My (Typical) Immigrant Family Story

My story is by no means unique. But it bears telling.

I am an American, born in the United States to Iranian parents who, in the year before I was born, fled to America to escape a political revolution. They left everything behind – money, property, status. They brought only what they could fit into a handful of suitcases. Fortunately, they had room for determination, resilience, and optimism.

We were lucky – my father had come to the U.S. years before to train as a thoracic surgeon. Though they had to start from scratch, my family survived. They relied on the support of Americans to assimilate. Growing up hearing the stories of those who were kind to my family, I learned the meaning of gratitude. Reflecting on it now, I imagine starting a life anew after leaving behind everything, including family and friends, is more than I would be able to bear – I would be resentful. But my parents never were. They were thankful because we were safe. We had opportunities. Eventually, my entire family, including my non-English speaking grandmother, became U.S. citizens, and they embraced the American way.

I had a somewhat strange identity – I was born an American. As a child, my father proudly would tell me that I could be president one day. But I was certainly Iranian, with a funny name, and funny food that I hated taking to school. I saw it as a burden, but, then again, I didn’t have the experience of fleeing my homeland to put things into perspective.

I was at Ground Zero in Manhattan on September 12, 2001 providing care to rescue workers. I was in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina on a search and rescue team.

I didn’t run for president. I became an emergency physician, and in that role, I have saved countless lives. Every day, I put my skills and my heart and my mind to work for people truly in need. They are in pain, fearful, desperate, or sick. Sometimes I can’t offer a cure, but I can still give all of myself to ease suffering and pain. I can empathize, listen, hold hands, and be a witness as some people pass from living to dead. I care for people from virtually every ethnicity, race, religion, and background. I proudly care for refugees, victims of torture, undocumented immigrants, the mentally ill, and the most marginalized and underserved. I am not blind to these attributes, but they have no bearing on my judgement, commitment, or effort. If I don’t sleep well at night, it’s not because I partitioned populations of people and treated them differently, it’s because I worry that I didn’t do enough for the most vulnerable.

I was at Ground Zero in Manhattan on September 12, 2001 providing care to rescue workers. I was in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina on a search and rescue team. I have practiced medicine by the light of my headlamp in a tent in Haiti after the earthquake that leveled the country in 2010. I’ve worked throughout the world and consider it a privilege to go anywhere I can serve humanity, no matter how small my part may ultimately be.

I am someone America can be proud of. And I am Iranian. I am also, most certainly, American.

Would America be worse off if my parents hadn’t come to the U.S. almost 40 years ago? Probably not. Would America be worse off if Iranians, or Muslims, or large swaths of immigrants were banned from coming to the U.S. 40 years ago? Absolutely.

The current administration’s executive actions make my family feel that we are unworthy of the American flag. But our story, however mundane and typical, is a beautiful American narrative. Our compassion, dedication, service, gratitude, and resilience are most certainly more American than the divisiveness and bigotry that is masquerading as patriotism. When you next envision the image of the first responders hoisting up the American flag at Ground Zero as a symbol of patriotic pride, remember that there was a skinny Iranian medical student there, too.