The Great Journey
Mohammad Pirasteh’s journey in 2000, from Iran to the United States
essay written by Kaveh Pirasteh
Born on November 26, 1953 in the city of Boroujen, Mohammad Pirasteh was excluded from the city life. But that was soon to change. To get a better high school education he moved to one of the biggest cities in Iran. After getting his diploma he traveled to Tehran for educational and job purposes. He decided to come to America because he pursued to give his children a shot at a better future. He unselfishly passed up his dream so that those of his children could come true. He is now a U.S. citizen.
The vast transition of life from one country to another can clearly be seen from Mohammad Pirasteh’s trip to the U.S. from Iran. He was born in November 27, 1953 in a small town of Boroujen into a middle class family of seven people. Pirasteh has been “away from home for most of [his] life”1 following his studies and career. He is a person who has live in many different cities in Iran. Pirasteh’s progression through life could be seen as he has had to go through a great deal of changes.
The small town of Boroujen is located in the County of Chaharmahaleh Bakhtyari, near Esfahan, and “is the highest point in Iran…it is famously known as the roof of Iran,”2 sitting 2000 meters above sea level, according to Pirasteh. Boroujen has all four seasons. The weather is dry all year round, but there is an abundant amount of rain and snow. When asked the comparison between the weather in Irvine and Boroujen he responded by saying, “I personally don’t like it.”3 The fact that Irvine has one season and there is no change that is clearly examinable from season to season seems to bother Pirasteh.
Pirasteh was born into a middle class family which had a big emphasis on the education of its family members. It was a family of 4 brothers and 2 sisters which lived in a house shared by his uncle’s family who was the same size. A family of seven “was a normal thing at the time”4 but compared to today’s standards it is a big family. His dad owned a stationary store in which he helped manage when he was in town. A typical day for him while he was in elementary school would be to go to school from eight until twelve, came back for a two hour lunch—an hour of this two hours was dedicated to helping out with the store—and returned to school from two until five. After that he would finish up his homework and if possible go help out with the store again. But since his dad had a great amount of emphasis on education for high school he traveled to Esfahan with his older brother where he continued his education. After high school he went on to college and studied electricity and worked as an intern for a company called Azmayesh. After finding a necessity to find better education he moved to Tehran. Moreover Tehran was a big move for him, but he still found it to be worth it because after he got his Bachelor’s in Electronics he went to work for a big company called IsIran. Also the fact that Tehran was an industrial city and he wanted to go on and “do technical things” and he majored “in electrical so [he] could achieve that.”5 The company of IsIran was difficult to get a job in, because to get hired you needed to have a connection with someone already in the company. But Pirasteh was able to get the job by just simply showing his resume.
In the late 1970’s when the Iranian revolution started Pirasteh was part of it. He believes that the “revolution was a people’s thing. At least 90 percent of”6 the people were part of it. People were scared that their beliefs and religion might be at risk. At the end it might now have turned out to be what most of the people wanted, but this is the story with all revolution. From the beginning they are justified, they are what people want, then a certain amount of people try to take power and ruin the main cause of such a vast movement. But as he has said throughout the interview he will not judge Iran and their policies because he does not live there.
Pirasteh is married with two children. His wife’s name is Farzaneh Mansoori, and has two sons one named Ali Pirasteh who is 25 years old, and Kaveh Pirasteh who is 17 years old. The “8 year difference between [their] sons”7 is due to the Iran vs. Iraq war. He even went as far as saying “the damn Iran-Iraq war”8 which is saying many things because in the interview he was very calm about every subject, but this subject just seemed to be one of bad reminisce. After the war, Iran had turned into a big celebration. People going around and giving cookies, but at the end he still repeats the fact that “War is not good.”9
In 1996 the Pirasteh family discovered the lottery system—people from certain countries are picked to travel to the U.S.—through Pirasteh friend who had come to America through that program. They were not able to find luck in 1996 or in 1997 but third time is the charm. Their luck hit in 1998 when their name was drawn to travel to America for the year of 2000. He was not personally happy to leave because he was losing his “big family…a good job, a house, but [he was] happy that [he is] helping [his] kids build a better and brighter future.”10
From the time that Pirasteh applied for the lottery until the time that he got accepted, there were many things going on in Iran which led to him coming to the United States. There was “the large population of Iran, the scarcity of jobs, the bad education, and the scarcity of jobs,”11 all of which contributed for the motivation for the Pirasteh family to sign up to travel to the other side of the world. The education standards in Iran were low because after high school students did not have an abundance of choices for university. The entrance exams compared to the U.S. are a little bit different in that in Iran you have to take a placement exam which puts you into the major which you are going to study; the higher you score the more options you have. In the U.S. you pick your major basically in the second to last or last year of university.
