Gin & Zin

Interview with Sayna on Moving to USA

Meet Sayna

I am a mother of two fantastic boys. I was born in Iran and migrated to US when I was 17.  I am also a Molecular biologist who has been a part-time faculty at Folsom Lake College for the last 10 years. My husband is my strength and I think a much better parent than me.

My biggest strength as a mom is to be able realize when my children feel insecure and help them to overcome that.

I escape from being a mom by finding a quiet corner to read, watching my recorded PBS programs, or the most fun: going out with my limited friends.

Describe what it was like when you came to the US~

I am one of those people whom you see get overly emotional whenever the “Star Spangled Banner” is played.  I can’t help it, I get goose bumps and will sing it with my off key voice but the funniest part to most of my friends that know my background is that I wasn’t born in this country! 

You see, I was born in Iran and immigrated to the US when I was 17.  From an early age I knew that my brother and I would leave Iran and move to the US after we had finished high school in order to continue our higher education.  But after the revolution and the start of the Iran-Iraq war the goal had changed to become permanent residents.  So in 1986 (don’t burn brain cells calculating my age, I am 46) I packed everything I owned in one massive gigantic suitcase which broke so many union and labor laws and possibly has become illegal to use now, and after proudly obtaining my Student Visa from the US embassy in Luxembourg landed in CA, where I was greeted by my older brother and to my horror 12 other family members consisting of aunts and cousins whom had already moved here.  Those of you who have close Iranian friends and have hung out with them understand why I say to my horror and can imagine the scene and how loud it was.  For those of you who don’t know any other Iranians let me set the scene for you, imagine “My Big Fat Greek Wedding” the scene where the parents of the groom come to meet the bride’s family. 

Flash forward to today, almost 30 years later now I am an American citizen married to another Iranian-American (No, it was not an arranged marriage!) with 2 boys ages 13 and 10, writing about my life.

How do your son’s struggles compare to yours growing up?

My two boys and their usual struggles with life and growing up, quite often take me back to my own childhood.  I grew up in the capital of Iran, Tehran. Tehran is a major metropolitan city with a mixture of old tradition and most modern advances.  Honestly when I look back, my struggles were not much different than my boys.  The biggest difference was how my large family surrounded me.  In Iran your immediate family is considered your parents, siblings, your grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins.  Every weekend, trip, and event in our lives were spent with the family.  I never had any need to find friends.  In fact I never knew how busy and crowded my life was until I moved here.  That is one of the main things I miss about that life, I am still envious of my friends here when I hear how they are having a family reunion or they are getting together with their best friends from high school for a girls night out. 

What was the transition like moving across the world without your parents at such a young age? 

When I moved here, the fact that I lived on my own with my parents being oceans apart from me was very pleasing. But as I look back and ponder on my experiences and issues, I realize how important it is to have a family base and a home that you can run to when you are tired of the struggles or when others make you doubt yourself.  My dad has always been my pillar of strength, and some times I think if I had him, my cousins (who are like sisters to me), and my high school friends around me during my late teens and early 20s I would have become a much stronger person. 

So these days I try to keep in mind those feeling of loneliness and insecurities when I deal with my boys.  I try really hard (I mean really hard, cause let’s face it I know best and am always right!) to let them make their own choices and mistakes but I’m ready to catch them and remind them that they are brilliant, smart, great and kind boys before I open my arms again and throw them right out of the nest!

What was it like to return after so long?

Six years ago and after 24 years of absence, I went back to Iran for a visit.  The results were mixed emotions. I thought that when I go back I would be surrounded by the sounds and warmth of the past but so many of my family members have passed and most of my cousins are scattered all around the world, and so I still felt alone even there.  In the US, some times I have to still explain about my background and where I was born, I need to explain the reasons behind the revolution and how the outcome was not what they intended it to be, or the fact that it was for a hope for a better future for my brother and I that my parents sent us here alone and not a cruel act on either part.  I thought when I go back for a visit that I would completely be free of having to explain myself but that was not true.  Every taxi driver, or merchant that I met would ask me after 5 minutes: “where are you from? You don’t live here, do you?” What the h…, I would think to myself, do I have to explain myself here too.

But on the flight back here and after probably freaking the immigration officer at the SF airport with my excitement to be back home, I realized that I am not much different than my American friends. I have friends who get emotional when they tell me about their visit back to the town they grow up and how the people who live in their childhood home do not appreciate the house, and here I am the same, except for the fact that my childhood town is more like a country!  SO next time you see me get emotional over Lady Gaga’s rendition of our national anthem, be kind, this is where I learned how to survive the absence of my family, where I first fell in love and then got my heart and self esteem handed back to me in many pieces, where I learned first hand not everyone is kind and in fact some people are intentionally out to get you (Oh, you know who you are Missy), and finally where I fell in love again and had my two beautiful boys. 

This is where my home is!  Granted there are days that I feel lonely, sad, nostalgic, and blame all my flaws (not many, maybe a hand and foot full!) on my parents and the 1979 Iranian Revolution, but then again don’t we all (yes Mr. Trump, I am talking about you)!

Thank you for sharing your story, Sayna!

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