, yeah. I'm also going to not do anything to my hair and I'm just going to be who I am just helps you pick up little bits of I feel comfortable in it. I think that's what I found like once I started wearing old scarves that used to be on my head. Now there now around my neck. I found some comfort in it and the Comfort overtime added to my level of confidence and

26:53 I've never really had it mean I'm a lucky SOB. I don't I don't have any confidence issues, but I don't know what it was like the more I went Inward and black wanted to be as Iranian as I could even if it was like two borderlines Fabi. I felt good about it. I'd like to the confidence to self esteem. Like I don't know what it did to me, but it was good. Yeah, but funny enough. I never wanted to marry an Iranian guy who I was just going to ask you all of my I had a lot of guy friends who were all Iranians were all single together and we were all each other's wingman and

27:39 It was I mean everybody had you no flavor of the month. I'm like, are you all that way? Because I just like, I don't know why prematurely just judged all of them to be like that and

27:54 Now

27:56 Your husband is Iranian use half his mom's English OK have so would you tell me about how that happened how you met anybody that Against All Odds funny enough. So I he lived like a couple doors down from my mom my parents divorced in 03. So so where my mom was loving he looked a couple doors down from her. I never met him. She lived there for years never met him. We would be at all the same event. I never met him. We have SIM France.

28:34 And his uncle I don't even know how I caught his uncle's eyes but he is like hey, you know, let's hang out with have coffee with a pen. Thinking. Like are you trying to date me? Cuz you're a little old but it was like he was like total miscommunication in there somewhere, but he was like trying to vet me for him just like so yeah, we're at the same wedding and he's like, oh I have someone for you to meet am I got to go do them like that. I've got stuff to do and I left did not meet him again. It was just like it's been so many so many occasions after the fact that we talked about like, you know, I'd I don't know how we met because a friend of mine called me up a friend who actually graduated with my brother and I went to high school with her husband's going to convoluted but she like I'm going out to dinner Nick and I are going out to dinner if you want to come with and probably going to go see a movie.

29:33 It was a setup unbeknownst. But yeah, he was there to okay if you want and you hit it off. Yeah. Okay, so did that end up being being a nice thing for you? I having somebody who shares. Yes. Now I throw advice like I know everything now, but yeah, it was not having to explain.

30:02 Is

30:04 So refreshing like hey, my parents walk in you should probably say hi or you don't like those are those are cultural things that you don't have to explain grandparents for crying out that the whole nother thing like she he's got a penny in a grandparents. I've got a Penny and Her grandparents.

30:23 It's it's so much easier to navigate those crazy Waters. Yeah, when you know, at least you know what they're saying. I guess I looked at her the wrong way. I hear her saying something right now. They're you know, yeah, but is it to having that cultural similarities? Even if he didn't say he doesn't really speak Farsi all that much but having that cultural similarity makes it so much easier Yeah Yeah Yeahs explain myself or my holidays or what the importance of I don't know what week is already know a death or it's yeah, it's it's become a lot easier. So now that

31:10 Friends that are with some other culture spouses there like he just doesn't get it but

31:23 It is what it is. Yeah, I just like where I am and everybody's got their own bubble that they live in but yeah, I like my bubble. Yeah, we we were talking a little bit before this started about the similarities and two situations that you can control with your your childhood and your kids childhood. So you threw up when you were little and Iran Iran, Iraq war is happening. Now, you're in Fresno California against, you know, what kind of odds or maybe desire have this like in the family with it have Iranian husband down Iranian little kids and like just at the beginning of this year.

32:09 Iran us relations like blew up. Yeah, it did make me so makes me sad so my dad goes back every several years and so my dad came from nothing. I mean his face his

32:26 Side of the family they all grew up in this little village Enticer shooting and everybody is like illiterate and where is my dad bear myself made and so he went to school he went to college and became a surgeon came back and he always said once I was able to financially I'll get together with some of my other friends will build a hospital out here what she did and so every several years they go back and you know hang out with the students and do some training out there blah blah. So he was there through Thanksgiving.

33:03 And I literally was counting the days for him to give back because I wasn't sure what was going to be happening. It was like right in the beginning of nobody can come back or stay wherever you are. So it makes me sad that at least he can't keep going back and forth cuz his entire family is there. Yeah, we're here to but you know all the siblings were there and

33:28 I just hope at some point. It's not such a crazy environment where I would be able to take my kids so that like my husband can get you a bunch of parents are afraid. He may not be able to come back, you know, once he goes so it makes it hard. It makes it hard to 11 years ago as a tourist everybody. I met was it was European? They're all there from all over the place and I'm like, why are you here why you could go anywhere and one of the ladies that I match with English, she said young lady. This is my fourth time here. Okay, I stand corrected. So it's a great place to be the great place to go.

34:17 And I would love my kids to see.

34:21 And meet my cousins, but I mean when that happens when I was well, they also need to be bilingual for this to happen, but although everybody.

34:36 If if they're not able to go.

34:43 Or at least if they're not able to go to like what the country that we know right now. What would you want them to know about about it about Iran?

34:57 It's

35:00 It's such an awesome place not just history, but the people.

35:09 There

35:13 So friendly and everybody is

35:19 I don't even

35:22 It's such a friendly environment. Like it's because that whole multigenerational households kind of like seeps into everyday life. So.

35:36 There's like a hierarchy of respect if that means anything I'm it's not like what you do in life is kind of like how old you are in life. And so I kind of like it. It's

35:51 It's

35:55 It's something everybody should should see and in feel cuz like my kids love my mom. Just Grandma walks. Grandma can make anything better.

36:10 But

36:13 I don't know like the level of respect they love her but

36:20 Like I don't know if they would be her ride or die the way like in.

36:28 Example my grandmother is 94 she's had. Yeah, she's had a couple Strokes to this day. My mom 72. She just turned 72 to this day. She's like she should be at home. She shouldn't be in an assisted living in my mom. How are you going to carry you around? How are you going to wipe her bottom? Like you're also need someone to wipe your bottom at this point.

36:51 Still like that level of selflessness perhaps

36:57 I mean I get it's like a mother and daughter but I I don't know you get that in American culture in Western culture not but it's different. It's a different kind of different kind of respect and responsibility towards your elders like right now like husband and daughter and I talked and we're like we should like planned for our older years because otherwise he's kids are going at what are they going to do? They're going to have their own families who was going to take care of us is not like I wouldn't want them to take care of me like but that's not what my grandmother says. My grandmother's like you should be taking care of my youngest daughter. Don't marry. So it's it's it's it's a it's a / I mean, I see why you're like they could be your ball and chain, but at the same time

37:53 For the parents, you know, what are you do so I do wish they could go back and I do wish they could see how what an amazing culture it is and just the people. Yeah, it's different to be surrounded by something then just to know it.

38:11 2 minutes left. Is there anything else you would want to say if your kids are listening maybe later on Corbin S5. Atlas is for and they are.

38:33 2 amazing little humans

38:39 I didn't even like it's I never touched one until I had my own and

38:49 They're pretty awesome and pretty hands-off where it's very organic living situation, but they're amazing. They couldn't be any more different Corbin looks just like his dad with the same cool calm demeanor and and he likes to please we're at Atlas. Not only does. He look like me. He also has my temperament and he just does not give a shit.

39:13 And he's got this amazing resting bitch face that it's I'm kind of proud of but I love them. I love them and like the love they give back. It's their tiny little humans. I don't know how they could have that much love in their heart, but these hugs and he's a random like expressions of love that come out of their mouths. It's so primitive, but man is still just means so much like yourself and they listen to this. Thank you. Thank you.