During that period of time there was a population boom and the government did not do much to help the people out with their hardships. And such a big boom in such a short time caused for the scarcity of jobs, but as the government started building more jobs started to show up. But Pirasteh’s job was safe and by now he probably would have been retired because people over there retire after working in a place for 30 years. He did not have anyone living in the U.S. but in Sweden yes, his “sister-in-law lives there”12 Even though they had no family in America they decided to move and give their children a chance at a great life.
After receiving the letter from the U.S. Embassy that they have been selected, they sent the necessary forms back to the U.S. and then traveled to the nearest U.S. embassy. Because there was not embassy in Iran they were forced to travel to Dubai to finish up their paperwork for their visa and Green Card. They then received a letter which said, “[you] have been approved and have 6 months to come to the U.S.”13 From October 11, 2000 the great journey to America began.
While visiting Dubai the Pirasteh family was out of Iran for the first time in their lives. When asked if Dubai helped give them an idea of what America looks like Pirasteh replied, “Sort of, we thought that America would be incomparable to the rest of the countries of the world.”14 America has a great reputation from people around the world and most countries see it as a great place for great opportunities. But for many people like Pirasteh it was not exactly like they imagine, but people all need to keep in mind that everywhere there are good and bad and not everything can be good. The Pirasteh family never imagined of coming to America this was the biggest change in their life.
It was a sad time, coming to America for the Pirasteh family. They had to sell everything just to cover the cost of migration. Not only did they lose their house and everything inside of it, they also lost the thing that matter to them most; there big supportive families. He and his wife did not like the idea of “going away from [their] big family.”15 But all had to be done because the most important thing to them was their children’s future and they wanted to make sure it turned out to be a bright one. But with selling everything and leaving nothing behind they have destroyed the road behind them, so there is no turning back now and they must continue with their lives no matter how hard the situation gets, because at the end hard work pays off.
Since the U.S. is too far from Iran for a one way flight, to get to America at first there is a mandatory stop along the way. Pirasteh chose to come from Amsterdam, Netherlands. They left Tehran from Mehrabad International Airport via Iran Air. Through his head Pirasteh thought that he “was flying there by [himself].”16 He probably thought that it was his destiny to come to America, and he exactly knew what the reason was. When they arrived at Amsterdam they had five hours to rest, but could not leave the airport to go look around. It was basically a rest stop for their eighteen hour long flight. After 5 hours they got on their final airplane whose destination was Los Angeles International airport located in California. America was now only seven hours away.
Flying over the Atlantic Ocean must have been really exciting, but what was more exciting for Pirasteh was the body land which was about to come to sight. The land was lit up brightly with highways in every direction. Pirasteh remarks, “All we could see was lights, the highways seemed like golden rivers.”17 It was a beautiful sight especially at night when the lights cover the land. He had never seen highways this vast, or a country where even the mountains are lit up and have people living it in it. To him it was sight to remember, marked by the great feeling of anxiety that they were soon about to land in their brand new country, in which they knew only one person. At last on October 12, 2000 they land at LAX.
When asked what was going through your mind when the wheels of that airplane hit the ground at LAX he replied, “All I could see was a bright future for my kids.”18 Since it was their first time in America they needed to get all their documents checked and they need to get fingerprinted for their Green Cards. They were treated well by the airport security and got their baggage and were ready to be greeted by their friend who was waiting for them. He generously helped the Pirasteh family for a short time until they got set on their feet. At the time his eldest son attended Irvine High School, and his youngest went to Northwood Elementary.
