Where is home?

Negar with her mom, when her mom visited US

Pic: Me and my mom when she was visiting US in 2013.

I remember vividly the day I left Iran in 2007. I remember the mixed emotions that struck me when the plane took off — the excitement of beginning a new graduate program, and the uncertainty of not knowing what awaited me 6,200 miles away from my parents and my home. My tears started running. I began silently shaking. I have marked every major event in my life since then — from my marriage to my first job — by its distance from that day.

Recently, the White House issued two orders barring people from Iran and seven other countries from entering the United States. Their goal was to neutralize the threat from foreign terrorists. Affected by that goal are my family members, my parents, my brother, my friends, and many others like me, who once moved here to build a brighter future.

Many people consider immigration a privilege. I am deeply proud to call America home, and still, I can’t forget how difficult it has been to leave all I had behind. I wasn’t there to help when my father and my brother faced significant health issues for several years. I wasn’t there at my cousins’ and best friends’ weddings. I wasn’t there to meet many new members of my extended family. I wasn’t there when I lost my grandma several months ago. None of these sacrifices has been easy, but I have made them willingly to live in a country that values my aspirations and encourages me to pursue them. I was born Iranian, but I also chose to become American, and I am proud of both.

As someone whose life has been deeply affected by policy choices of others, I can’t close my eyes to the problems the immigrant community and refugees are experiencing today. Every country must and should take logical, reasonable steps to protect its borders — but I and many others in this country have never felt less safe. I feel unsafe telling people I was born in a country under the ban. I feel unsafe about possibly being stereotyped as a terrorist. I feel unsafe raising the kids ,I hope to one day have, in a society where my nationality might make others see them as a threat. Above all, I feel unsafe watching my leaders divide the country into “us” and “them”. I know that mentality can mean the loss of my home.

My Iranian friends in the US include successful CEOs, doctors, professors, scientists, and engineers. Iran is one of the most common home countries for founders in Silicon Valley, and Tinder, Dropbox, and eBay were all founded or co-founded by Iranian-Americans. Last year, 3,000 Iranians received PhDs from US universities. The first female tourist to international space station and the first woman to win the Fields Medal in mathematics were both Iranian-Americans. They are not terrorists; in fact, no Iranian has carried out a terrorist attack on US soil. Iranian-Americans are part of what makes America great.

Home for an immigrant goes beyond what it says on birth certificate or in a passport. Home goes beyond borders or languages. To me, home is where I work hard to make it a better place to live. I have a responsibility to protect my home from anything that would remove its promise and cause it harm. This includes the community at Wharton and the brilliant people I have met here, and it goes far beyond our campus. Call it “cultural entrepreneurship.” I want to make my country, its businesses, and its laws healthier, more inclusive, and more meaningful. I want nothing less for my home.