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CNN Special Reports

United Shades Of America. Aired 9-10p ET

Aired August 30, 2020 - 21:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: This is all part of a funeral service where he was remembered for his big heart and work ethic. He was 45 years old. May they rest in peace and may their memories be a blessing.

W. KAMAU BELL, CNN HOST: I'm W. Kamau Bell. This episode of UNITED SHADES OF AMERICA is from the late 2019, months before the COVID-19 pandemic swept the country and also months before George Floyd was killed by Minneapolis police and the wave of protests that followed.

At the time, I was welcomed into people's homes and I was able to have the kind of intimate conversations that have become impossible during the pandemic, to see handshakes, high fives and hugs. Now, I'm grateful to have had that opportunity and I look forward to being able to do it again someday. I hope you enjoy this episode.


BELL (off camera): When I was a kid, all I know about Iran was hostages, hijack planes and Jimmy Carter looking like he wished he'd remained a peanut farmer in Georgia. As I grew up, not much changed. America always saw Iran as the enemy.


GEORGE W. BUSH, FORMER UNITED STATES PRESIDENT: States like these constitute an axis of evil.


BELL: And no matter how close we get to things looking like they have finally turned a corner with Iran once and for all --





BELL (off camera): They don't.


KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: United States is locked and loaded.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What (inaudible), son of a ...



BELL (off camera): New York City, I'm here because like so many immigrant communities, this is where many Iranian-Americans landed when they first came to the U.S. Most did not stay, making their way to California and suddenly in large numbers in Los Angeles. Roughly 20 percent of Iranian-Americans lived there, which has led some to adopt the nickname Tehrangeles.

But New York is the city where America's immigrant story is rooted and there are still large Iranian-American communities here not to be able to tell that though from talking to most New Yorkers.

BELL: Do you have any interaction with the Persian community of New York City, Iranian-American?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I love Persian food.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I have Persian food last week in the city.

BELL: Well, that's the way we get into new cultures, it's through the food.


BELL: So have you ever met a Persian?


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I don't think so.

BELL: (Inaudible)?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No. Never came across.

BELL (off camera): I guess, I could just walk around New York City hoping to run into some Iranian-Americans or I can turn to my friend, comedian Zahra Noorbakhsh.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Make some noise to Zar Norvash.

ZAHRA NOORBAKHSH, IRANIAN-AMERICAN COMEDIAN: I'd say Iranian people get scared by this. I like to have fun with it. I like to sit in the front row of nuclear physics classes.

BELL (off camera): You may remember Zar from her previous appearance here in United Shades to express her anxiety after Donald Trump was elected.

BELL: Have some sugar. That'll make you feel better.

BELL (off camera): And from everything that's happened since ...

BELL: See?

BELL (off camera): ... it's clear, she had a point.

NOORBAKHSH: Cheers to the end of the world.

BELL (off camera): She had all of the points.

NOORBAKHSH: And I guess I cry on TV.

BELL: Yes. How did that workout for you?

So now I feel like there's this moment of checking in. It's almost exactly three years later. It was pre Muslim ban.


BELL: Pre ban of Iranians. So it's like stuff that you were afraid of you were right to be afraid.

NOORBAKHSH: Yes, because in Iran like when regimes would come into power that we're not favoring progressive values, usually people didn't take them seriously.

And then all of a sudden they were having all these unreasonable people that you can't have a conversation with at all and what happened and wait a minute. You can't shrug it off.

BELL: Yes. When I met you, I didn't know there was a category people called Persian and I didn't know that those people were also Iranian. I thought Persian was like Aladdin, do you know what I mean? Like not a real - I didn't even think it was - I would (inaudible) ...

NOORBAKHSH: That's Hagrabah (ph).

BELL: Yes, sorry. I mean it's an ancient identity. It's an ancient culture but the names become really political. Do you say Persian or do you say Iranian? Persian sounds exotic from the Orient.

BELL: And Sumeria and Mesopotamia.

NOORBAKHSH: What's that?

BELL: Yes.

NOORBAKHSH: Sounds amazing, rugs and potions.

