NAME: FARID

OCCUPATION: Brand Designer, Zendesk

Origin: Born in Iran, Grew up in Sweden

Years in the us: 7

Can you tell me your name and where you're originally from?

My name is Farid Safaie. I was born in Iran in 1982, and I moved to Sweden 1989.

I'm half-Norwegian!

So I read.

Yeah. Do you have any Scandinavian in your blood?

No.

You look like you could be related to me.

People in northern Iran are actually blonde, so it's really funny you say that.

Can you tell me a bit about where you work and what you do for a living?

I'm a brand designer at Zendesk, which is a customer service startup type of thing. I just recently started there after five years in the advertising world.

Tell me a bit about your path from Sweden to America and eventually to Silicon Valley.

I moved here to study advertising here in SF, and in my last semester I got picked up by this agency called Teak in town, super nice people, super talented. When you graduate, you're allowed to study a year without work visa, and they took me on. After that, they tried to apply to H-1B for me. Their HR wasn't very good at that point. The new one is great. They missed the application date by four months, so I had to go back for a year and a half in Sweden.

Before that, I met the girl that would become my wife, so we kept long distance throughout that time. They applied the next year and we got it, so I moved back and started working there again, but after five years you hit a plateau. You want to do something new.

One of the art directors at Zendesk was a friend of a friend, and we met up — What I wanted was advice on how to apply for jobs in the city because Teak was my first job and I never really applied for jobs here. We met over coffee and we talked, and she was like, "Hey, we've got an opening. Do you want to apply?" so I applied and ...

The rest is history.

Yeah, pretty much.

Generally how has your experience been living and working here?  What has been great, what has been challenging?

It's always hard to get apartments when you're a foreigner. I had to cough up eight months' deposit first time I applied for an apartment on my own ... not eight months' deposit, but eight months' rent ahead of time, which was a lot of money.

I don't know. I grew up in Sweden, and I speak fluent Swedish. When I speak Swedish, you can't tell a lot of accent in me, but there's always this feeling of, for Swedes, I'm not entirely Swedish. It's this weird combination where, for immigrants, I'm not entirely immigrant because it's like I've adapted too far into Sweden. I'm stuck in this gray zone between where ... My Swedish friends are completely cool with me, but I will never be accepted as fully Swedish. I think that feeling disappeared when I first moved here to the U.S. because a place like SF is just 1,000 cultures, just melting pot, and that was a really nice feeling.

In your pre-interview, you mentioned that, as an immigrant here, you feel like you're never in control. Can you talk a little bit more about that? 

Yeah, how do I explain this? As an immigrant, you're never in control, especially in a place like the U.S. that is a place everyone wants to come. For some people coming to the U.S., just being here is the main goal. Coming to the U.S., the bureaucracy, the vetting they do, all the papers you have to send in ... and then still beyond that point you always feel like you're being watched, to some degree.

You always have to be 10 times better than everyone else. You have to work harder than everyone else. You have to prove yourself better than that. Even if you do that, something like this comes along, a ban. No matter how good you've been, it just clumps you together with everything else and takes away everything personal and everything that you've fought and worked for.

It's very disheartening to just ... As a Middle Eastern foreigner, I'm used to it by now.

 

You always have to be 10 times better than everyone else. You have to work harder than everyone else. You have to prove yourself better than that. Even if you do that, something like this comes along, a ban. No matter how good you've been, it just clumps you together with everything else and takes away everything personal and everything that you've fought and worked for.

 

Yeah. Let's talk about the ban. How did you feel when that happened, when the news came out? 

First of all, very confused. My entire team was going to an offsite in London, and this was the day we were going to travel. I had my backpack packed. I'd already booked a trip over to Sweden from London so I could see my family. It's my niece's birthday in a few days.

I was pretty much ready to go to the airport, and then I read somewhere on Facebook about this and I was like, "Huh?" I called my mom. She's having guests over and she's like, "What? I don't know." She called my uncle and he's like, "This seems really weird. I don't think that you should travel."

I just wrote a simple Facebook post because I couldn't get a hold of my lawyer, and 70 comments later people were like, "Yeah, you shouldn't. This is not a good time. We cannot guarantee." There's no one that can guarantee because the ban is just too ... It's too vague. It's too general. There's no actual substance behind who gets to come in and who comes out, and I didn't want to be caught because a patrol border officer has a bad day and he just decides to interpret the rules that way.

I decided to stay. I had to cancel my trip. The work trip, I could live with. I love my team — I love hanging out with them — but I haven't seen my family in eight months and I was really looking forward to that. Being rejected that, that being stolen away from me in that sense, was just really hurtful because I've done everything to be here legally. All my papers are legit. I have an American wife, and we're in the phase where you apply for permanent residency.

It just takes everything away from you, in that sense, where you're trapped. That day, I basically felt like I became a prisoner in the United States, and there wasn't anything I could do. Every other hour, news came out that this judge said no, but this still rules. It's okay for green card holders, but not ... There was just this magnificent mess of rules and things that people were not aware of was happening. I never got to see my new nephew, whom I've never met before. He has my name. 

I really hate that.

Yeah. At least a lot of people were supportive. That's nice. One man does not define the entire attitude of a country.

For sure. The policy has obviously lifted a bit for now, but I'm curious, from your own experience and perspective, what are you still scared of or worried about?

I'm worried that it would put my relationship, me being able to stay in the country and be with my wife, in jeopardy. I'm worried about her having a hard time because I'm an issue, because she takes on a lot of emotional baggage. I'm worried to lose my job. I'm worried to just go outside on vacation and not being welcome in, even though all my papers are legit. I'm worried to lose everything I worked for.

 

I'm worried that it would put my relationship, me being able to stay in the country and be with my wife, in jeopardy. I'm worried about her having a hard time because I'm an issue, because she takes on a lot of emotional baggage. I'm worried to lose my job. I'm worried to just go outside on vacation and not being welcome in, even though all my papers are legit. I'm worried to lose everything I worked for.

 

How do you do your job and have a healthy relationship when you have these risks hanging over your head every day?

I really got support from work. A lot of people reached out. Other teams took me out to lunch while my team was in London. It was just a very heartwarming come-together moment. The head of design reached out to me and wanted to check in almost every other day. Friends reached out. It was really nice.

I don't know. I think at some point you have to accept that it's not entirely in your control. For now, I guess I'm just playing it safe. As much as I want to see my family, I don't want to ruin the life that I've built up here in such a drastic way. I want to leave on my terms. I want to come in because I've earned this place here.

I've worked here. I got good grades. I stayed late at night at the office. I don't feel like I was given this opportunity. I worked hard for it.

What do you hope that people will learn from getting to know you in this interview?

I guess I just want them to know that I'm just like them. I'm not even religious. I'm not a Christian. I'm not a Muslim. I believe that there's something bigger, but ... I haven't been back in Iran since we moved to Sweden. The only reason my position was unsafe was the fact that I was born in Iran, and Iran does not accept dual citizenships. For them, I will always be a Persian citizen.

 

I've worked here. I got good grades. I stayed late at night at the office. I don't feel like I was given this opportunity. I worked hard for it.

 

People are afraid of so much today, and I don't want people to base decisions out of fear because that's just stupid. I understand that you want to protect your country, but I think there are better ways, there are smarter ways, there are better-thought-out ways, if anything.

What else? It gives me hope to see so many people just coming together and being like, "Listen, this is not right." In a time where you would feel really sad about what happened, just seeing the overwhelming support from everyone else was really moving.

Hopefully, by the time we have our wedding party in August, all of this will be okay.