JACKI LYDEN, host:
The revolution's 30th anniversary has many Iranian-Americans looking back. Here's the story of one of them, a student-revolutionary who ended up in the U.S. teaching about Iran.
Dr. AFSHIN MATIN-ASGARI (History, California State University, Los Angeles): My name is Afshin Matin-Asgari, and I am a professor of history at California State University, Los Angeles.
(Soundbite of classroom lecture by Dr. Matin-Asgari)
I'm going to go back and give you some kind of a background on Iran and Afghanistan and Iraq because they're related.
Dr. MATIN-ASGARI: I was born in Tehran, I would say, in a middle-class family, Muslim, but I was not raised religious. The Shah to us was a despot. There was a secret police. Everyone knew about that. I wanted to leave Iran and go to the U.S. and specifically, come to Los Angeles.
The first week that I arrived in Los Angeles, I regularly attended student opposition meetings. In the fall of 1978, I realized that, well, if I am interested and revolution is happening, instead of studying it, I might as well just drop all of these courses and go back to Iran and join it. So, I went back and just jumped into the street protests and that was December, 1978. And the Shah fell within two months.
In those protests, there was a clear attempt to silence people who did not agree with what was kind of becoming an Islamic movement led by Khomeini. If you say something different, it means you are weakening the movement and so, you are a secret pro-Shah sympathizer. This is black and white. You're either with us under this one leadership, or you're on the other side.
And universities in Iran were closed, so I decided to come back to Los Angeles to at least have a degree and then go back to Iran. My fellow student activists who were pro-government had reported me, and they told me they had reported me. You dared speak against the revolution so, you know, go back to Iran and see what happens to you.
I had friends who went to prison, who died or executed. These were also people who had been opposed to the Shah, but were also opposed to the new regime, and they paid for it.
I could see that, basically, my side of this revolution had already lost, so I did not go back. And I didn't go back for 18 years.
Those of us who were kind of mesmerized by the idea of the romance of revolution soon learned that it's much more painful and costly. When I went back after 18 years, my brother, who was seven when I left, was getting married, so it was really like a - extremely moving experience. But then after that I've been going back every year. Eventually, became U.S. citizen also, and I chose to study Iranian history to be able to be in a profession where what I do is related to who I am.
LYDEN: Afshin Matin-Asgari's story was produced by NPR's Amy Walters. You can hear the stories of other Iranian-Americans who got out on our Web site, npr.org.
Tomorrow, on Morning Edition, host Steve Inskeep reports on a book that the Iranian revolutionaries frowned on but could never suppress.
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