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An Iranian-American in Boston

Morteza Lahijanian (ENG’11) spans two worlds


Watch this video on YouTube

In the video above, join Morteza Lahijanian at his Persian New Year’s celebration in Somerville, Mass., visit his BU lab, and hear his thoughts about being here, and being Iranian, during a time of turmoil in his homeland.

On March 21, the day light and dark balanced at 12 hours each and the Persian calendar turned to the year 1389, Morteza Lahijanian took a break from his Ph.D. studies in control theory to celebrate the occasion. A part of him wishes he could have welcomed the new year in Iran, where he grew up, where his thoughts are often as he watches YouTube dispatches from Tehran or exchanges e-mails with childhood friends who still live there. Lahijanian (ENG’11) marvels at the bravery of those protesting against what they see as a repressive, corrupt Iranian government. He worries about those he knows and loves who have joined what they call the Green Movement.

But saying as much publicly, even expressing solidarity with the demonstrators, is more than many of his Iranian friends studying or working in the United States are willing to do. In his case, Lahijanian says, life’s circumstances offer him latitude: born in California in 1980, he has a U.S. passport. His family brought him back to Tehran when he was less than a year old, but he returned to California for undergraduate and graduate study, then came to BU for doctoral studies. His family now lives in the United States as well.

“Most of my friends and colleagues are on student visas,” he says, “and if they were to say anything against the government or the Revolutionary Guard, they could lose those visas, lose their careers, and their families in Iran could face repercussions.”

Like the robots he works with, Lahijanian navigates a complicated world.

“My American friends, so many people here, don’t understand the situation we Iranians find ourselves in,” he says. “They don’t understand what it means to lead a double life — a public life and a private life.”

And so, Lahijanian says, many of the people he is closest to are “foreigners” as well, not necessarily Iranian, but sharing the expatriate sensibility, facing similar existential questions, even if they aren’t often discussed.

Where — and what — is home? Is it defined by geography or attitude, community or routine? Can one place replace another in that emotional space? Can two places share it? Does the sense of being different and removed, a stranger in a strange land, ever fade away?

Those questions deepen when the familial homeland is in turmoil. A flawed Iranian election last June brought the nation to a roiling boil; the crackdown that followed reduced the boil to a simmer, but the heat is bound to rise again. For people like Lahijanian, being here but remaining passionate about there means living with guilt at not being in the thick of it. He tries to find ways to contribute, and to overcome a sense of helplessness.

“So I want to speak, to speak out,” he says. “I want to help the movement in Iran, but how this conversation will help I have no idea. And I also want to present the Iran that me and my friends know, not the Iran as represented by the mass media in the West. The Iranian people are not part of the axis of evil, I can assure you of that.”

Nicolae Ciorogan can be reached at ciorogan@bu.edu.


7 Comments on An Iranian-American in Boston

  • Yalda Afshar on 05.21.2010 at 10:04 am

    Thank you to BU Today and Nicolae Ciorogan for putting this piece together. The article is a great step towards empowering the campus community about cultural assimilation, political nuances, and strength of a diverse study body. Great article and multimedia piece!

  • Anonymous on 07.26.2010 at 2:19 pm

    Thanks for helping to provide more understanding on this topic. We are all humans, and people are not governments.

  • Anonymous on 07.27.2010 at 2:53 pm

    Thank you for sharing that. Bi-cultural myself (half Greek and half American) I haved lived both in Greece and the United States. I also understand what it feels like to know and care about two countries and to always question “Where and what is home? geography, attitude, community, or routine? Sadly, it’s a question that is not easily answered. I hope Morteza can find his way and I hope this article/video helps the campus community to take an interest in what goes on in the larger world.

  • Kiana on 07.28.2010 at 1:19 pm

    What a surprise seeing this title posted on the home page of BU.:)
    Thank you for your great article and BU for paying attention to the cultural and political issues of my country.
    looking forward to hearing from you more.
    Good luck

  • Ryan B on 09.27.2010 at 11:31 pm

    Thank you BU

    You inspire me not only as I am almost a grad student in Computer Science, but as someone who has first hand knowledge of the green movement. I have several Iranian friends and its perplexing how the mass media portrays Iran. This is coming from someone who lives in a conservative corner of the Midwest where it is often the Middle East is misunderstood. Good luck with your ongoing doctorate studies at BU. As for BU, excellent documentary of a doctoral student coupled with an ongoing problematic governmental system. Keep up the great work. Happy belated Nowruz!

  • Anonymous on 12.05.2010 at 1:42 pm

    I think it could be a step of being one strong body formed with wise and Adjuvant members. Iranians do believe in freedom. thank you for this great article.

  • Amir on 01.04.2012 at 3:36 am

    Thank you !
    You are glory for us.(from iran)

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