NOORBAKHSH: I get a lot of questions about who I am. This guy came up to me, what's a Persian, what's an Iranian, what is that, why do you have two things, I'm just one thing I'm just an asshole.

"I don't understand, one them is exotic, the other one just says what it is." "Why two names? I'm confused. Everyone is against me. Can I trust the CIA?" And then he ran for President. NOORBAKHSH: I never grew up really feeling like a Persian kid. I was

brown kid in an affluent white school representative of like everyone, always in speech and debate like I was the dissent.


And then I think when I went to college, I wanted to be Persian. I wanted to connect. And I joined the clubs and that's when I started doing comedy. My friend was like running the Iranian student cultural organizations talent show at UC Berkeley and he was like, just take all your stories about your dad and string them together into a routine.

I did and it totally killed it. It was the first time that I felt connected to my Persian community, but then I got a spot opening for like big Iranian comic and dead silence, scowls. The scowls I get for not white passing.

BELL: And that mean literally because you're not light enough or just the way you act in the world or both?



NOORBAKHSH: The darker you are, the more respectable you should behave. I understand like we are under a lot of scrutiny where we could be going to war. So that spotlight is real and it's scary and the weight of presenting.

But one of the things that has survived Iranians is that regardless of what the politics are, regardless of what Empire gets overthrown, what regime comes in, what (inaudible) they have, the culture stands, and people are about celebration. You dance, you drink, you cheer, you celebrate, call the holiday whatever you want to call it, we're gonna still celebrate and I really admire that about Persian culture.

BELL: So we're gonna spend some time in Long Island.


BELL: We'll meet some New York Persians. Is there a difference between New York Persians and California Persians, do you think?

NOORBAKHSH: I guess we'll find out.

BELL (off camera): Being an immigrant is hard. Being an immigrant to America is hard and then you add being an immigrant in New York City. Moving to New York is hard even if you're moving here from other parts of America.

Hell, I lived here for two years before New York said, you ain't about this life, take yourself back to the west coast, son. But Nasim Alikhani is tougher than me.

NASIM ALIKHANI: By the time I got here, I was 23 years old, '83 New York City was in a rough place. I did pretty much what every emigrant would do, you just put a survival gear on.

(Inaudible) is a big deal in Iran, guest and hospitality, gathering through food. People knock your door and they bring you an offering that was made with love. I was the first one to jump on a door.

So Sofreh means a lot of things for me; culture, tradition and all of that but it's all about community. And this is what I finally have made for myself here, that community.

BELL: Most of Persian food in America is kebabs and you want people to know there's more than just that.

ALIKHANI: Part of me was always questioning why nobody does our food in a real like authentic way. We have such a rich culture from north to south of Iran and the flavors, the kind of food they remain so close to my heart.

BELL (off camera): I was invited here by a couple of friends who love this place, because it connects into their good times in Iran.

JASON REZAIAN, AMERICAN-IRANIAN JOURNALIST: So the first reaction before I left was from all of my American friends who are like, "You want to do what? You're going to go where?"

BELL: Jason Rezaian, an Iranian-American decided to move to Iran and work as reporter for The Washington Post. He wrote about what life is like for everyday Iranians.

J REZAIAN: It's not a country of extremist people.

BELL: That's definitely not the image that the news ...

REZAIAN: Yes. I mean, these are people that have been through so much tumult in the last 40 years and actually in the last hundred years, never been in a place where I've seen more of an aversion and physical violence than I have in Iran.

BELL: Yeganeh Rezaian is an Iranian journalist who's living in Tehran when she and Jason met, fell in love and got married.

YEGANEH REZAIAN, WIFE OF JASON REZAIAN: I wanted people to know that it's a beautiful land. We have good people. We have good food. And the people are not very different from anywhere else.

BELL: Yes.

J REZAIAN: There's a lot of wonderful things about it that have been intact for hundreds of years and for me, I chose to live there with a plan to report from really ground level point of view. And I think, if we could undo everything, we'd probably still be living there.

Y REZAIAN: Absolutely, yes.

