I came to America when I was two years old. My parents escaped from Iran a few years after the revolution of 1979; my father fled the front lines of war on horseback, while my mother made her getaway with a needy toddler and a fake passport. They left everything behind, and were armed with nothing other than hope for a better life. It took me a long time to appreciate the risks they took, but it ended up becoming the determining factor on my path of entrepreneurial success.
Growing up, I felt lost. Like I didn’t belong. I was relentlessly ridiculed for looking different, talking different, eating different food, and engaging in different customs from my peers. I let all this translate into resentment. Resentment towards my culture, my people, and my parents.
But when I was 25, I visited Tehran for the first time, and something within me changed. For the first time, I clearly saw what my life would have been like had my parents not taken that risk. Poverty was omnipresent. Opportunity was non-existent. Educated, hard working professionals were barely scraping by. Even the youth had nothing to look forward to. Their faces all shared the same expression -- hopelessness. I would only see a small glimmer of hope in their eyes when they spoke of America, and how different their lives would be if they could live there.
That's when it hit me.
My parents risked everything because of hope. Hope for opportunity. Hope in the American Dream. Hope for their children. The risk they took is unparalleled to any risk I’ll ever have to face as an entrepreneur in America, and I felt so ashamed that I had allowed ignorant remarks shape my life and translate into resentment, especially towards them. The very thing that I viewed as a disadvantage growing up as a foreigner, which I let cripple me with fear and insecurity throughout my childhood and teenage years, was now my biggest blessing. My perception shifter, and it transformed into pride, a strong will, and an unrelenting ambition to succeed. My culture is unique and beautiful, and so am I, and I am grateful to have the opportunity to become anything I choose. My entrepreneurial instinct kicked into overdrive.
The first startup I co-founded was an absolute and utter failure, and it was very difficult to bounce back from. But again, perception is key, and failure inevitable. I wasn’t going to give up. My parents didn’t give up when their Visas were initially rejected; they kept pushing. So I kept pushing.
In 2010, my co-founder and I opened Coloft, the first shared workspace and community for entrepreneurs and technology startups in Santa Monica, CA. Today, it’s become a pillar in the community, and has played an instrumental role in shaping the Los Angeles tech ecosystem. I’m grateful to be able to help others achieve their American dream, and to be a part of their journey.
I’m also a proud, single mom to two-year-old twin boys. They are learning both English and Farsi, and I plan on taking them to Iran in the near future. I’m hoping they will understand and appreciate not only the beauty of their culture, but also the risk their grandparents made.
Immigration reform will allow more people to have a chance at hope, and to deprive that chance is not only unfair, but un-American.