Saturday, October 17, 2020
Guest blogger: law student, University of San Francisco:
This is a story of immigration -- though not to America, but to Iran. This is a story of a twenty-four-year old boy from Afghanistan. For this article, I will call him Sam.
I met Sam in 2018 when I went to visit my family in Iran. Aside from his height, his wrinkled face and tired eyes suggested that he was at least a worn thirty-five year old man with a family. Sam worked for my aunt as a butler. Always in good spirits, Sam joked with the family just like one of us. On one of my last nights in Iran, I sat with my cousin and Sam as Sam told us about his life.
He was the youngest of seven children. His father worked in Tehran, Iran as a butler to a wealthy family along with a few of his older brothers while he, his sisters, and mother lived in the outskirts of Kabul, Afghanistan. While he told us his stories and memories, Sam sighed, leaned against the wall, slid his back down to the ground, and crossed his arms. When Sam was seven years old, he remembered hiding in caves in the mountains outside his town while bombs exploded nearby. There was little to eat in the cave, and it was hard to see at times. Sam and his family spent days hiding in the mountains.
Even still, Sam persisted in his education. Originally hoping to become a doctor, Sam’s university entrance exam landed him admission to the University of Kabul to study law. Sam studied very hard in university. When Sam graduated from the University of Kabul with a law degree, there was a problem: what could he do with a law degree in Afghanistan? Three weeks after his graduation in Kabul, Sam's choices were few and the most logical was to move to Tehran like his father and become a butler. “If I go back to Afghanistan now, what can I do? The Taliban will not let me be a lawyer. They will come after me. I’ll be screwed.” When I revisited Iran in 2019, I told Sam about my plans to study law at the University of San Francisco School of Law. At the breakfast table while looking me directly in the eye and raising a finger to the sky, Sam said to me, his optimistic voice shielding a hint of melancholy, “Remember to study very hard in law school, Yalda. Because it is ghānün.” The word Sam used in Farsi, “ghānün,” means “law,” which is also the same word as “pillar” or “canon” in English.
His voice still rings in my head as clearly as the day I first heard it: “Study hard . . . because it is the ghānün.” As a law student, it is easy to forget that the law, as Sam indicated, is a tool used to propel society forward. The law is an instrument that touches everyone, everywhere. The law is the pillar aimed to hold society upright; the law is the tool that dares to challenge accepted norms; the law is the rule used to set standards of justice.
The foundations of American society are built on law’s sturdy and steady beams, yet the existence and applications of laws in different countries can be severely scrutinized at best. As a U.S. citizen, growing up in American society can feel so comfortable because the law is a guaranteed safety-net: I can sue a store manager for negligence when I slip on the floor, I can sue for damages for employment discrimination, I have the freedom of speech, and I have the right to counsel in criminal proceedings. Learning Sam’s story and sharing it convinces me that even access to the law is restricted for some people. The rights and privileges I am endowed by virtue of being born within certain politically defined boundaries seldom weighed on me prior to hearing Sam’s story. Sam’s words were another reminder to respect my parent’s sacrifice, struggle, and immigration to America: for a better life. As the daughter of immigrants, I consider it a luxury to go to school unbothered by the disruptions Sam was subject to growing up. It is a privilege to study law. It is a privilege to be a woman and continue seeking a higher education for myself. To hold myself out as relating to my parents’ struggle or Sam’s struggle would undermine their experiences -- so I deliberately choose to honor their pasts by studying hard.