Posted inOpinion

The fight continues for Iranian American student activist Yasaman Hakami

Yasaman Hakami, an undergraduate sociology major studying law & society at UC Davis, shares her experiences as a community organiser and civil rights activist.

“Imagine the feeling of emptiness, numbness, grief. As if the world sucker-punched your gut so hard you’re left gasping. Looking for a reason to stay sane from the suffocating noise all around you.

That is how I felt the minute 2020 began.

As an Iranian American, there is no such thing as peace when chaos and trauma surround your community at every turn. We were not “almost at war” with Iran. We have been at war with Iran. Economic sanctions devastate ordinary lives, starve families, and prohibit trade of critical, life-saving humanitarian aid. Thanks to American Nativism, the Muslim Ban primarily affects Iranians (over 60% of all applicants) by preventing students, families, and workers without opportunity from being able to leave.

A new Wealth Test for green card holders prevents immigrants on food stamps and Medicaid to obtain permanent legal status; a blatant attack on poor people of color. Mass deportations and detainments of over 200 Iranians have been all because of our nation’s need to surveil, watch, and monitor Muslim American. Because let’s keep it real — no matter how much we assimilate, we will always be treated like the terrorist next door.

Being Muslim in the West is like living with the word “OTHER” tattooed on your forehead. Just so everyone knows you don’t really belong.

As a student in Davis, California, I have the privilege of claiming citizenship (granted on stolen land, so is anyone really a “citizen?”) giving me the ability to stand up and fight back without fear. I organised my first Anti-Muslim Ban protest at age 17. Fought for Middle Eastern civil rights with the National Iranian American Council and the Arab Resource and Organising Centre. I place not only my identity, but my emotional vulnerability on the line for my people time and time again, so that we can achieve the justice we deserve.

And, ironically enough, advocacy is how I heal my generational trauma. I am from a family who fled after the 1979 Islamic Revolution and Iran/Iraq War. Being there for my immigrant community means more to me than just doing my part as an ally. It means showing love for my people in the most honest and sincere way possible.

I have spent my 2020 speaking at numerous rallies and protests in San Jose, San Francisco, and Sacramento. I did interviews on KQED, the Associated Press, and USA Today. I am exhausted, but not defeated. But still, at every event, at every interview, at every turn, I feel like I’m just screaming at an endless void of blank stares and confused faces. Is this what Naomi Klein meant by the Shock Doctrine? Are we all just paralyzed by the absurd cruelty of this American nation? Or is it that we are simply exhausted?

Regardless, I refuse to be silenced, to sit down and pretend I am “okay.” I very much am not. I am infuriated.

But anger alone is not a solution. Action is. And as a kid from Silicon Valley, innovative action is exactly how I plan to amplify this revolution.

Recently, I formed a team of immigrant POC youth leaders to spearhead an app dedicated to combatting the violence of the carceral state. The app provides free, accessible legal assistance at the touch of a button. It also links at-risk non-citizens and visa holders to nearby pro-bono immigration attorneys, and provides a summarised recitation of constitutional rights. This is for individuals who face harassment, questioning, and interrogation from the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, U.S. Customs and Border Protection, and the local police. I believe that this resource is a step in shielding our immigrant community from the pronounced danger of deportation and detainment.

But remedial solutions are not long-term systemic change. That is why our team is partnering with numerous NPOs across the country to enable users to set up protests and compose opinion pieces on current, immigrant affairs via the app’s mainframe. The continuance of mobilization, organizing, and grassroots advocacy is where we win. And I am more than determined to contribute that energy and effort in the most effective way possible. 

Our knowledge is our weapon. When our most vulnerable communities face militarised forces, there must be resources readily available to protect them. Disarming our neighbourhoods, and demilitarising and imperialising the Middle East are fights that go hand in hand. Instead of spending billions of tax-payer dollars to kill people who look like me, maybe we should invest in uplifting and protecting our most vulnerable at home, along with respecting native and indigenous people abroad.