BELL: But they can't live there anymore. Back in 2014, Jason and Yegi were living a good happy life in Iran, when out of nowhere and with no evidence they were arrested on charges of espionage. Yegi spent just over two months in prison. Jason was imprisoned for 544 days. The arrest happened six weeks after they had filmed an episode of Parts Unknown with our mutual friend Anthony Bourdain.


BELL: Can we officially put to bed the rumor that swirls around the internet your appearance on that show had something to do ...

J REZAIAN: One thousand percent. I mean, if anything, our appearance on that show did more than anything else to help us. It was a game changer for us in a good way.

BELL: And I decided to rewatch that episode. This is sort of like, put myself in the frame of mind and to see and to also to reconnect with who you guys were then and just to see like this was the moment before everything changed.


BELL: And it must be a lot for you to have a record of that moment.

J REZAIAN: Yes, it's a lot. I mean, some nights when you're flipping through CNN and it comes on. We can watch it for a few minutes. Some nights we can't.

BELL: Yes.


J REZAIAN: But even in spite of that, this was this really interesting opening moment culturally in the country, Americans pouring in. I'm glad that we're part of that record.

BELL: Weird part of that record is that Iranian state television really mad that Jason got out, took his story, turned it into a TV show that actually made him into the spy that he never was. I think the Bourne Identity meets what the ...

J REZAIAN: Plenty of people watched that TV show and believe them. It's crazy. And only we know that because we were there.

They have me chained smoking and literally eating constantly. Like I'm putting something in my mouth constantly.

Y REZAIAN: I mean, they didn't show the fact that you lost 40 pounds in 40 days ...

BELL: Because that's what happens to people ...

J REZAIAN: Yes, when they go to prison.

BELL: ... when they go to prison, especially in an Iranian prison.

J REZAIAN: Yes, exactly.

BELL: The food is so good. J REZAIAN: So good. It's so good.

BELL: Yes.

J REZAIAN: It's like this.

BELL: And is this Ghormeh Sabzi?


Y REZAIAN: That's Ghormeh Sabzi.

BELL: Why do you think they let you out, ultimately? Was it just the pressure? Was is it just you're a more trouble than your worth?

J REZAIAN: No. No. I mean, it was very much a negotiated settlement between the U.S. and Iran at a very precise moment. When the nuclear deal was coming to fruition, I credit my family, my employers and Tony really for raising the awareness to a level that it couldn't be ignored.

BELL: Do you think you'll be able to go back at some point just to visit?

Y REZAIAN: Of course, I want to go back. At least send my ashes when I die. I hope things change for the better in a way that everyone can travel.




CROWD: Amen.

BELL: That's right, American. There are Iranian-Americans who are Jewish. I'll hold for you to take that in. And like Jewish people everywhere, Friday nights are all about Shabbat dinner. And like all big family dinners, it is time to connect with your traditions and customs, eat your people's food and, of course, make fun of the new guy.

CROWD: Amen.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We have to start over because his yarmulke fell.

BELL: My Afro is not ...

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yarmulke friendly.

BELL: Yes, I didn't want to say that. I'm glad you say that, I didn't want to ...

BELL (off camera): Time for some more of that sweet, sweet Iranian hospitality, the Jewish tradition.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So to everyone, to all family, friends and guests, salamati.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: L'chaim. Salamati.

BELL: Again, thank you for having me.

BELL (off camera): Sen. Anna Kaplan was part of the 2018 Democratic blueway. She did her flipping in the New York State Senate and she did it all while being the first ever Jewish-Iranian American to be a New York State Senator.

SEN. ANNA KAPLAN (D-NY): I was that Jewish political refugee who came to this country at age 13. As Jews, we never voted in Iraq. We didn't really have a say. So there isn't today that I don't feel blessed to do what I do.

BELL: I didn't realize there was such a large population of Iranian- Jews.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: But if you compare that to the Muslim of Iran, we're just 0.1 percent.

BELL: At one point in history, there were an estimated 150,000 Jewish people living in Iran. The Revolution and the creation of the Islamic state changed all that in an instant.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And mom and my sister actually escaped in the trunk of a car.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes. As it went, it got worse.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Knowing that if they get caught, they will kill them.

