Never Again

I’m writing this post a little ahead of schedule; I don’t know what the situation will be when it goes live. Hopefully better.

The great privilege of being an EFL teacher is that my work brings me into contact with an international clientele. Just since beginning my little business here in Stockholm, I’ve worked with English students from:

  • Hungary
  • Sri Lanka
  • India
  • France
  • Saudi Arabia
  • Spain
  • Iran

That list tilts very heavily towards Iran, actually. I have more Persian* students than from any other country on that list.

As a private tutor, I’ve been invited into my students’ lives in a way that would not happen as a regular school teacher. I work in their homes, I’m invited to their dinners, I meet their friends and family. They’re not just students anymore, or clients. During the lesson, I’m their teacher, but off the clock, I’m their friend. And they are mine.

So I know that my Persian friends have family and friends who immigrated to the United States. A brother, a stepson, a half-brother, a childhood friend. I know that some of them were planning on traveling to the United States in the near future. I know that others were planning on receiving a guest—that brother or stepson or half-brother—who may not yet have full American citizenship. Who may not have renounced their original Iranian citizenship.

All of that makes the recent executive order very personal for me.

I’m now a firsthand witness to how political posturing to appeal to the worst elements of American society has very real, concrete effects on people who have nothing to do with violent religious extremism. The callousness towards Syrian refugees is also disgusting, of course, but it’s not something I encounter on a weekly basis; proximity makes things real in a way that nothing else can.

How will this play out? If I’m invited to join in on a family vacation and pick up some stamps in my passport from Tehran, will I be denied entry into the United States? Will green cards be revoked, and loved ones repatriated? Will their friends and family be forced to renounce their Iranian citizenship?

A line from the cult Easter egg song “Still Alive” packaged at the end of the video game Portal goes:

We do what we must because we can.

I’ve twisted it a little bit, and periodically quote it when JV and I discuss politics.

We do what we can because we must.

I have the great privilege of American citizenship, and it’s clear that it’s no longer enough to just vote. I can call, I can write, I can protest—and now it’s clear that I must. Not only for all kinds of good, vulnerable, voiceless people I can never meet or know, but for the Persian students and friends I sit down with week after week, month after month, year after year. How could I do anything less and still be able to look them in the eye?

*I opt for the word “Persian” in this post because that is the word they use to describe their language and their culture.

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