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Iranian-Americans Worry About Growing Xenophobia

Iranian-American citizens are struggling to navigate growing feelings of fear and distrust in the wake of the two countries’ mutual aggression in early January.

Relations between America and Iran were threatened following the killing of General Soleimani by U.S. airstrike on Jan. 3 and the subsequent retaliation against U.S. Ain al-Asad Air Base on Jan. 8.

Xenophobia, or the prejudice and distrust of people from another country, has had a renewed place in the media due to recent discriminatory practices by Customs and Border Patrol, bank account closures and Trump threatening to bomb 52 Iranian cultural heritage sites.

Kayan Barzegar, Director of the Institute for Middle East Strategic Studies said that the conflict in post-invasion Iraq has been “focused on a dispute overgrowth of the two sides’ role in Middle Eastern politics,” which both “regard against each other’s national interests and security.” 

Orange County is currently home to over 36,000 Iranian-Americans. Many of them live in Irvine which, at just over 11,000, hosts the second largest population of Iranian-Americans in Southern California.

The influx of Iranian-Americans can be traced back to the Iran Revolution of 1979, when Iran overthrew the last monarch, Shah Mohammed Reva Pahlavi, and replaced his government with the Islamic Republic under Grand Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. Many Iranians fled the country and settled in the Greater Los Angeles area due to its similarity to the landscape of Iran, according to Iranian-American author and scholar Dr. Reza Aslan.

This can also be linked to the first rumblings of Islamophobia and anti-Islamic sentiment, according to Pierre-André Taguieff, author of Islamism and Us, with a  major resurgence happening post-9/11 and Iraq War. 

“After 9/11, millennials grew up in a world where all we’ve really known throughout our teens and our childhoods is Islamophobia, xenophobia, and fear stoked against vulnerable communities by our top leadership.” Mana Mostatabi, a communications director at the National Iranian American Council said in a recent Vice article, “It really fractured my identity and made me ashamed to be Iranian.”

Irvine PD responded to concerns from citizens in a recent press release, as well as an extensive post on Twitter. “Recent global events have increased tension between the U.S. and Iran, resulting in safety concerns for our community… Regardless of your race, ethnicity, nationality or religion, rest assured, we are here for you,” Irvine PD said in a message “intended to provide a level of comfort to all our residents, particularly our Iranian American community.”

According to Dr. Assal Rad, a research fellow at the National Iranian American Council, Iranian-Americans have a simple goal, “We wish to be treated as equal citizens in the United States.”

Ian Anzlowar is a City News Intern for the 2020 winter quarter. He can be reached at ianzlowa@uci.edu.