Watching a violent mob storm the Capitol in January, I wept — not just at the assault on American democracy, but at the memories it brought flooding back.
I was awash in memories of being an 11-year-old girl in a classroom on the day the Iranian Revolution broke out, hearing a roar of sound, and running outside into a sea of people in the streets — screaming, shooting, even throwing acid.
My dad was a Congressman in Iran before the Revolution. We left in search of safety — literally running for our lives — first to France and then to the United States. I left our life in Iran with only what I could fit into a hastily packed backpack. We’d been well-off in Iran, but now we were starting over.
My dad worked long hours to build various businesses while my mom stayed home with my brother and me. As kids we worked summer jobs to help the family, and studied hard to make the most of our American opportunity.
I grew up loving America not just for the freedom and safety it gave me, but for the warm and tolerant welcome I received in our new community. In 1991, at the age of 25, I proudly took my oath of US citizenship. It was a true homecoming; at last I could officially commit myself to the nation I loved. I was and am a patriotic American.
I built a career in the American justice system after earning my law degree. As an attorney, volunteer, and community activist I have been blessed to give back to this country and community that has given me so much. I’ve supported local nonprofits — including Every Texan, Big Hearted Texas — the bipartisan community organization I founded in 2016 — and our city’s health, arts, educational, and cultural institutions. I got involved in politics, too, supporting Beto O’Rourke’s Senate race and dozens of down-ballot races, and fighting to give everyone a voice at the table.
Last fall I had the honor of running for Congress here in Houston. Though I didn’t win, the experience was powerful. As an Iranian-American with a funny name, running in a gerrymandered district in the heart of a red state, the votes I received felt like 140,000 reminders of why American democracy is so sacred.
In the 32 years I’ve lived in Houston, I’ve seen our city’s diversity and strength grow hand-in-hand. According to New American Economy, our metro area is home to more than 1.6 million immigrants who collectively pay $14.6 billion in taxes and run over 134,000 local businesses. Statewide, immigrants account for a quarter of our workforce in science, technology, and engineering-related fields, and also one in five of our nurses.
President Biden has introduced legislation that would help immigrants make even greater contributions to cities like Houston. He would give our hardest working undocumented immigrants, including law-abiding Dreamers and essential workers, a pathway to citizenship. He is seeking more humane ways to secure our borders, so we never re-enact the barbarism of tearing children away from their parents. And he is restoring our country’s battered refugee and asylum system, giving families a chance to flee bloodshed and totalitarianism just as mine once did.
That’s music to my ears. I saw my birth country torn apart by sectarian violence. It’s why I’ve grown up passionately committed to the American motto: e pluribus unum — out of many, one. I believe diversity makes us stronger, and that welcoming immigrants not only strengthens our economy but, in a broader sense, reaffirms our commitment to the American dream of opportunity and equality under God.
There is plenty of room for all of us under the big tent of our nation — as there is under the big sky of our great state. Chatting with my staunchly Republican friends and neighbors gives me hope, because I know that when we turn off Fox News and MSNBC and actually listen to one another, we have far more in common than we might think. I know that despite the demonization of immigrants by Washington politicians over the past four years, most people in Texas are incredibly generous and welcoming to their foreign-born neighbors. The welcome I received when I came here as a child bears testament to that.
That’s why I hope Texans of all political persuasions will give Biden’s immigration plan a fair shake. After the horrors of Jan. 6th, we have a new chance to decide what we want our future to look like. Let’s choose to turn away from divisiveness. Let’s recommit to the tolerance and broadmindedness that truly defines our national character.
Sima Ladjevardian was the 2020 Democratic candidate for Congress in TX-02