Never Give Up
Hossein Rashidi traveled in 1986 from Tehran, Iran to America in an effort to pursue his dream for a better education
essay written by Sanam Rashidi
Growing up in Tehran, Iran, Hossein Rashidi came from a typical traditional Persian family. Growing out of the Revolution, in his college years, he took an interest for education in India as an alternate. After completing there, he continued to pursue his knack for knowledge, and determinedly worked to attain a visa. Finally, breaking through in Syria, under a student visa through UC Davis, he migrated to America in 1986 along with his wife Zeenath. Through obstacles and differences, he was able to adapt and achieve his life long dream.
From the streets of Tehran to the free land of America, a man journeyed to achieve his one and only dream, to purse a better education for himself. Interviewing Hossein Rashidi, currently living in Irvine, California, is the story of the long and hard journey he took on as an immigrant of Iran.
Born in Tehran, Iran in 1956, Rashidi grew up in a middle class family of eight. Compared to the United States, having to grow up in a third world countries like Iran have shown to be more difficult. He explains, “Here it’s better for children. They have a lot of opportunities that they cannot do in Iran, because the families are so busy where kids grow almost on their own around the family” . In Iran, families usually consist of not only the immediate family, but aunts, uncles, and grandparents (or the extended family), all living under the same roof. It was normal there that family members and friends would continuously visit throughout the day, whether it was the weekday or weekend. Also, in Iran, elders were treated with a lot of respect. Children were to obey all rules and orders of their parents with no exceptions, yet also perform them independently. Here, as we all know, children are very dependent on parents, and usually have a way of getting around them to get what they want. In Iran, with so many children in the family, Rashidi grew up to learn to live independently. At only 14, he was taking care of his four younger brothers. Though kids were left to teach themselves most of the essential life skills, families did spend a lot of time together through traditional and cultural events. Some of the most practiced are, Charshanbehsoori- celebrating the prosperous year to come around a fire (on the last Wednesday of every year), Norooz- which is New Years, celebrating the first day of spring (21st of March), Sizdah Bedar- celebrated to rid all evil and superstitions (which is the 13th day of spring), and Mehregan- the festival of autumn. In each of these events, families and friends of all cities gather for a mass celebration.
It wasn’t till about 1974, when Rashidi was 15 years old, that a worldwide event occurred that shocked and interfered with the daily lifestyle of many Iranians at home. In 1974, the Revolution began to take its turn; Iran had gone against the ruling party of the Shah of Iran in an attempt to reconstruct their government. “There [were] demonstration[s], killing on the streets,” slogans being put up, anything to show hatred against the Shah of Iran. Soon after, news cam from France that Ayatollah Khomeini would arrive to guide the people. “He asked all the government employees not to go to work, the oil ministry was shut down, and that was just the beginning,” Rashidi explained, “The actual revolution and victory of the Islamic republic happened in 1979, when Shah of Iran left Iran, and Khomeini came to Iran from France.” The war had touched everyone at home, he remembered, “I could feel the war, planes coming over the skies, people running to shelters, but no real impact on the family, immediate family.” Though he was not individually affected during the war, its effects did provide obstacles for him, he says, “The country went through a big loss, all the universities were closed for several years, every building was damaged, a lot of people were killed during the revolution and… since then, the new government has been in power for 30 years now. From 1979 to 2009.” With no stable opportunity for education in Iran, he began to look elsewhere. In 1978, Rashidi then arrived in Mysore, India, where he attended SJC College of engineering to complete his bachelors for engineering, and then REC College of Engineering in 1983 to finish his masters in civil engineering. During this time, he visited Iran at least every 6 months, and within that time got married to Zeenath Kunduri in March of 