Growing up Middle Eastern in Brookline



Above is a collage of baby photos of the members of the MENA club (Middle Eastern and North African Club).

Growing up in Brookline, there were never more than two or three people in my classes that were from the Middle East, and never any kids from Iran.

Both of my parents came to America for their own safety, yet speak fondly of Iran and their childhood before the Islamic Revolution. After the Revolution, the Islamic government took over, and Iran started enforcing very strict laws for people that were not Muslim. Since both my parents are not Muslims, they knew Iran would not be safe for them.

As the Islamic regime started to gain more power, there were riots, break-ins, shootings and other forms of violence all over the country. Things were out of control and my parents knew the best solution was to leave. Ever since then, my parents have not returned to their home country which I always found incredibly sad. I would hear about my friends visiting family in China or India, and I would never get to say that I went to Iran to do the same.

As a young child, I never truly felt comfortable with my culture. Throughout elementary school, kids would stare at my food during lunch and make confused faces while my mom spoke to me in Farsi. It was not easy to embrace these parts of my culture when it was clearly looked down upon at my school. I wanted to eat normal peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and speak English with my parents like everyone else. I had to remind myself that many kids in elementary school didn’t even know where Iran was in the world. They had never experienced another culture other than their own.

In school, we rarely talked about other countries in depth and the majority of the books we read were about only white people. Iran was never really talked about in schools and I always assumed it was because the Middle East was known for its violence and destruction. The US and Iran had had many conflicts over the past years and it was a touchy subject of conversation.
As a child, I didn’t want people to dislike me because my parents are from a country that was known for its bombings and wars. The assumption that Middle Eastern people are “terrorists” made me self-conscious and more aware of the fact that some people might not like me because of where my parents are from.

Once I got to high school, I was able to connect with many more people with similar backgrounds. I knew that while high school offered more opportunities to share my culture, it also had more people who disapproved. However, I also knew that starting a club for Middle Eastern students would provide a safe space for people to share their feelings and experiences with others that were coming from the same place.

In the Middle Eastern and North African (MENA) Club, we have conversations about our experiences being Middle Eastern or North African in Brookline and how they have affected us. We’ve also held fundraisers for the Women’s Organization of Iran to support the women currently in Iran. We have had discussions about the death of Mahsa Amini and the protests going on in Iran right now. Together, we’ve been working on lessons about the current crisis in Iran to educate our peers on what we can do to help.

I hope members of the MENA club feel a sense of comfort with each other. We all share a crucial part of our identity with each other that creates a special bond between all of us.