"Who's Your Haddadi?"

by Pejman Yousefzadeh on April 7, 2009

Okay, for obvious reasons, I think that this story is awesome. And yes, it speaks to me–read the following excerpt:

Iranians, over a million strong in North America, began coming to the U.S. in significant numbers in the 1970s, before Iran’s Islamic revolution and the break in diplomatic relations with Washington. Among the most educated of all immigrants, Iranians — or “Persian-Americans” as many prefer to be called — are one of America’s wealthiest immigrant communities per capita, according to demographers who crunch U.S. census data.

They’re also sports nuts. In Southern California, where the 2000 census recorded at least 150,000 Iranian-American households, Farsi-language radio station KIRN-AM airs a live sports-talk show on Monday nights. Until now, tennis star Andre Agassi — the son of an Iranian immigrant who boxed for Iran’s Olympics team — has been the closest thing to an Iranian-American sports figure. For a while, Farsi-speaking broadcasters aired Los Angeles Lakers games on the AM dial.

“There’s the football player, too, T.J. Houshmandzadeh,” says Mayar Zokaei, a Los Angeles-based talent agent who has been advising Mr. Haddadi during his first year in America. “But he was raised by his [American] mother, and has no real ties to Iranian culture.”

Despite their wealth and success in medicine, engineering and the sciences, Iranian-Americans chafe at more than 30 years of negative images of Iranians in U.S. media due to Iran’s hard-line regime, which most expatriates oppose. Those images can make life hard for children of immigrants, as well as their parents.

You had better believe it. Back when the hostage crisis was going on–and well into its aftermath–my family and I had to claim that we were Afghan if anyone asked us about our heritage. Explaining that we were Iranian and Jewish would not have been enough to fend off hostility from some. Better to gain sympathy by pretending to have been from a country suffering from a Soviet invasion.

It was what we had to do in order to avoid uncomfortable moments. But no one liked it. Things are radically different now, and we would not think twice about telling people where we are from. But the negative images remain.

It would be nice to think that a basketball player might be helpful in overcoming those images. Insh’allah, beh omideh Khoda, he shall.

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