96 pages • 3 hours readSara Saedi
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“‘We’re illegal aliens.’
This was before ‘undocumented immigrant’ became the more commonly used (and politically correct) term. The words ‘illegal aliens’ echoed through my head. Suddenly hormonal acne and microscopic boobs paled in comparison to the revelation that I was a criminal. And, apparently, an alien? How would I explain this to my law-abiding, human friends? They’d probably want nothing to do with me once they learned I technically wasn’t allowed to be living in the country. If this got out, I could lose everything.”
At the age of 12, Sara learns from her older sister, Samira, that they are undocumented immigrants. This quotation sets up the central conflict of the book, which is the Saedis’ protracted struggle to receive their green cards to reside legally in the United States. The quotation also reveals the absurdity of the term “illegal alien,” which Sara wryly juxtaposes with the “law-abiding” status of her “human” friends. Finally, the quotation presents the conflicting nature of Sara’s two identities: American teenager with typical teenage woes, like acne, and undocumented immigrant plagued by far more serious obstacles.
“But when Khomeini came to power, he founded the Islamic Republic of Iran and introduced Islamic law to the country. Suddenly there were strict dress codes for women that required them to cover up their hair, men and women (unless they were married) were mostly segregated, Western music and movies were banned, and alcohol became illegal. For some, Khomeini was a total buzzkill. Of course, the new laws thrilled the country’s religious citizens, but my mostly secular family wasn’t having it. My mom had great hair. It would have been a cardinal sin to cover up those luscious chestnut locks. That said, while the country was deprived of my mom’s shampoo-commercial-quality tresses, there were also benefits to the Islamic Revolution. For instance, the literacy rate in Iran nearly tripled (up to 97 percent, higher than the United States’), because social conservatives were comfortable with sending their daughters to school, now that their classmates would also be wearing head scarves.”
This passage explains the political history of Iran as an Islamic Republic and the strictures of Islamic law. Saedi presents her humorous interpretation of these religious developments, such as her mother’s disdain for covering up her hair, while also revealing some of the benefits of the new regime, like improved literacy rates, especially for girls. The passage is illustrative of Saedi’s attempts to provide a full picture of Iran that goes beyond simple, Western stereotypes of Islam as uniformly oppressive to women’s rights.