BELL (off camera): Iranian Jews fled in vast numbers. Many ended up here in Long Island, specifically Great Neck.

BELL: So tell me about Great Neck. You said it's an insular community.

KAPLAN: It's actually quite diverse. We have the Ashkenazi Jews. We have the supportive Jews.

BELL: The reformed Jews.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That's 12 categories within that category.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (Inaudible) ...


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Great Neck and Beverly Hills, if you're outside of those places ... KAPLAN: The reason everybody moves to Great Neck because Great Neck

has always been known as a community that welcomes everyone.

BELL: I'm excited to know that America welcomed you all in, but it's not the same now.


KAPLAN: That was really one of the reasons I ran. I want to make sure that I can do whatever I can in my power that the opportunities that have been available to me be available to others.

BELL (off camera): Ironically, Anna's road to the Senate was met with some serious resistance from within her own community. See, here's where it gets complicated. Many of her fellow Jewish Iranian-Americans are Republicans and I don't mean compassionate conservatives, I'm talking full on MAGA.

KAPLAN: I stand on shoulder up so many other immigrants, so many women who have done all of their part for me to come in and to be able to run for office and to win and I need to do for the generations to come. I really try to do right by everyone.

BELL: What do you like about living here in Great Neck.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Usually they envy each other.



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Anybody who needs help, everybody (inaudible) ...

BELL: He's trying to tell me the real story, you're trying to clean it up.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He's always trying to (inaudible) ...


BELL: We got the politician over here. So I take you all have been here before.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We come here three times a month on Saturday mornings. It's usually 10, 11 of us.

BELL: Oh, wow, so this is the starting lineup.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: it started with this guy right here. He's been coming here, we were in synagogue and he told me, I just went to (inaudible) I just had have a cup of tea. And I told him, OK, let's do it next week together. And then this guy came and that guy came and that guy came.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The coffee and the cake is the best in the best in town.

BELL: Yes.


BELL: What was it like to come here as an immigrant from Iran?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: My older brother was here already and I got here. Six o'clock in the morning he wakes me up. Let's go. So he takes me to a pizzeria and they tell him you gotta clean off the tables and wash the floors, $2.75 an hour.

I counted all of my hours that week. The paycheck comes, it's not the amount that I want. So I tell the guy, what's going on. I've worked so many hours. He tells me Uncle Sam. I said, who the hell is Uncle Sam.

All of us, we all start as busboys and waiters when we came here and we worked our way up. We then go to school how to business.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: America is a land of opportunity, truly is that.

BELL: Right now in America there's a lot of talk of like from the southern border people coming in claiming asylum, people coming in trying to find a better life, what do you think when you hear those stories?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think they should come legally to United States like all of us have and look for opportunity and not just walk in. Would you let somebody walk into your house?

BELL: I mean, if somebody came to my house and said, I need help, which legally you're allowed to cross any border if you're asking for asylum ...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No, but like they came because of not political and life threatening situations. These people are coming for economic reason.

BELL: I mean, some are having to get out of (inaudible) ...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I mean, can I just let everybody ...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do you know how many people (inaudible) ...

BELL: I mean, I think all of the studies that I've read say that like immigrants open more businesses, they create jobs.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Like (inaudible) like we did.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Timing is different now. Before when I came to this country, they didn't need to check that much about my background. But today I think if I can, they have to check my background.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: When we came here, America didn't have any enemy. There was no so much terrorists. You cannot compare ...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is a good point.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: ... four years ago or 50 years ago to now.

BELL: So before we wrap this up, I'm just gonna say one word and then step back.


BELL: Trump.



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He's been good for Israel.

BELL: So number one is Israel.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Number one is Israel. Number two, he's not a politician.

BELL: For sure.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He's like a smart boy in the classroom. And this smart boy makes a lot of noise, but he is smart and he does the job. Unfortunately, from my point of view, the President is exactly opposite of what I've been teaching my son in most of the things that I believe that every person in life should be.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Is he coming next week?

