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Q&A with Ashkan, College Student & Iranian American

Ashkan is a politically engaged 21 year old college student of Iranian descent. Originally from Dallas, Texas, he is currently studying neuroscience at the University of Texas in Austin and hopes to enter academia or the public sector after postgraduate study. He speaks Farsi decently and his immediate family lives in the U.S. His parents moved to the states before he was born but most of his extended family still lives in Iran.

I. What is your background? Try to give me a one or two minute summary of yourself.

I was born and raised in Dallas, Texas. I attended Greenhill School, a private school in Dallas, from a young age up until I graduated from high school there. While in high school, I decided that I wanted to be a dentist because I enjoyed the sciences and I thought that dentistry had a clear educational and career path and would offer stability. Now, I am a student at the University of Texas in Austin and I will graduate this spring. I have changed course a bit and am now studying neuroscience. Out of class, I am a member of the Iranian Club and I work in a neuroscience lab with UT faculty and postdoc students, where I have been able to get more experience and knowledge. Following graduation, I will get a PhD and spend the rest of my life doing science, preferably in the public sector.

II. What do you think of the political climate in the US right now? Are you engaged with politics?

The political climate is disheartening, to say the least. Under Obama, there was an illusion that liberal values were being solidified in public policy (quick example: gay marriage). As a result of my upbringing, and the people I have hung around with for my life, I would say that I am in the typical millennial category where I lean left on most issues. I think that I’m pretty engaged though, more than the average college student for sure.

With the election and executive actions of Donald Trump, it is now obvious that what I was talking about – liberal policies in the mainstream – is not the case. The issue of how Donald Trump managed to become president is too messy to delve into, but it is done and America is already reeling from the consequences.

 III. Iran has been in the news a lot recently. As an Iranian-American, what are your thoughts on the relations between the two countries? Do you feel more attached to one in particular? Do you see both sides of the argument?

 The standard preamble for any discussion on Iranian-American relations begins with, “The government is not representative of the people.” This remains true. However, I think that it is now clear that this statement applies to both countries. I think that the majority of Americans do not agree with Donald Trump, his “positions,” or actions, the latest being this haphazard “Muslim ban.”

 I say these things from my own observations. When I am speaking about Donald Trump, I often put his positions in quotation marks because I think he lacks any strong convictions. He has failed to demonstrate any understanding of any major political issue; his views and statements are a product of whatever he is exposed to combined with strong but vague rhetoric.

 But I digress. Relations between individuals from each of these countries should be just as good as the relationship between any two people in the world. Diplomatic relations, however, have classically been as good as the Iranian regime will allow. They have been limited and I think that Iran has been estranged from the world as a result. They now also depend on Donald Trump’s temperament, which isn’t the most stable thing. Americans are generally unaware that Iran’s position is a direct consequence of American and British interference.

 IV. Do you have family and still friends that are still there? Do you anticipate things getting better or worse for them? How – if at all – does any of the content in the news with Iran and the US play out in your own life?

 Nearly my entire extended family – on both sides – lives in Iran. The sanctions against Iran were stifling, and it appeared that relations were improving under Obama and Iranian president Hassan Rouhani. Now, I don’t know. I follow American politics more than I do Iranian politics, and I honestly can’t give any insight as to how I think relations will develop – or not develop. At present, it seems that they will suffer.

 As for how this plays out into my own life: until very recently, it was only in the abstract, history book sense. Certainly, my relatives in Iran were more directly affected by the sanctions and whatnot. But now, I am personally affected by this moronic ban. Technically, I would not be affected if I went to Iran and returned, but I’m not sure I would want to risk it.

 It is still quite unbelievable that such a thing exists. I honestly can’t comment, my brain is still processing and the saga continues. We’ll see what happens.

 V. Ideally, where will you be in 5 years? And the country? And your family?

 I will be wrapping up a PhD in neuroscience. By 2021, I hope that Democrats will have reorganized and claimed control of Congress and the White House. I also hope that the boundaries of acceptable positions is adjusted to what I, and I think many other Americans, consider appropriate.

 Donald Trump’s most damaging achievement thus far is the normalization of the most radical of conservative rhetoric. Granted, racist, sexist, and unjust policy was never not a part of day-to-day right-wing policy and laws. See: voter suppression in the south, stop-and-frisk, and so on. But once it was exposed, it was embraced for what it was. I guess I’m trying to say that the American people had the option to reject these values. After years of ridiculously claiming that Obama was not born in America, Trump officially began his campaign by calling Mexican immigrants rapists. Jeb Bush would have been a better president, and I can’t believe I’m saying that.

 As for my direct family, I’m not too worried. We’re all citizens here. I can’t say for my extended family. But basically, in five years, I hope that this sort of thing will be behind us.

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