Friday night, November 7, my friends and I got together to go see the documentary film: "Football, Iranian Style," by Maziar Bahari over at the Pacific Film Archive ( www.bampfa.berkeley.edu) at UC Berkeley.
It was important for me to see this documentary film because I had read that it documented what Iranian football means to the Iranian people both in and out of Iran, and how it moved them in an unprecedented way during the World Cup 1998 matches. Therefore, for three weeks, I had been consistently advertising for it through email on behalf of our student group ISAA (isaa.berkeley.edu), because I wanted everyone to see it.
After seeing what it meant to the people of my homeland, I couldn't help but wipe off the tears that skied down my face. It made me remember of the jubilance that overcame us when Iran beat the United States in the 1998 World Cup game in France.
I was sixteen years old when the famous battle of wills took place and I remember it vividly. The World Cup and other sporting events are meant to be apolitical, but this one definitely had its political overtones. They kept showing footage from the hostage crisis and interviewing the former hostages. It was hyped up: "Old Foes Meet." As sixteen year olds, we had no idea why the hostage crisis took place, nor did we care. All we knew was that our Iran was playing the United States and it was a monumental game, not just for the sake of the World Cup, but also for all Iranians, those in the country who live difficult lives, and those in the Diaspora, who yearn for the homeland.
In other words, it was very important for all Iranians that the Iranian national football team defeat the United States in the football battlefield. Like all Iranians all over the world, we were ecstatic over our team's triumphant victory. But for immigrants who share my family's experience, the victory tasted sweet in another way.
You see, I grew up in northern Orange County, where it was not okay being Iranian. On the first day of junior high school, a student my brother's age called him a "camel jockey." Following my dad's teachings that if you let one person make fun of you, then they will all start doing it, my brother basically wound up punching the guy's lights out. This had ramifications that my father's advice could not foresee. The next day, my brother had to answer to the guy's older brother, who was in the eighth grade. My brother ended up whipping the older brother as well. Over time, my brother got really good at fighting because he basically went into combat mode with anyone who was racist towards him, which included many people. In other words, he fought a lot, which is very damaging to one's psyche, especially when you begin to perceive everyone as your enemy. And because of this, he hated going to school - what he deemed a nest of racists. You could imagine how good his grades turned out to be and how pleased my Iranian parents were. It's difficult for one to experience hardship all throughout your supposed happy school years, and then come home and get lectured all the time about getting bad grades. In addition, our house was constantly vandalized, a form of psychological warfare. These series of problems persisted until my brother graduated high school. We were under attack because we were Iranian. Therefore, our Iranian identity was under attack.
So, when Iran beat the U.S. in the World Cup, it was one of those rare days my family, friends, and I were openly proud to be Iranian. We were all watching it at a local Pizza Hut. When the game was over we all hurriedly jumped into our cars and raced for the streets. Initially, there were about five cars in our group. Before we knew it, another fifteen or so cars joined us. We turned Culver Avenue into a street parade of a float of cars driven by Iranians who had grown up and lived in the United States, the same U.S. whose team had lost at the hands of our gallant Iranian team. We did not stop at the red lights in fear of dividing the float, so we just passed right through them. We had that authority that day, especially with our Iranian flags waving through the air.
"Football, Iranian Style" displayed that our celebration was not unique. It happened all over the world, which makes our celebration feel more profound now that I know it was part of a bigger festivity.
It's interesting that when history is unfolding in front of your eyes, you cannot fully appreciate the gravity of the occasion. It's only until later when you sit back and ponder and realize that you lived and witnessed a very historic moment for all Iranians, not because we won, but because for a brief moment, all Iranians all over the world were united in celebration. It didn't matter what your politics, religion, or gender was; if you were Iranian on that day, you were in an unforgettable state of euphoria.
About the author:
Pouya Alimagham is the president of the Iranian Student Alliance in America (ISAA) and a senior at UC Berkeley studying Middle East Studies and Political Science.
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