BELL: Mean you will have our own table, we'll be over here.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Give us one example that something that Trump did that is wrong.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Come on, you can go now.

BELL: All right, guys. I'm glad I broke up the 20-year party. My job here is done.



BELL (off camera): Before we get too far into this, I think it's important to have a brief history lesson about the tumultuous relationship between the U.S. and Iran.

Let's start with what many Iranians feels the original sin. Nope, not that one. In 1953, the U.S. and Britain helped restore the monarchy of Shah Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi by ousting the country's democratically elected Prime Minister, Mohammad Mosaddegh after he nationalized the country's oil industry. In 1957, the U.S. helped start Iran's nuclear program. Yep, we did

that. 1979, an anti shah revolution is co opted by Islamism and the U.S.-backed Shah (inaudible) is ousted. Two weeks later, Islamic religious Leader Ayatollah Khomeini returned from exile and the Islamic Republic of Iran is proclaimed.

Meanwhile, the Shah is having a hard time finding a country that will let him stay because Iranian protesters were demanding his return. President Jimmy Carter reluctantly grants him entry into the U.S. Protesters back in Iran, not very happy.

A month later, students stormed the U.S. Embassy in Iran and take 66 Americans captive. In Boston, a kid named Ben (ph) gets an idea for a movie. After a failed rescue mission and 444 days in captivity, they were fried in January 1981. The day of President Ronald Reagan's inauguration, total coinkydink, and things have never really changed that much, except to occasionally like now get worse.

For more on this, I turned to some folks who were there and when I say there, I mean there.

JOHN LIMBERT, FORMER DEPUTY ASSISTANT SECRETARY OF STATE: The State Department asked for volunteers to go work in Iran and I rather foolishly ignored the very good advice of my military colleagues, which is never volunteer for anything.

BELL (off camera): John Limbert was the Deputy Assistant Secretary of State in Iran in 1979 and was one of the 66 hostages taken when the protesters stormed the embassy.

BELL: So what do you remember about that first day when you're taken hostage?

LIMBERT: Well, I think almost every prisoner goes through the same stages. And the first thing is, oh, this is all a mistake. I'll be out of here very soon. Somebody will come and fix this. The adults in the room will get there and I'm going to have some good stories to tell. That, of course, dissipates over time.

BELL (off camera): His wife, Parvaneh, also worked in foreign service, but was not at the embassy at the time.

PARVANEH LIMBERT, WORKED IN FOREIGN SERVICE: I was, myself, in Jeddah. I was working at American embassy.

I was in consular work and I had both children was very difficult, very difficult, but of course worried for him and he didn't know what is going on.


J. LIMBERT: There were mock executions designed to who knows what, but to frighten us and they certainly did. People talk now a lot about solitary as a form of mistreatment.

BELL: Yes. No, it's certainly a human rights violation. J. LIMBERT: I can certainly testify to that. Part of the worst was the

uncertainty. We didn't have a sentence to serve, it could have lasted one more day, it could have lasted one more year or we just didn't know.

BELL: So when I was doing research and watching interviews with you, I heard a phrase come up more than once.

J. LIMBERT: Cutting off the head with cotton.

BELL: That's what it is, cutting off the head with cotton.

J. LIMBERT: That's right.

BELL: Talk about what that phrase means.

J. LIMBERT: A person is full of phrases like that, doing things by indirection, making your point in a way that doesn't confront directly that makes the point very strong. So the person whose head is cut off never knows. Until his (inaudible) do I have that right? Do I have that right?

P. LIMBERT: Yes, that's right.

BELL: At some point you met with Ayatollah.

J. LIMBERT: Well, I met with the current Supreme Leader ...


J. LIMBERT: ... Ali Khamenei. He was not an Ayatollah at the time but he was the Friday prayer leader of Tehran, which is a responsible position. He's a few years older than I was and he came to visit us. In Iran, a guest and host have very specific roles and very specific obligations. You don't have to like them, but you cannot mistreat them.

