Interview By Raya El-Hajjar, age 13
Sara Saedi was born in Tehran, Iran, during wartime and an Islamic Revolution. Her parents fled to the United States, where they lived undocumented until Saedi was in her twenties. Saedi is the author of the memoir, Americanized: Rebel Without a Green Card, which explores her experiences as an undocumented teen growing up in the United States.
Raya: Your memoir discusses your life growing up as an undocumented teen in the United States. How do you feel looking back on those memories?
Sara: I feel so many emotions. Relief that our immigration struggles are behind us, and empathy and sadness for anyone who’s going through what my family went through. Also, some shame that I didn’t realize at the time that the people who struggled and suffered the most were my parents. If I could go back, I wish I would have alleviated their stress instead of adding to it.
Raya: What do you want people to take away from your memoir?
Sara: For starters, I want readers to get a window into just how complicated the immigration process is in this country and that getting to immigrate to the US the “right” way is in many ways an enormous privilege. I also wanted readers to have an example of a happy and loving Iranian family, because that’s not always the prevailing narrative when it comes to the Middle Eastern community. Iranian fathers, in particular, have often been depicted as cold and militant, and that couldn’t have been further from the dad that I had growing up. For my younger readers, I hope it gives them a sense of comfort knowing that many of the things teenagers struggle with are wholly universal.
Raya: Hypothetically, if you had to write an email to your state elected officials what parts of your story do you think would be helpful to inform US immigration policy – specifically relating to undocumented immigrants?
Sara: Ha! Maybe I should just send them my memoir! The book doesn’t present any solutions for U.S. immigration policy, but I think it would be helpful to show that there are families who are living in the United States, contributing to the economy, paying taxes — and still waiting for years to get a Green Card. Those families deserve a more straight-forward path to citizenship. So often the debate about immigration in this country boils down to what it costs American taxpayers. And yet, the evidence tells us that immigration is good for the economy. In fact, many undocumented immigrants pay taxes for social programs they may never reap the benefits from. This is not for my state elected officials per se, but I would also ask anyone with a hard-lined anti-immigration stance — where is your outrage when it comes to automation in this country? If what you’re really worried about is job loss, then are you just as angry about ATM machines, self-checkout at the grocery store, or automated parking garages? I don’t see anyone protesting how technological advances are taking jobs away from the American worker.
Raya: Your parents came here as undocumented immigrants, and weren’t given the same professional opportunities as documented immigrants. How do you think your parents’ career opportunities impacted your choices?
Sara: My parents did everything they could to provide for our family and that meant working long hours and running a business that they weren’t passionate about. For many years, they owned a luggage shop in the Bay Area — [and they] repaired suitcases that were damaged by airlines. Eventually, they sold the business and transitioned into becoming home appraisers. My mom never got an opportunity to go to college, and my dad, who studied mechanical engineering at LSU, was never able to pursue it as a career. In some ways, I felt like I owed it to them to go after my dreams of becoming a writer. They didn’t get to do what they were passionate about– or even figure out what they were passionate about– but they always made me feel like I could accomplish my dreams. It’s also helped me not take my career for granted and to realize how lucky I am to do what I love. My parents weren’t afforded the same opportunity.
Raya: In your memoir, you mention that your brother was born in the U.S. How do you think his experience growing up differed from yours?
Sara: I think my little brother Kia certainly had it easier being a US citizen and not having to worry about getting a social security number and a Green Card or not having access to financial aid for college. But I’m also sure there was some residual stress on him— watching his family struggle for years to become permanent residents. Even if one family member is undocumented, it takes a toll on everyone else. Maybe there’s even a layer of survivor’s guilt. He’s a very sensitive and empathetic adult, so perhaps witnessing what we went through made him a better human.