49 Voices: John Parsi of Anchorage

PARSI: So I was born in London, England, and my family is from Iran originally, so we moved back to Iran and lived in Iran for 3.5 years. And then fled from Iran for various reasons, religious reasons – my family is Zoroastrian – and so at that time it was pretty risky to live in Iran.

We applied for asylum, got asylum to the United States through the United Nations. Came to the U.S., lived in New Jersey, moved to Arizona when I was in second grade and have lived there for most of my life until I moved up to Alaska – minus three years in law school at the University of Michigan.

My family has very much always thought that education and understanding of cultures and communities is highly important. And my father made the active choice to come to the United States. He wanted to be here, and this is a place that we really wanted to be. And I’d say more so than a lot of people because we’ve gone through that process of naturalization. We really care about being Americans.

You know, when the war between Iran and Iraq was going on, Tehran was bombed, our neighbors house was bombed while I was living there. I remember waking up to air raid sirens. So I experienced that. And then when I was in elementary school in Arizona, I remember students coming up to me and calling me Saddam Hussein. So it’s messed up on so many levels. He literally is the leader of the country that bombed my neighbors and I’m being called that because of the way that I look and the misconceptions about people from the Middle East.

Here in Anchorage, one of the things that’s the most remarkable, that I didn’t anticipate probably is the level of diversity. There are other places in the United States that have greater levels of “sameness” among the population. But this is still a city where, I’d say, a majority of people will still say hi to you when you’re walking or will be kind to you, or try to help neighbors out, be decent to on another. And I think that that is an aspect of Alaska that can be wonderful. And I wish that more of us would engage each other in that way because I think that would ameliorate the other problems that people have.

Published on Alaska Public