And so I took on the role of host and he took on the role of guest, almost without thinking about it. This gets back to cutting off the head with cotton because I said, look, I know Iranians are very hospitable people and they don't want their guests to leave. But what you have done to us goes far beyond hospitality and has become annoying, because we have been here long enough and it's time for us to leave.

You have violated your own deepest national codes, so let me show you how it's done.

BELL: Wow. As he walked out of the room holding his own head covered in cotton, how did that happen?

J. LIMBERT: I mean, sure it's tempting, call them names.

BELL: Yes, of course.

J. LIMBERT: Yell at him. BELL: Yes.

J. LIMBERT: But there was no point in that. I'd like to think that by doing this I'm practicing our profession, which is diplomacy.

P. LIMBERT: During the President Obama, it was getting close but ...

BELL: It was a nuclear deal, a part of that ...


BELL: ... so that's like, yes, getting close.

P. LIMBERT: The nuclear deal was about that.

J. LIMBERT: Unfortunately, that's out of favor these days, it's out of favor these days.

BELL: And it's not just on their side, it's out of - yes.

J. LIMBERT: No, no, it's out of favor on both sides.

P. LIMBERT: That started the relations, not shouted each other, not insult each other. Don't say we threw bomb on the county, that's worse thing they want to do, throwing bomb, kills who? Innocent people.

BELL: Yes. And the thing that I think that Americans don't hear enough about is that people of Iran who are suffering.


BELL: We think about sanctions against the country. We're not hurting the people at the top of the country.

P. LIMBERT: Yes, there's that people, poor people.

BELL: Yes.

P. LIMBERT: They're really suffering.




UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Take out your notebooks.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Pretty good. Pretty good. (Inaudible) who wants to start? Oh, OK, we're goignt o start here and then go around again, so you.

BELL (off camera): Immigrant communities always figure out ways to stay connected to their culture. In New York City, the Ferdowsi School is where Iranian families bring their kids learn about art tradition and most importantly, the Persian language. UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Just say your name.

BELL: Manhuban (ph) ...

BELL (off camera): Meet sisters Pardis (ph) and Saba Marzad (ph), first generation Iranian-American high schoolers living the idyllic suburban life in Long Island, New York. Both attended Farsi School and now both are teaching here.

BELL: It's a lot of pressure.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Can you say (inaudible) ...


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: She wants to translate it.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: (Inaudible) joke.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Oh, I have to say a joke?


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: OK, I get it. (Inaudible) OK, what do you call a cool mushroom?



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I understand it, I don't think it's funny.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You know what? Kamau knows more jokes than me.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I have a joke. I have a good joke.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: My Farsi school started at 10 am, two and a half hour drive every Saturday. My dad would pack us our breakfast lunch and dinner.

BELL: Oh, my god. And how long was school?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It was from 10 to 2 pm.





BELL: So (inaudible) the whole day is gone.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The whole day, yes. But it was like the only time that I actually felt like whole.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes, I agree. People that we met there still stay with us today.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes, those are all like even if I saw them again today, they would still be all my best friends.


BELL: Talk about your teaching Farsi to children, how you two decided to do that?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: When I was in Farsi school, like the 15, 16-year- olds and I think that they're so big and I always wanted to be like them, and that they knew so much about Farsi. It'd be a really cool experience for me to come, give back to the same kids that like me when I was younger.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes. It's like using what we know and our mistakes that we've encountered from Farsi school to benefit them.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Good, (inaudible) ...




BELL: Farsi, yes.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You got to try. It just gets harder in your 30s.

BELL: Did you ever as a kid not want to come?



UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: My favorite TV show was the same time as Farsi school and we were crying and just like, we don't want to go, we don't want to do it.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes. I want to go and play outside.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Your hair is so soft.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: (Inaudible) how does this happen (inaudible) ...

BELL (off camera): This is adorable and hilarious, because every adult in the room was freaking out.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Guys, stop touching his hair, please.

BELL: Just kidding.

BELL (off camera): Don't be confused, when you see me out in the streets, you are not allowed to do this.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'm always happy when I leave, maybe tired, but always happy.

BELL: Yes, it's a lot in here (inaudible) ...

