Iranian Journey of Rags to Riches

Shamseddin Hashemi’s two journeys from Iran to America to seek better education and living conditions

essay written by Ali Hashemi

Shamseddin Hashemi is an Iranian who made a voyage to America hoping to become an American-educated engineer. He made his first trip at the age of 19 in 1972 and traveled to Orlando, Florida. He then traveled to Louisiana where he graduated two years later and returned to Tehran, Iran. When his child turned eight, he decided to return to America to provide his son with an excellent education. He is now one of the top contractors in California and has worked for the government. He is an amazing father, husband, and person and has successfully restarted his life in America.

   During the 70’s, Iran was in a state of harmony, peace, and success. There was a majestic feeling in the air, and many wanted to live there; no one wished to move. Shamseddin Hashemi, a young, smart, and exuberant boy, had always dreamed of studying abroad in the United States. He wished to move to the States to “study mechanical engineering.”1 Hashemi arrived in the States with no money, no friends, no knowledge, and no family. He had to provide for himself since his parents had so many expenses back home. He had to “start a new life from zero.”2 Hashemi finished his studies within six years as he was working and studying full time. He worked for an Italian restaurant which he became the head chef off. He “began as a dishwasher”3 and worked his way up to an “$1800 a month salary,”4 more than what most engineers made at the time. He then returned to Iran and worked for other companies and eventually started his own. During the years of 1977-2000, he became a successful business owner, husband, and father, and ended up moving back to the United States to live the rest of his life in peace with his family.

   Shamseddin was born in Abadan, Iran, a city in the southwestern region. In 1980, the area was overrun by a war, which caused him and his parents to move to Tehran, Iran. Iran at the time was in control of the Shah. The Shah in many people’s opinions was the greatest ruler to date. He had the country in its best shape. During the 70’s, Iran had few enemies, a strong army, a strong economy, and was a strong nation. The cities were beginning to industrialize and the way of life was changing in the 70’s. Nonetheless, the landscape of Tehran was beautiful. The parks were green, the people were happy, and the land was cleaner than it is now. Iran was in its prime at this time. The people in Iran were living in harmony and enjoying every moment of their lives. Daily life was great during this time as people went to school, spent time with their families, and went out with friends. There weren’t many entertainment opportunities available, but friends would gather and just talk. School was an enjoyable place during the 70’s, and kids thrived in it. Most kids in Iran were A students.

   In around 1980, Iran began to decline. The dawn of revolution created chaos and havoc within the country. The Shah was overthrown by the people, and Khomeini a power hungry religious leader was put into power. This was the start of what Khomeini called the “Islamic Revolution.” The harmony in Iran had been destroyed and despair flowed throughout the country. The styles of living had changed and most wanted to get out of Iran. Iran became a polluted state in which no one cared to live in. Iran was officially out of its prime and had begun a corrupted era. Daily life had become horrible and the citizens were miserably. The country was no longer and enjoyable and happy place to be in.

   During the time of Hashemi’s second immigration, Iran had just recovered from the terrifying effects of the revolution. Iran was no longer a great place to live; it was like a hell to be in. Wealth and prosperity both in the economy and between the people had been lost and no one wished to stay in Iran. This is why Hashemi moved. He wanted his son “to have a better education”5 and he wanted his “wife to live a better life.”6Although Hashemi had a great life and business in Iran; he decided to give it all up for the happiness of his family. He wanted his child to grow up in a good neighborhood and he wanted him to attend a good and respectable school. Hashemi gave up his 20-year-old a highly respected engineering business, his long time owned house, and the presence of his 10 brothers and sisters to simply give his family a life they will love.

   Hashemi had many reasons for moving. During the 70’s, although Iran was in a prosperous state, the schools didn’t match the caliber of American schools. Hashemi had always dreamed of success in the sense of education, not money; He wanted to be a smart and educated person. He knew that his dream could only be achieved in America. In 1970, his father bought him a plane ticket to America. Hashemi knew that his father “had borrowed money to get him the ticket.”7 He was only 18 and was moving into an area where he was a stranger, into an area where he knew no one. He was moving into uncharted territory but was prepared. When he arrived, he called his father and told him he “didn’t want to burden him anymore.”8 He decided to work full time in an Italian restaurant and go to school full time in Orlando, something not many are able to achieve. He was willing to do whatever it takes to achieve his idea of success.

