Between the ages of seven and thirteen, I lived in an illegal kindergarten in Tehran, Iran. I know what you’re thinking. No, it wasn’t a child labor facility. Quite the contrary, my mother ran a high-end English learning center that offered a variety of classes, services, and care unlike any other in Tehran. What made it illegal was that everything was taught in English. The Iranian regime allows a few hours of English classes per day but forbids teaching classes like math, ballet, or music in English except in schools affiliated with foreign embassies. My mother’s subversive, entrepreneurial solution was to turn our family home into an undercover school. She made a profit by defying the regime.
What does it mean to be Chinese? Am I Chinese? With my recent move to New York City, I am surprised at how often I am asked this question: Are you Chinese? I struggle to respond every time because the word “Chinese” can mean a lot of things – a nationality, an ethnicity, a language, and even a culture. And it requires much more than a simple yes or no to answer.
Iran’s compulsory hijab rule has always been about so much more than appearances and religious loyalty. It’s about allowing women the ability to experience so many of the joys in life that other women around the world take for granted – playing a sport comfortably outside on a warm day, feeling the wind in your hair, expressing yourself through your favorite outfit, taking off a layer when the weather finally thaws in early Spring, lying on the beach and feeling the sun bake into your skin. The women in Iran born after the 1979 revolution have never been able to experience those things in their entire lives, at least not while in their home countries. It’s the form of oppression that is experienced every day, multiple times a day, and that eats away at one’s humanity. It’s what women in Iran are now willing to risk their lives fighting against.