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I think also it can be a really fun time to be with little kids and now I walk in, they give me hugs.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You look like somebody from a TV show.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You look like Elsa.




UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: When I was growing up, there was a lot of like pressure to, say, I'm white, I'm white, I'm white and present that way and not distinguish myself.

BELL: How do you identify your race when you fill out one of those forms?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'm white like (inaudible) ...

BELL: I don't want to judge.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'm definitely white like super pale, but I just feel like identifying as white doesn't take into account the rich culture that we have.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: How do you put like Western European in this ...

BELL (off camera): It's a very specific style of whiteness.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes. In the same category as Middle Eastern like (inaudible) ...

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: When people think white, they think of like, oh, the settlers that moved here like hundreds of years ago.

BELL: Yes, British white.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: British white, but like ...

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The history is different. The culture is different.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The language is different.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The values are different, characterizing oneself as white and having many, many countries be in that one place. I just don't think that's right or just ... UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes. It just doesn't seem to represent me as a

person or even just a facet.

BELL: I mean, America's racial categorization is nonsense and the line was ...

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It doesn't mean anything.


BELL: It doesn't mean anything and also the line simply moves around people from the Middle East and when we think Middle Eastern person or somebody (inaudible) you have brown skin person and (inaudible) it's not even a solid line even if you're from that area of the world, so ...

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I didn't know that I wasn't until you told me.

BELL: I don't think I told you, you weren't white. I think I was just surprised when you sort of identified it, I was like, oh, really, OK.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: All of these instances where people were horrible to me that I just thought it was just me.

BELL (off camera): Yes.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I was like, that was racist. It's not just me.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: As Iranian Americans, we're not like the traditional American kids at school and we're not traditionally Iranian parents that were born in Iran to have people that also went through that with you. It kind of makes you stronger and feel like you have support.



ARGHAVAN KHOSRAVI, ARTIST: In Iran, there's always like this policeman in your head that you shouldn't say everything or there are these boundaries. Behind Iranian literature and poetry, the symbolism and the use of metaphor and things like that is a great set of tools that you express yourself that look like you're missing that boundary.

Sometimes boundaries are necessary, but at the service of whom or what's the purpose. I don't want to admire censorship and things like that. But if you're an artist and you're creative, you always find a way.

I want the audience to spend more time with each work.

BELL: Yes.

KHOSRAVI: And try to find out what's going on. BELL (off camera): Arghavan Khosravi is an artist from Tehran who came

to the U.S. five years ago for grad school with dreams of becoming a painter. And now the new (inaudible) art gallery. The dream is a reality.

BELL: Is that a bullet. Yes, so I saw the shoes across but I did not see the bullet across, these little things that from far away you just go, what a pretty picture (inaudible) like, oh, wait, I think this picture wants me to think about things. It seems like it features a lot of women or young girls.

KHOSRAVI: Yes. Almost in every painting because I'm thinking about myself and people from my generation in Iran and I'm thinking about women issues and - but I don't want to be too direct or loud and I want to have a more subtler approach.

BELL: And why is that?

KHOSRAVI: When you're born under a system that dictates some boundaries, then you find a symbolic way to express your ideas, so there's always room to say, oh, I didn't mean that (inaudible) ...

BELL: I mean, it's similar to black Americans wrote negro spirituals that were about, oftentimes, about escaping slavery, but they just sounded like you were talking about a chariot.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes. Yes. Yes, exactly.

BELL: (Inaudible) just thinking about a chariot.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes. But now that I'm here, I mean, I've decided to have this sort of approach, now that I have to ...

BELL: I've talked to a lot of Iranian immigrants this week who basically have been there for some 40 years or more.



BELL: And still hold fast to their culture, their values but don't really have the same relation with the country, the country sort of exists far away.


BELL: You don't want that to happen to you.

KHOSRAVI: No. I don't want to be like an artist in exile or I don't want to get disconnected from that. I want to visit my family.

BELL: (Inaudible), yes. (Inaudible) we all want to or we all want the right to.

BELL (off camera): Being disconnected from the ones they love has become real life for so many Iranian Americans. Take it from our friends who are living it.

