I remember when I first came to the States. I got a job at the local mall and my mom would have to drop me off and pick me up each day without the benefit of a text message saying, “I’m out,” or “meet me at the fro-yo place.” I knew she’d be there and she knew where I’d be. Hungry as I may have been, there was no quick fix like an açai bowl to satiate my hunger. It was home to ghormeh sabzi.  

Along with my strained memories of assimilation are vivid memories of raising the next generation. I remember when my daughter turned 10, the same age I had been when I landed in the States. That year, my daughter graduated fifth grade and led her class in the Pledge of Allegiance. I had once been chosen in my own fifth grade class, as a new arrival, to lead the classroom Pledge of Allegiance. My Greek immigrant teacher (bless her tenacity) held my hand and coached me until I got it right. It was painful, but also empowering, as I struggled to perfect my delivery until I was finally greeted with smiles from my classmates.  

Here, decades later, my daughter gave a speech that focused on the march of time, laying out how as small children they had come into this school and were now graduating as young boys and girls poised for the future. She spoke my mind, my heart, my hopes. Her demeanor reminded me of the time and space I had traversed to get to this place, to this creaky wooden chair in an American public school auditorium, to watch my empowered daughter transcend the same rites of passage as I have transcended — only more sure-footed, and so much more at ease. 

I sobbed silently in my chair, behind my camera, hoping no one could see that I might break under the symbolism. I looked to my left and realized my mom was doing the same. 

Today, my daughter is 16. She schools me on the rights of women, and the manner in which they’ve been held down or held to a disproportionately higher standard than boys throughout history. She can’t stand that I expect her to wake up and get to school on time to maintain her hard-won GPA while I laugh off her brother’s inability to manage his time and pound out a far less ambitious academic record. I see it as my emancipation, from a girl born in a culture mired with patriarchy, to a mother who can laugh at my son’s frivolity but take my daughter’s future seriously. I can joke that he may just be a handsome face, but she is the hope of the future. To her, that’s expectation. To me, it’s emancipation.

 

Maryam Zar is a City Commissioner on the Commission on the Status of Women. She is an Iranian-born American and former Middle East Correspondent based in Iran for GMR and MEED in the 1990s. She is the Founder of Womenfound as well as the Chair of the Pacific Palisades Community Council, Vice-Chair of the Westside Regional Alliance of Councils (WRAC), founding Chair of the Pacific Palisades Task Force on Homelessness and an elected Assembly Delegate. She is mother to 3 as well as a wife, daughter, sister and humanitarian.