We Are America

Voices of the Nation's Future

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My grandfather Parviz, who we call Babaji, was born in Iran in 1940. He was very mischievous growing up, doing things like making people slip on ice and tricking his friends and family. He drove his  mom crazy. When he was 10 his father died, so his mother, who could neither read or write, had to raise six kids. She was determined to get them to the USA for college, and one by one they all emigrated.  Par, as he has been called, was always very smart and hard working. He was so smart that his mother had to bribe a local doctor to falsify medical documents that he had something wrong with his leg because the Shah of Iran wanted him in his special unit. He finally came to the United States in 1962 and went to Virginia Tech, where he became an engineer in three and a half years with honors, in spite of not knowing much English when he got here. When he originally took the IQ test, he didn’t actually speak English, so he scored below 60 and was labled as stupid. Thank goodness he was later given another opportunity to test his IQ. He met my grandmother when he was working in Detroit for Ford Motor Company, and then my mom and aunt were born. He was always strict and serious with them because he knew how hard they would have to work to be successful.  Because of his heritage and things like his accent or name, my grandfather went through trouble from other people. For example, in 1979, the Americans that staffed the Iranian embassy were taken hostage for a year, referred to as the Iran Hostage Crisis. It was a tough time to be an Iranian-American. People would call my mom’s house and yell at them and threaten them. They had to change their phone number and then have an unlisted number. Then 9/11 happened years later. This had absolutely nothing to do with Iran. However, my family’s last name was Shirmohammad, and having a Muslim-sounding name during the time following 9/11 was terrible. My aunt had her credit card thrown at her at a shop in Ann Arbor, one of the most liberal towns in Michigan. My grandparents took the unbelievable step of changing their last name. They did not want to be subjected to that kind of prejudice anymore. They changed it to Shiree, my Babaji’s nickname growing up (it means Milk Man in Farsi).  To this day, people might detect the faintest accent from my grandfather. When they ask where he’s from, he jokes “The Axis of Evil,” which is what George Bush called Iran, North Korea, and Iraq. He pretends like it’s funny, but I do think it bothers him. I worry about people treating my family badly. And I think about all the people in Iran and all around the world who are not bad people. They are probably just like my family.  I always just thought my Babaji was this hilarious jokester, a fun grandfather, which he is. But there is so much more to his story. Now that I have learned about the struggles he went through to get here, to become an American, and raise a family in the USA, I admire him so much. He sacrificed so much to give me the opportunities that I have now. I am grateful to my other grandparents as well, but I wanted to highlight his sacrifice. He taught me that hard work can take you anywhere and that if you stick to your goals, you will make it. He gave up his home country for us. Because of my grandfather, I will always try to be a person that treats everyone equally, and tries to set an example as someone who is tolerant. 

© Max Kopplin. All rights reserved. If you are interested in quoting this story, contact the national team through this website and we can put you in touch with the young person’s teacher.