English, Journalism, Not Welcome

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This profile is part of an ongoing series that tells individual stories of people from Syria, Iran, Sudan, Libya, Somalia, Yemen and Iraq who were banned from entering the United States by Donald Trump’s original executive order. While federal judges had halted the original ban, on March 6, 2017, a second version was signed by the President, renewing travel restrictions for citizens of six of those nations.

Learn more about Not Welcome and read other stories here.


ON THE FIRST PAGE ON MINA’S CANADIAN PASSPORT, right underneath the header that says Place of birth, the words “TEHRAN, IRN” are unmistakably typed out in bold, black letters.

When Mina first received the passport, she felt like those two words were problematic. She had hoped that the section would remain blank; or at the very least, that passport pages could be more nuanced—so that hers read, in the same bold, black letters:

Place of Birth: DEPARTURE LOUNGE AT TEHRAN’S INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT.

That way – Mina thought – her passport would paint a more accurate picture of her relationship with Iran, and as a bonus, she’d be able to travel around the world hassle-free.

plane

MINA WASN’T EXACTLY BORN AT THE DEPARTURE LOUNGE of Tehran’s international airport, but she was only 40 days old when her family left Iran in search of a new life in the United Arab Emirates.

“I was traveling before I knew it,” Mina says.

Since that first trip, her life has been a collection of passport stamps and boarding pass stubs. She’s only 23 years old, but has already lived in Dubai, Calgary, Vancouver and Montreal, and has travelled far and wide, visiting countries across North America, Europe and Asia.

And while that international lifestyle allowed Mina to see the world, for many years it also exposed her to a rhetoric that pushed her to reject her Iranian identity.

“I grew up watching American TV and American news and almost everything I saw or heard portrayed Iran in a bad light. I was too young to exercise critical thinking and so I believed whatever was fed to me,” she remembers. “My mind was so colonized!”

For the better part of two decades, if anyone asked her where she was from, she would be overcome by a “sudden feeling of guilt and shame” and would try to ignore the question altogether.

But all of that changed a couple of years ago, when an unexpected conversation with an immigration officer at London’s Heathrow Airport changed her perceptions on Iran. That day, as the officer began talking about the wonders of Persian poetry and about the brilliance of the Iranian scientists and neurosurgeons that he met, something inside of Mina clicked, and all of a sudden she reframed the way she saw her place of birth.

“After that encounter I started saying ‘Hell yeah, I’m from Iran and I’m proud of it.’”

mina

IF ANY DOUBTS REMAINED ABOUT MINA’S new-found sense of identity, Donald Trump’s attempt to ban all Iranians from entering the United States all but dissipated them.

As soon as the executive order was signed, Mina felt personally attacked, and decided to spring into action.

“I suddenly became an activist, and if any Iranians were stuck at the border and needed help, I provided my translation services through WhatsApp and Skype, and put them in touch with friends of mine who are lawyers.”

They may be small acts of resistance, Mina admits, but she’s proud of herself for taking them on.

“I stood my ground,” Mina says. “If at any time there was an Iranian that had a rhetoric like mine – who doubted themselves or thought that Iran wasn’t cool enough and that America was greater and better and freer – this ban changed that. It’s like Trump made us more Iranian than ever.”

This reinvigorated sense of pride and self-love means that Mina will not allow Donald Trump to stop her from travelling. With the help of her Canadian passport, she intends to continue going to the US to visit friends and family who live there.

“Do I feel welcome there? No! But that won’t stop me. My family fought blood, sweat and tears to immigrate here and get the citizenship so that we can cross borders freely,” Mina says. “I’m still going to go, and if they want to put up a fight, they’ll get a fight.”

And while Mina is the first to admit that her privileged position as a Canadian citizen guarantees her freedom of movement in the US, she’s now glad that at the very least, her passport clearly states the country where she was born—that way, travelling to the United States will be another small, but open act of defiance.

“You know what? I won’t back down! I’m a young girl in my early 20s and I have the right to travel before life bogs me down with kids and responsibilities. It’s my time to fly, you can’t clip my wings.”

Peter Mothe
Vancouver, March 6, 2017

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