The first year my family were in America, December 1978 to 1979, saw the toppling of Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi, the king of Iran, and the rise to power of Ruhollah Khomeini (Ayatolla Khomeini), whose regime took 52 Americans hostage on November 4, 1979. I remember my dad telling us to be careful about saying we were from Iraq because Americans might assume that meant we hold the same values as the Muslim revolutionaries who captured the Americans.
I had enough on my plate trying to learn English, being made fun of by kids calling me “Luma Puma Montezuma,” and becoming accustomed to this new country. Adding fear to my already stressful American elementary school experience did not help. In spite of the taunting and mockery, I continued to say I was from Iraq.
I tried to explain that the people who had taken the hostages were Muslim, and I was Christian—Arab Christians wouldn’t do such a thing to Americans. I tried to explain that the reason I was even in America in the first place was because we too were afraid of the Islamic government persecuting us for our religion.
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