Ferdows Naficy and her two daughters, Mahnaz and Farah became independent women in America. When Ferdows decided to emigrate to the U.S., she opened the door for her daughters to later join her in California. Both would later return to Iran as adults, where they would be torn apart by Iranian politics during the reign of the shah. Mahnaz became a minister in the shah's government and advocated for women's rights, while Farah and her husband joined the cause of the revolution. Ultimately, Mahnaz and Farah had to flee Iran in fear for their lives. This is the lastest update from Mahnaz and Farah.
1. If the political climate in Iran changed and became more accepting toward women in the public sphere, would you return to continue the work you began in the 1970s?
Mahnaz: If Iran's political system changed from a theocracy to a pluralistic one where there would be a possibility of diverse groups participating in the political and civic life of their society, I would return to help rebuild the country and to reinstate the rights that Iranian women had worked for over a century to achieve. I would work to mobilize women of different background and experience to come together toward the goal of creating a democratic society that respects the rights of all citizens regardless of gender, race, or ethnicity. I would apply my experience working with women in Muslim majority societies and the experience of living in a democratic system to creating a process that would lead us to that goal.
2. After so many years in the United States does it finally feel like home or will that designation always belong to Iran, the country of your birth and childhood?
Farah: As a teenager growing up in the United States in the early 1960s, I felt an outsider and longed for a sense of belonging. My brother, on the other hand, felt immediately at home when he came here and has always taken great pride in being an Iranian-American. When I returned to Iran for a visit in 1968, I quickly felt at home, and the visit had an enormous influence on my later decision to return to Iran to live. When I returned to the US in 1982, this time as a political exile, I gained new respect for the democratic institutions of this country and in time I felt more at home. But the call of my birthplace is always there.
3. Do you feel more like an immigrant or an exile in America?
Farah: I have lived my life in the US in two parts. Growing up, I lived the life of an immigrant, my mother having brought us here so many years before. She took enormous pride in being an Iranian-American and took her citizenship very seriously. She instilled this pride in us as well, but I always felt somewhat apart from my peers. I longed for a place that felt more like home. I followed that call and returned to Iran on the eve of the Revolution. After almost four years living there, I returned, this time as a political exile. Though I feel more at home now than when I first came, there is a part of me that will always feel in exile, whether in the US or in Iran.
4. Even though you've spent the majority of your lives in the United States, have you, as Iranian-Americans, experienced any hostility from the American public since Bush declared Iran part of the "Axis of Evil"?
Mahnaz: I personally have not experienced hostility, but then I have lived and worked in a major cosmopolitan area on the East coast of the United States. I have heard of others living in parts of the country where there is less international exposure who have experienced various types of hostility and whose children have endured exclusion, derision, and name calling in schools.
Farah: Like my sister, I have not personally experienced discrimination or prejudice, but then I live in an international city and I work in an international organization, where the majority of staff are foreign born. But my son, who went to college in the mid-West from 2000-04, told me that he felt some hostility and even discrimination in hiring when he sought jobs outside of the college.
5. Do you foresee the granting of greater freedoms and rights to Iranian women anytime in the near future?
Mahnaz: Iranian women have been courageous and steadfast in their struggle to regain their rights and to achieve full equality. Achievement of rights for them would require fundamental changes in the legal infrastructure of the country, including the constitution of the Islamic Republic. They are struggling to achieve these changes peacefully. I am confident that they will succeed.