Sunday, February 1, 2009

Homage to Betty Mahmoody

The election of Barak Obama has changed the way we look at each other and the way the world looks at us. Already President Obama has begun to heal the damage the United States has done to Middle East relations in the past fifty years and begin to thaw our relationship with the land where my youngest son's father was born, Iran. I have my own love/hate relationship with the land of Cyrus the Great.
Part II

By the time we moved to CA my husband had told his parents about our marriage and I had even spoken to his father, whose English was passable, on the phone. They said they wanted to send me gold jewelry as a wedding gift, but that the Revolutionary government would not allow gold to leave Iran. They sent a dress and a table cloth instead.

California felt like a foreign country to me. I’d lived in the Puget Sound Area for all of my conscious life and missed my extended family of grandparents, aunts, uncles and most of all my father. Life in California was so different from life in Kirkland, Washington that I thought we ought to have had to have passports to get in the place.

For six months we lived in a two bedroom townhouse apartment in East San Jose, the second toughest area of that city where my boys slept in the living room and my mother and daughter in the smaller of the two bedrooms. The public park across the street from our apartment was the scene of confrontations between Black and Mexican Americans on a regular basis. We couldn’t afford a TV or cable, but opening the front drapes was our own little episode of Hill Street Blues. I kept them closed.

One day the doorbell rang. There stood two small Mexican American boys. One was bleeding. “Please lady,” the older one said, “call the police. A bunch of Black boys beat up my brother.” With absolutely no street savvy it didn’t occur to me not to get involved. I dialed 911 and when two San Jose policemen arrived they questioned the boys who seemed to know who had attacked them. I stayed out of it beyond giving my name and telephone number and explaining that I knew nothing. The police left with the boys and I closed the door. That didn’t close the incident. I actually had opened the living room drapes when I saw a parade of angry looking Black adults briskly pounding down the street and up to our front door. I opened the door, but kept the screen locked. They loudly wanted to know who the hell I thought I was calling the police on their boys. My naiveté may have helped to defuse the situation. I informed them that I knew nothing about what had happened, had boys of my own, and what would any of them do if a bleeding child showed up on their door step. What doubtless appeared to them to be complete stupidity seemed to take the wind out of their sails to find out that I didn’t have a stake in Mexican/Black relations and they left much more causally than they had arrived.

These were hard times with Reganomics not trickling down to many Americans. Some my Fiat got repossessed which freed up the carport behind the townhouse for people living in their car to park and sleep at night. As hard as it was to keep food on the table at least we had a roof over our heads. We had to make it since living in the car was no longer an option. I bought a folding shopping cart and walked the six blocks each way to shop and do laundry for six. The children were recruited to help tote things. I availed myself of San Jose’s wonderful bus system and would leave the children with my mother and ride different lines to the end just to see where things were. Bus drivers as a group are nice people and the ones I met were happy to warn me when my stop was coming up and to tell me about the city.

When my husband found work as a programmer for Epson Computers in Hayward we moved to Union City on Halloween 1981. A blue collar community that had plenty of cultural conflicts between Blacks and Mexicans itself, it felt safer than East San Jose and it was here that we had a son in 1983. In 1985 I got a part time job as a library clerk with Alameda County library system at the Fremont Main Library. I rode the bus or BART to work. I loved my job and coworkers and brought stacks of books home to read to the children.

Because of his fear of the Islamic Revolution in Iran stirring up trouble with Iraq’s Shia majority and long history of border disputes on September 22nd of 1980 Saddam Hussein launched a war against Iran. My in-laws lived in Esfahan which was bombed from time to time. Food shortages were experienced all over the country, but because my father-in-law was a khan of two villages they were able to get fresh fruit and vegetables from the countryside. The Revolutionary government ended up taking one village away from my father-in-law along with one of his pensions. Life was not good for them and for my brother-in-law who was denied permission to leave the country for heart surgery and who feared being drafted into the Iranian army despite his physical condition. Looking back on that war and knowing that before its end in 1988 Iran was drafting any Iranian male between 12 and 75 (the scene in Not Without My Daughter where Betty watches young boys being snatched off the street and whisked into the army is true), I imagine my father-in-law paid a hefty price to keep his youngest out of that conflict where old men and young boys walked through fields of landmines to detonate them. My husband returning to Iran to visit his parents was out of the question.

My husband would not invite his parents to visit us, but when I approached him about me taking our two-year-old to Iran to visit them so they could see the oldest son of their oldest son he seemed amenable. I was anxious to see Iran and for my in-laws to meet our little boy. He was so beautiful and sweet that I had no doubt that they would love him. I thought that somehow whatever rift there was between my husband and his father would be bridged by our son. My plans never got beyond the musing stage for which I am grateful. While I was wheeling groceries home from Alpha Beta and shelving books at the library, Betty Mahmoody was fighting for her life and the custody of her American child in Iran.

1 comment:

Lorraine Hart said...

Finally getting back here to the rest of the story.