Pirasteh probably had a different idea of what America really was before he arrived here. He thought that there would be really clean roads but “trash by the highway proved him wrong”19 or that he would not see “old cars”19 or that it had unsafe places like Downtown L.A. where stores close around six o’clock in the afternoon. All this could be seen from the America which is advertised and not the real America. Because America is like a mirage, it is portrayed as something which it is not. He also found the idea of people with pets walking around everywhere unusual. Because in Islam pet life and human life are supposed to be two completely separate things and coming from a nation where the mass majorities are Muslim this might seem unusual to most of people from that area. A thing that caught his attention was malls, he commented saying that, “we had never seen such vast shopping places with so many people inside.”20 Places like malls exist in Iran, but the structure and how the people use it are completely different.
For a person that just came from a far away country adjusting to the American way of life is no walk in the park. There are many hardships that get used to but after living here for a while people usually get used to it, but there are things which are hard or impossible to adjust to. For example like the loss of seeing his big family everyday which is impossible for Pirasteh but, he has learnt to cope with it for the past 9 years that he has been living in this country. But something that was difficult for the Pirasteh family was the prices, Pirasteh remembers, “We went around calculating what we bought…We had many question about the products being sold [also].”21 Because of price differences and converting currency to currency it was hard for them to establish an idea of what the prices were, but they got used to this in six months. Being a Muslim Pirasteh could not eat pork, so it was difficult for him to pick out the right type of food for his family. Homesickness was not a problem for Pirasteh because he had been living on his own since high school and it was not that hard for him to get used to being away from his house. Even with all the hardships face Pirasteh is now comfortably living in the U.S.
When children come to the U.S. they come with their traditional values, with what they were taught with from the beginning. Some parents decide to take it easy on tradition and let the child assimilate into the American culture, and others like Pirasteh tried to keep their culture in their children. He believes that if a person is Iranian that they should “speak Iranian, think Iranian, act Iranian, and have a passion for being Iranian.”22 But he believes it’s ok for a person to learn two cultures and be able to take the bad parts of a culture away and only use the good parts, but only if he has learnt his primary culture completely first. So in other words many cultures can live together in a person but the main culture which someone was born with should be there at all times.
Currently, Pirasteh lives in Irvine, California. His eldest son is attending medical school, and his youngest son is attending Irvine High school. When asked if he believes in the American dream he replied, “No, life isn’t just those small problems of having a house or a car, but more about close relationships which sadly is not enough over here. In Iran there is a lot of close relationships. There are a lot of dreams but no help, and affection.”23 Life is not about the owning expensive things; it is about appreciating them and taking care of them. Family is the most important thing that a person can ever have. Pirasteh has not regretted coming to America because he believes even though he may have ruined what he had accomplished during his life, but he has helped pave the way for his children to become successful.
1. Pirasteh, Mohammad. Personal interview. 24 May 2009. 12
2. Pirasteh, 24 May 2009, 1.
3. Pirasteh, 24 May 2009, 1.
4. Pirasteh, 24 May 2009, 2.
5. Pirasteh, 24 May 2009, 3.
6. Pirasteh, 24 May 2009, 3.
7. Pirasteh, 24 May 2009, 7.
8. Pirasteh, 24 May 2009, 8.
9. Pirasteh, 24 May 2009, 8.
10. Pirasteh, 24 May 2009, 5.
11. Pirasteh, 24 May 2009, 4.
12. Pirasteh, 24 May 2009, 10.
13. Pirasteh, 24 May 2009, 11.
14. Pirasteh, 24 May 2009, 11.
15. Pirasteh, 24 May 2009, 5.
16. Pirasteh, 24 May 2009, 11.
17. Pirasteh, 24 May 2009, 12.
18. Pirasteh, 24 May 2009, 11.
19. Pirasteh, 24 May 2009, 12.
20. Pirasteh, 24 May 2009, 14.
21. Pirasteh, 24 May 2009, 12.
22. Pirasteh, 24 May 2009, 13.
23. Pirasteh, 24 May 2009, 13.