A travel agency in Westwood, California.
The aftermath in human terms
Los Angeles is an odd city. If you have ever spent any considerable time within its limits, you would agree with me that it is a vast, strange universe of its own, and the Iranians diaspora has thrown a large number of them here. An area known as the Greater Los Angeles is what we Iranians here call home, and it spans a region from south of Santa Barbara County to south of Orange County, roughly 100 miles (170 km) in length, and advancing inland for another 50 miles to areas such as Riverside and San Bernardino.
Iranians are everywhere within this region. They are highly concentrated in micro-cities such as Reseda, Tarzana, Woodland hills, Irvine, Beverly Hills and Santa Ana. However, in any other part of this vast area you are bound to run into a countryman or two during the day. Like all the other ethnic groups and nationalities, fugitives and rejects, who have found a home here in Los Angeles, we Iranians have our own system within the larger American one we live in, and it is frightening because it is both amusing and distressing.
By system within a system, I mean several things: for instance, an interconnected group of media such as radio, television and newspaper that compete with the larger American system and with each other, or a group of small shopkeepers that compete and prosper in lieu of larger chain of supermarkets. From crooked attorneys to used-car dealers, from witch-doctors to psychics, Iranians in Los Angeles have ample examples of the best of them.
One thing that is becoming apparent in the Iranian micro-system is its mirroring of the larger system's two-tier structure. The American society has become to a great extent a society of haves and have-nots, one in which economic class is becoming more defined Iranian community reflects that very well.
These days, you can run into a few homeless Iranians in this city. In peripheral communities such as Panorama City, Van Nuys and Hollywood you will run into Iranian families that define the term "dirt-poor." They are often supplanted Iranians that, with little regard to their destinations or their survivability, left Iran bound for United States. Many of these Iranians had marketable skills, respectable positions and good incomes before they left. Here, in the land of plenty, they are reduced to menial jobs that pay hourly and crush the ego.
I used to do research for a company that brokered large apartment complexes. My job took me across Los Angeles to survey apartment buildings, many of them in poor areas inhabited by minorities. In one of these trips, I found myself in front of a large building with nearly 60 units It looked like a fort. There were rusted metal bars everywhere, from bedroom windows to the front gate. In front, there were group of young men congregating. Their demeanors introduced them as part of the local gang, and their gazes scared me out of my wits. Inside, a courtyard was enveloped by two stories of apartments. It was a summer afternoon. The doors were mostly open, there was no air-conditioning and the place was dense with people
In the middle of the courtyard, where once had stood a grassy area, was now a puddle of dirt filled with children of various ages playing. There was music playing in all sides, but I could discern Leila Forouhar's voice among the flood of sounds. But it wasn't the only familiar sound. There was at least two radios tuned to the 24-hour Persian programming available here. In the laundry room, I saw three women sitting on a bench. The scarf worn by them and that familiar why-don't-you-die gaze that we throw at each other convinced me they were Iranians. The children, and there were many, I couldn't tell apart. There were El Salvadoran, Mexican, Guatemalan and Iranian kids fading into a mob of kids, and I couldn't tell one from the other.
There were at least eight Iranian families living in that place. One of them had two 13-15 year old girls, and I shivered contemplating how I would have felt had I been either of them or their father. These Iranian families lived in one or two bedroom units. They were mostly five to seven of them in each unit. Most of these families were Muslims. Jewish, Bahaie or Armenian Iranians usually have a close knit community that either prevents them from sinking to the bottom of the American society or has learned to hide their poor pretty effectively. Destitute Muslim Iranians, however, are pretty vulnerable since being the majority among the minority means no one cares for you
To walk into their apartments was both disheartening and inviting. Here I was, in the middle of Los Angeles Gangland and in the poorest of neighborhoods rummaged by hoodlums, drug pushers and pornographers, and portraits of Mohammad and Ali hung on the walls. There was faux-gold glittering everywhere. We Iranians, as much as we hate to admit, love that glitter of gold, fake or authentic. The apartments I walked into that day were poor but orderly signaling the presence of a woman.
The men of these families are usually employed as Taxi drivers, parking attendants, busboys (cleaning crew), janitors, day-laborers, etc. There are few who often run into the police as they test extra-legal means for survival.
What I saw in that building was not an exception, but it wasn't the norm, either. There are more than plenty of educated, adequately wealthy Iranians occupying respected positions and living in relative comfort. But there are those that are sunk in the margins of a dream that transported them half-way around the world and then abandoned them.
We often think of the 1979 revolution and its results in broader scopes and general schemes. We think of it as an event with global consequences, millions affected, geopolitical aftermath, economics of oil, future of the gulf, the opposition vs. the incumbents, and so forth. Its effects could be measured in smaller, more human terms, though: In a life or two rotting away in the slums of a foreign land, for instance.
My mother lives in the United States. Her biggest fear is being abandoned here, especially when she passes away. Often I have heard her praying that her children would take her back to her birthplace to be buried. I am sure the middle-aged Iranian women I met in that building and their husbands have the same fears, and theirs are real.
Most of us, by virtue of being Iranians, and therefore tribal, have the luxury of knowing one, two or many more that we can rely on if things go wrong: Parents, cousins, siblings, cousins of cousins, you know the extent. There are many Iranians that have been disallowed from that tribal connectedness. In this extremely vast city, their plight becomes even more severe. They become completely lost in a sea of minorities from around the world, all of them competing for the limited resources available and many losing the immigrant-searching-for-a-dream game.