1985. After finishing his studies in India, he wanted to further his education, passionate to study abroad. “Everyone would love to come to America and to study especially for PHD where there’s so much of – good, good lot of research being done,” he said as he explained his reasons for choosing to come to the United States. After deciding his destination, the first step he had to take was applying for a student visa. With a brother, Hamid Rashidi, already living in Santa Clara, California, he began to contact colleges in the area and was given an acceptance to UC Davis under the circumstance that he could attain a student visa. In April of that year, taking his paperwork and admission documents to the consulate in Bombay, India, he was rejected a visa. Not only once, but three times he was rejected there, other trials being done in another city, Madrass. Trying one time in Mysore, he recalls “One of them even told me I’m not giving you a visa because you are trying to escape the war in Iran.” So he gave up. Gave up any last strife to get a visa and began to look for work back in Iran. With his two year compulsory military service time approaching, he was given the opportunity to become a professor. While in the process of doing the paperwork, his wife pregnant in 1986, good news had finally struck them. Rumors had reached that many families had much luck for getting visas through a consulate in Damascus, Syria. It was true, he explained, “by all difficulty we took a trip to Iran by land, to Damascus by bus, we went from Tehran to Turkey, from Turkey to Syria, and Damascus, the capital of Syria.” They turned in the paperwork, made an interview date, attended their interview, and were given the visa with a grace period of 20 days to pack on the spot. After packing their things, flying from Tehran back to Damascus, they went to the consulate, got their passports stamped, and were finally on their way to America. From Damascus to London, London to San Francisco, they were picked up by his brother Hamid at the San Francisco Airport. A journey once dreamed to be impossible had finally become reality.
After arriving in California, everything seemed to come together. Financially supported by his father, Rashidi was able to attend and complete his education at UC Davis and pursue a career in Civil Engineering. Six months within arriving, their first child Abtin was born, Rashidi had completely finished his studies while looking for work, and were on their way to having their second child, Sanam. By 1991, Rashidi’s family had lived there for about 5 years now, and at that time he’d taken time off for training to take on his own engineering company, had brothers living near by, parents visiting every year, and simply had finally settled. Missing his hometown, thinking of going back to Iran did cross his mind occasionally he explained, but “there was no reason for me to go back and I thought this country is a better place to raise kids and I was here hearing news about Iran, and all the Islamic regulations and inflation, the economy was bad, the jobless was too much. So I thought Id stay here till things got better, and you know once you stay in a place for so long and your children get raised there, so we stayed. Never went back.” America had been everything he thought it would be, the land of the free, where dreams really did come true. Growing up, the media was the only source that foreigners were really able to rely on for information or any knowledge on the United States. Rumors spread, whether they were true or not, and foreigners believed. To many foreigners, America was idolized as a kind of ‘heaven’, where you could achieve the impossible. Being a spectator as opposed to actually experiencing living there though has defiantly changed most foreigners’ perspectives of the country. To Rashidi, he recalls his first real impression as he landed here as very pleasant and beautiful. As he was picked up at the airport by his brother, he noticed the organized and satisfying environment of the city first. It wasn’t like Iran, where people were running around the streets aimlessly. The roads were wide, the people were patient and friendly, and everything just looked fresh. At first everything was easy, he had already known English so communication was not a problem. People were every where, simply mixing in with the crowd, nobody was considered above the person next to them nor below them; everyone was treated equally. And although it was a whole new country, he found it surprisingly fairly easy to adjust there.
