Reflections on Paris, Obama, and the Protests in Iran

By Ariel Rosen

My year abroad in the City of Lights and the violent aftermath of the election in Iran. At first glance, these two events may not seem to have much in common. But listening to the June 30th podcast from NPR: Talk of the Nation, Iranian Americans watch Tehran from Afar, you’ll see how they just might be related.

On the show, guests Tara Bahrampour (author of the memoir To See and See Again) and Trita Parsi discuss with host Neil Cohen the implications of the election for Iranian Americans. Iran’s evolving image has redirected conversations from the nuclear-centric to the personal. Instead of worrying about arms programs, people now talk about the bravery of anonymous protesters. This implies that Americans have gained a more sympathetic view of Iranians that permits them to relate to a people whose seemingly divergent values previously separated them.

The podcast also addresses how this change in perception mirrors Iranian Americans’ newly shaped self-image. Whereas before Iranians had many reasons to be proud of their heritage and to express this pride amongst themselves, they can now do the same in front of non-Iranians, thanks to the recent outpouring of support from the international community.

The link between my year studying in Paris and the protests in Iran? The way I see it, the events surrounding Iran’s election did for the Iranian American community what Obama’s candidacy and victory did for the American reputation in France: catalyzed empathy and support where before there wasn’t much of which to speak.

Upon my arrival at the Porte Maillot bus station in Paris mid-September, the first sight to greet me (even before my impossibly blond host family came to collect “their American”) was Obama’s smilingly confident face decorating a bus stop. That image set the tone for the months leading up to the presidential election in the States – Barack was everywhere, on billboards and tongue tips. The first thing the French wanted to know was who I would be voting for and as soon as the magic syllables were out of my mouth, a rare smile would crack the Parisian façade and a sincere enthusiasm bubbled through.

During this past year, a pride in my American heritage installed itself in my identity, fed by French support of my new president that struck me by a novelty equal to that of my nascent patriotism.

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