In the town of Abadan, Firoozeh and her mother look almost as foreign as they looked in America. They have fair skin, especially compared with most of the people in Abadan. In Whittier, with its large Mexican population, Firoozeh and her family didn’t look so foreign. In 1976, Kazem’s job brings the family back to California. They settle in Newport Beach, a place “where everyone is blond and sails.”
Firoozeh is perceived as being just as much of a stranger in her hometown as she is in her adopted country. This underscores the point that Firoozeh, like so many immigrants, is “neither here nor there”—she inhabits a liminal, or in-between space, and is something of an outsider regardless of where she lives. Note also how it’s suggested that white Americans confuse Iranians and Mexicans—groups from entirely different continents—based only on skin color.
In Newport, Firoozeh’s family stands out from everyone else. A school nurse asks her, “Oh my God! Are you Alaskan?” Firoozeh is now in the seventh grade and at the request of Laura, a classmate who needs extra credit, she gives a speech about Iran to her class. As she begins her speech, however, the teacher says to Laura, “You said she’s from Peru!”
Americans—both adults and children—continue to behave cluelessly (and perhaps even offensively) toward Firoozeh during her time in California, betraying their ignorance of Iran and other cultures in general.
Around the same time, Iranian revolutionaries take hostages in the American embassy in Tehran. Everyone asks Firoozeh what she thinks of the hostage situation, and Firoozeh notices that people seem to be vaguely afraid of her now. Sometimes Firoozeh says, “Have you noticed how all the recent serial killers have been Americans? I won’t hold it against you.”
The Iranian hostage crisis was a milestone in U.S. foreign policy: Iranian revolutionaries took American citizens hostage in Tehran. In America this led to a lot of bigotry directed at Middle Easterners in general, and Iranians in particular. Firoozeh’s ironic point is that all Iranians (especially Iranian immigrants who, after all, left their country for a reason) shouldn’t be judged based on the actions of those involved in the hostage crisis.
Later on, when Firoozeh is studying at Berkeley, she meets her husband, a Frenchman named François Dumas. Being French in America, Firoozeh realizes, is very different from being Iranian-American. Americans immediately assume French people are sophisticated. Firoozeh sometimes imagined as a child that in another life she’d be a Swede—but if God made her a Swede “trapped in the body of a Middle Eastern woman, I’ll just pretend I’m French.”
Americans have different stereotypes about different cultures, and not all of these stereotypes are negative. In Firoozeh’s lifetime, many of the stereotypes about Middle Easterners have been negative, whereas stereotypes about French people are more positive, hence her joke about pretending to be French.