   In 2000, Hashemi’s father-in-law became sick. He sent his wife and son to visit him in Houston, Texas before a life threatening surgery. Hashemi got visas for all three of them, but ended up delaying his journey to Houston for a week. This gave him one day to see his father-in-law before the surgery. Before Hashemi’s arrival his father-in-law gave him a call telling him that Bill Clinton had just enacted a law that would allow him and his family to stay here if they came. Hashemi then decided to sell his possessions and move to America to give his “wife and son a better life.”9 Hashemi came to join his family 5 months later. His father-in-law ended up having a successful surgery and moved from Houston to live with them in Irvine, California. Although Hashemi had to give up his large business, his closest family, and a life which he worked extremely hard for, he still made the decision to come to America to provide for his wife and son, 2 people he cares for dearly.

   In the 70’s, travel to the States was much easier. Since America and Iran did not despise each other, there were no hassles at the immigration offices. People were able to travel the world without being subject to random searches and racial profiling. When Hashemi traveled, he came to the airport with enough money for a ticket and a small rental place to live, in Orlando. During his first journey, he suffered only from his memories, the memories of his friends, parents, and other family back home. In Iran, “[the] bonds of families are stronger”10 than in America. Iranians are very family oriented and it’s very hard for them to separate from their families, especially their parents.

   The second Journey Hashemi experienced was completely different from the first. Iranian airports became strict, dangerous, and racist. Because of the government situations between America and Iran, most Iranians have to travel to Dubai first, then either take a direct flight to America, or one to France, Germany, or England, then one to the States. When Hashemi traveled, he was thoroughly searched before departing for Dubai. Once he reached Dubai, there was a 2 hour stop. After Dubai, there was a 5 hour flight to France along with another 2 hour stop. After that, there was a direct 10 hour flight from France to America. The flight time from Iran, to Dubai, to France, to America totals to nearly 24 hours! Even for someone who travels often, this is an amazingly hard flight to endure.

   Once Hashemi arrived, he felt unusual. He felt that he was home physically, but was homesick mentally. All in all though, he was happy to final be near accomplishing his dreams. Hashemi felt that the United States could be a home to him in the future. Hashemi was very surprised his first few weeks in Orlando. He “remembers that a newspaper in Orlando interviewed [him] and said they were very happy to have a Persian student in their colleges.”11 His immigration not only started a new journey for him, but it also made history in Orlando. Upon arriving, Hashemi made many friends since he had “flexibility and could adapt to anything.”12 People loved him from the moment they met him. Since he was a savvy and brilliant mathematician, he took a trigonometry class to learn the terms in English. Since he was good at it he “found American friends and [he] taught them with [his] broken English.”13

   As mentioned before, Hashemi came to the States with enough money to rent a place for one month. He decided to “not burden [his] father”14 and live on his own. He decided to work full time while he went to school full time. His first and only job in Orlando was washing dishes at a restaurant. He used to wash dishes then “go look at the cooks and the food they were preparing.”15 He was then noticed by the owner. The owner allowed him to go help the cook out after he finished washing dishes. For the couple of weeks he was with the chef, the owner was very impressed and decided to give him the permanent title of chef’s assistant. After 5 months the chef had suddenly gotten a heart attack from his anger issues. The chef was gone for almost half a year and during this time, the owner offered Hashemi the head chef job temporarily. He was so good that Hashemi remembers the owner telling him “no one noticed the head chef was even gone.”16 Hashemi began working longer hours after this. He would work most of the day, take night classes, then go home and begin studying till four in the morning. He followed this schedule for 4 years before he moved to Louisiana. By this time, he had enough money to pay for his tuition and only worked part time to pay for housing. After 2 years of school in Louisiana he was able to graduate and get his degree in mechanical engineering. During the 6 years he spent here, Hashemi barely had free time. When he did have time for fun though, he did many things with his American friends. He spent a lot of time at the beach with his friends in Florida. Also sometimes after work, Hashemi and his friends would drive to Miami after work around 4 in the morning and arrive there at about 8 in the morning. They would eat breakfast there and then enjoy the rest of the day at the beach. Hashemi adapted to the American life very easily.