Y REZAIAN: People can't see their twin pair.

J REZAIAN: Or siblings.

Y REZAIAN: Or their siblings. No one deserves to be banned from going from where he or she belongs. It's so heartbreaking. Iranians don't want to be through hardships, no one wants to go through sanctions.

BELL: I sat down with a bunch of Iranian-American businessmen who are all - most of them were immigrants after the revolution (inaudible) before who are hardcore Trump supporters.

Y REZAIAN: Oh, wow.

BELL: Yes. One of them said, in America, it's the land of opportunity and if you work hard, you can get everything you want.

J REZAIAN: I think these people who are supportive of Trump where they're supportive of sanctions in general, more than likely they don't have a lot of loved ones back in Iran. It's an interesting dichotomy, because they want to maintain their culture, at the same time they want to be seen as assimilated by this culture.

BELL: Yes.


BELL: Yes.

J REZAIAN: It's kind of hard to have both, Iranians for a time, especially when the biggest wave came after the revolution in 1979. It wasn't like there wasn't a backlash against Iranians, it was a big one, right?

BELL: Yes.

J REZAIAN: But even in spite of that, people got educated, started business, they went into the sciences, law, accounting. One thing they didn't do is really get into politics.

Y REZAIAN: I think because of the revolution, I mean, everyone was somehow hurt by the revolution, especially those who left so they did not want their children to get involved in the policy.

J REZAIAN: Yes. But as we found out pretty quickly, it'll come knocking on your door whether you like it or not.



ARYA GHAVAMIAN: Disco Tehran started in my kitchen over this stew called Ghormeh Sabzi. When I moved to United States, I kind of lost interest in my own culture that I stopped cooking Iranian food, I stopped celebrating (inaudible). I just had completely stopped. UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Why?

GHAVAMIAN: Because I lived by myself and I didn't have anybody else that I didn't have a community of sorts. The notion of cooking for each other and showing love in that way, celebrating this essence of being together, especially with music. this is like therapy sessions for me.

BELL (off camera): Arya Ghavamian fled Iran 10 years ago. After a few years in New York, he started Disco Tehran with his friend Mani Nilchiani. More than a party, Disco Tehran is a celebration of the free and open spirit of pre revolution Iran.

This is a very specific style of Persian that you're trying to conjure up. It's not like what's going on in 2019 in Iran.

MANI NILCHIANI: Our parents had a public nightlife 60s and 70s that we keep hearing about. We've seen pictures and artifacts from but never had. So we're like, what if we take that as an ingredient and pick up where we left off with the understanding that it's happening in a contemporary moment in New York City.

GHAVAMIAN: So we started inviting friends over, people that we would meet on the street like artists and musicians.

BELL: So not just Persians.



GHAVAMIAN: Not at all. Iran is like situated in the heart of the Silk Road, so we were since the beginning a melting pot of everything. Towards the end of the night, we would throw in Iranian pop music, like really romantic like lush pop songs. And I saw this one couple who were like making a super into it, they were not Iranian and that was so amazing.

I felt so high. It just resonates with people.

BELL: And it just - it stood up and ...

GHAVAMIAN: Very much, so that's like kind of saved my life.

BELL: Yes. I think that's an important moment, because even people who were born and raised in this country don't feel seen by this country. It's one thing for your culture to support it, but to see people outside of your culture get it, it's a big deal. It's a big deal.

GHAVAMIAN: And we experience each other in the mirror of the other, right? That mirror did not exist and in a way Disco Tehran is that mirror for us to experience each other.

Y REZAIAN: We always say we are proud of the past. We have to make our present, our current days more important to be proud of. BELL: Persians grow up thinking that America is like this random

opportunity and place to go succeeda and there's a connection there that I think most people don't realize. Iranians actually like America as a people and idealize America.

J. LIMBERT: Well, well look at the Iranian American community here, doctors, computer engineers, musicians, filmmakers, entrepreneurs, lawyers.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We do talk Persian all of the time. We always sit around, joke and listen to Persian music.


We're going to tell to our kids, don't forget it. Try to keep it alive.