America did show its differences though as time went by, generally through the culture and lifestyle. The cultures especially differed vastly with the Islamic country of Iran which he lived in. In Iran, great importance to being family-orientated is put forth upon the people. Families lived in large groups, spent most of their time with each other, and practiced multiple cultural traditions. In contrast, in America, families live on their own in small cells, visiting other family members only occasionally throughout the year. In Iran, you would most likely see sons and daughters living with their wives or husbands, with the in-laws, maybe even uncles, aunts, and cousins in the same house. In America, children usually move out around eighteen years, and are on their own from then on, getting married and living solely with their spouse and children. Settling in America after being brought up in another country, learning to adjust to their customs and lifestyle is vital. Rashidi explains, “I have adjusted to it as the days passed [and] I like it [yet] I don’t like it. There are some things in this country that I agree with [and] some things that I don’t.” For example, the rights of the people, the ability to have multiple opportunities because of the freedom they contain. Anything pursued with great effort is attainable. Also, the people, it isn’t how it was hundreds of years ago. There is no more segregation or discriminating, everyone is equal and treated just as the other is. But then there are the dislikes, the most for Rashidi being the immigration process he explains, “One of the reasons why I didn’t, haven’t maybe… seen my relatives [in 22 years] is because of this immigration laws that are very tough.” Understandingly, maybe because of his work he hasn’t been able to take time off to leave the country and visit his homeland, but he defiantly could afford the time to bring visitors from Iran. Not even just as foreigners, but family members, many would love the opportunity to visit America if they could just get a visa. Personally, Rashidi has applied and received visas for family members. By turning in the application and proving financial responsibility, he was able to gain a tourist visa for his mother-in-law. For Zeenath’s cousin, he was also able to gain a visa for someone coming to America temporarily on a work visa. But never has he applied for a visa for someone to stay permanently, which is the most difficult and turned down offer by the US embassy. Another topic he thinks differently on is the culture. With much freedom, many have begun to take advantage of it. Through families, evidently you can see from the relationship between the parents and the children. The respect that they once held for their parents has slowly disappeared over the years. Families have become less interactive with each other and have learned to grow more independently. But we could point out the differences and similarities all day, either way the choice was made, after dealing with much obstacle, Rashidi had settled in America.
But having left all family, and moving to a new country of a whole new lifestyle, you might ask an immigrant if they ever regretted it. Talking to Rashidi, his opinion on decision making included a personal quote, “We don’t do things to regret later.” He explained, “[It’s] always the circumstances that dictates what we do with our lives.” Coming to America he was completely new to the country with little background information, but that didn’t matter, as long as he was pursuing his dream. Having lived here now for almost 23 years, he has learned to adjust to the countries customs, support himself mentally and physically, and bring up a family. But one may wonder what if he had stayed in Iran, how might things be different? Questions like, what if this, what if that, could be asked all day but does it really matter? There should be no reason for one to ever regret the past, Rashidi clarifies, at one point it was what you wanted. And choosing America over any other country has only made all the difference for him. But visiting back home couldn’t hurt anyone, right? Well in this case, it did. After finishing high school in 1975, coming out as a very bright student, Rashidi approached the ministry of education of Iran in plead to be able to study abroad. By passage of an exam, he became an official sponsored government student. Being an official government student not only gave him the chance to study abroad, but came with multiple accommodations, one being support through financial aid for the trip. For all his expenses, they went through a subsidized rate, or supported rate he explained, “So me being a government sponsored students, my father would send me money at a reduced rate, the bank rate.” This continued for years, while he studied in India and America. But somewhere along the way, while exchanging paperwork with the ministry, his father had signed a paper saying that after he’d finished his studies abroad, he would return to Iran to fulfill the 2 year requirement for military service to pay back the government for their accommodations. After finishing his PHD in America, Rashidi had not gone back to Iran as he was suppose to because “if I went back, they would have held me for doing that service. So for years I didn’t go, the war finished, there was less need for military service, and you could buy back those two years of service, by paying the government some money,” he said. And in 1999, they had finally confronted him. But they not only wanted the money back that they’d lent him, but at the difference of the rate of todays, which came out to about $85 thousand. By hiring a lawyer, he was able to reduce the debt to $55 thousand, which he paid off over a number of years. “Now I think we are all clear, [to] come back, so I’m working on it,” he says in conclusion. Hopefully one day he can go back to his home country and visit all the family members he’s missed for so many years. But in the meanwhile, he explains, he’s pretty content with where he’s at.
From running around in the street alleys with 4 brothers to care for, to the ocean beaches of California, Hossein Rashidi has come along way. Through dealing with the obstacles of the immigration process, to learning to adjust to a whole new country, you can also say he’s experienced it all. But in the end, all’s worth the trouble, as another immigrants ‘American Dream’ is fulfilled.
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