   At the time of his second immigration, adjustment was much harder. Hashemi came here and in 2002, something changed his life forever. Immigration offices had begun calling in immigrants to “register” themselves. Hashemi was one of the immigrants who was supposed to register. When he arrived, he checked in, and once at the window he was informed that he was arrested for 3 days. He had no violations, tickets, let alone parking tickets, but he was being arrested for being an immigrant. He said that they “treated them very poorly”17 and he also said that the treatment “wasn’t expected from a government like America.”18 This incident made him much stronger and allowed him to adjust much easier to the American culture. The funny thing is that at this time, most Persians in the United States had been “living in house $500,000 and up and 75% were highly educated.”19 They had become one of most successful people in the United States, but because of 9/11, their reputation was ruined. Shamseddin says that his is funny since the people who caused it “were all from Arabic nations, not Iran.”20 After the incident, he had begun working for an air conditioning company as an apprentice. He never told them “[he] was a mechanical engineer because [he] was scared of being over qualified.”21 Within a month, the owner of the company made Hashemi a technician and handed him a truck and cell phone. Within a year he had the second highest title in the company, below CEO. He had become the greatest worker the owner ever had in only 1 year of experience in the air conditioning world. After this, he believed that in order “to succeed in America you need your own company.”22 Hashemi then began his own business after 3 years of work at the other company. He felt he “was able to do the work now” and he went on a limb. His company now is one of the most respected air conditioning companies in the state and he has done lots of work for the military. He is one of the only Persians they would allow in the bases he has done work for. He has done “jobs for Camp Pendleton, Marsh Air Force Base, and Seal Beach Naval Base.”23 He has also done many jobs for the cities of Irvine, Laguna Beach, Newport Beach, and Los Angeles. A long side work, Hashemi has begun enjoying his life in Southern California. Most of his family has immigrated to the area since there are now “3 million Persians in the United States”24 according to Hashemi’s findings. Hashemi no longer feels home sick and enjoys every bit of his life. He can live along side his family in a clean, respected, and beautiful region as he contains another respected business he started from the ground up.

   Hashemi has recently hit the prime of his business. He has just bought a new home in Irvine for his family, right next to his son’s school. He has recently been getting many more jobs, including some from the military. He has been living a happy life although he has begun working much more to pay the bills. Hashemi is living a proud life. He has officially accomplished what he had always dreamed of, owning a successful company in the United States of America. Hashemi is also close to receiving his green card. His family has recently gotten their social security numbers along with their work permits. They are one step and 5 years away from becoming American citizens. Hashemi also has a network of relatives around him as well. Most of his cousins have moved to Orange County. His 2 uncles are thinking of moving here along with his aunts. A few of his sisters are close to moving here as well. Hashemi has a life that he could be proud of now. He is living in that majestic state he was in while in his early years in Iran. For fun, he loves to play soccer now. On Sundays he and his friends gather to play soccer and just have fun. They have created a team which is like a family. The same goes on Thursdays. On Thursdays he plays with another group who he is really close to. Hashemi has over all regained everything he had when he left Iran. He has his prosperity, his family, his happiness, and alongside this, he has accomplished his lifelong dream. He wakes up every day saying “thank god that we are here.”25 Hashemi is at the highpoint of his life, something he has worked so hard for. He is in a state of harmony that no one or no situation could push him out of. He is living in serenity.


1. Hashemi, Shamseddin. Personal interview. 25 May 2009. 1.
2. Hashemi, 25 May 2009, 8.
3. Hashemi, 25 May 2009, 2.
4. Hashemi, 25 May 2009, 4.
5. Hashemi, 25 May 2009, 1.
6. Hashemi, 25 May 2009, 1.
7. Hashemi, 25 May 2009, 4.
8. Hashemi, 25 May 2009, 4.
9. Hashemi, 25 May 2009, 1.
10. Hashemi, 25 May 2009, 13.
11. Hashemi, 25 May 2009, 4.
12. Hashemi, 25 May 2009, 4.
13. Hashemi, 25 May 2009, 2.
14. Hashemi, 25 May 2009, 4.
15. Hashemi, 25 May 2009, 4.
16. Hashemi, 25 May 2009, 2.
17. Hashemi, 25 May 2009, 8.
18. Hashemi, 25 May 2009, 8.
19. Hashemi, 25 May 2009, 12.
20. Hashemi, 25 May 2009, 12.
21. Hashemi, 25 May 2009, 9.
22. Hashemi, 25 May 2009, 10.
23. Hashemi, 25 May 2009, 9.
24. Hashemi, 25 May 2009, 12.
25. Hashemi, 25 May 2009, 8.