As the media continues to shine the spotlight on Trump’s circus-carnival-barking, it overlooks the stories of another side of America: the side of America that celebrates our successful interweaving of immigrant cultures, the great American patchwork that has made our land a beacon to those fleeing oppression and poverty since our nation’s dawn. Equally overlooked are the many contributions that immigrants give back to us: their sweat, their sacrifice, their talents.
I invite those who would be seduced by Trump’s ugly myths to remember that we all hail from a multi-layered ancestry, the pull-yourself-up-by-your-bootstraps American Dream that is the lore of every US children’s textbook.
Nima S.* is an eight-year-old Iranian-American who still believes in that dream—so much so that he attempted to donate his entire life savings to President Obama, in the name of peace.
According to Nima’s mother, Firouzeh B.*, when her only son learned that President Obama would be fundraising in San Francisco, he announced that he wanted to give his shoebox filled with $1,513 dollars to support President Obama’s Iran-US peace deal.
Since he was four, Nima had been saving the allowance money he received in gifts for the Persian New Year, Christmas, and his birthdays. By October 2015, eight-year-old Nima’s savings added up to over a thousand dollars, which he doggedly refused to spend on toys or gifts.
Following his parents’ separation, Nima told his mother that he would save the money to buy a dog for himself and a home for the two of them, something she could not afford on a single parent’s salary.
After getting to know his sixteen cousins and extended family in Iran last summer, the peace deal between the US and Iran became personal for Nima. The photos of the Syrian refugees fleeing the war felt like something that could befall his own cousins, if the fragile peace between the US and Iran should fail.
Nima’s mother fled Iran in 1984 during the Iran/Iraq war amidst the Khomeini Regime’s repressive reign. She was eighteen, on a student visa, with only $500 to her name. She worked her way up from clerk at a video store in Boston to manager of an elite beauty salon in San Francisco.
Although Firouzeh was born Muslim, she and her son are secular. Nima thinks of himself more as a Buddhist these days. “And anyhow,” says Firouzeh, “that’s not the point of his story, no? What does it matter what religion he is?”
Firouzeh was concerned that her son did not understand the gravity of giving away so much money. “I told him why don’t you keep some of the money and buy yourself some toys?” He said, “Mommy, the toys are cheap, anyway—they break! This money is nothing compared to the peace.”
Inside the shoebox Nima tucked his six-page letter, a drawing of fleeing Syrians refugees, and the pile of cash. On top of his shoebox Nima wrote, in the words of Forest Gump, “Life is like a box of chocolates, you never know what you’re going to get.”
Tom Klein, the manager of the Fairmont Hotel, a friend of Firouzeh’s, delivered the shoebox to the President during his stay there. Afterward, Klein recounted that Obama had appeared quite touched, but had refused to take the money. He did take the shoebox and requested Nima’s address so he might write a thank you note. According to Firouzeh, “ [President Obama said] Nima is the youngest philanthropist [he’s encountered], but he wants him to continue saving his money for other good causes in the future.”
Nima is a first generation American immigrant, a young boy whose heroes are John F. Kennedy and Luke Skywalker. He speaks fluent Farsi and English, and he can recount all the plots of every Star Wars. In his letter he wrote, “The only war that is cool is Star Wars…I think you Mr. President are a true Jedi. I am a Jedi, too. May the force be with you.”
*Last names have been withheld in order to protect the privacy of those involved.