NAME: Shahrouz

OCCUPATION: product designer, pinterest

Origin: iran

Years in the us: 32

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

Sure. My name is Shahrouz Tavakoli. I'm originally from Iran, born in Tehran in 1982.

Can you tell me a bit about where you work and what you're working on right now?

I have been at Pinterest for the past two and a half years. I work on the ... we call it partners, but the business side of the house, working on our advertising offerings to the market.

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

I was two at the time we moved from Tehran straight to the Bay in 1984. Iran was in the middle of what would be an eight-year war at the time with Iraq. My parents had a six-year-old and a two-year-old, and wanted to get out of there and hopefully give us the best chance that we would have at success, and that was America to them. They got us a six-month travel visa, and we moved here specifically to San Jose, where my dad's brother lived. We stayed for another nine years after that.

 

The biggest fear that I have is being separated from my family, my wife and my son. There's nothing I would do to risk it.

 

You've basically been here your whole life. How has your experience been living in America either as an immigrant ... Do you even feel like you're an immigrant? 

I really couldn't imagine living anywhere else. That's primarily because I have lived here for most of my life. I do feel out of the norm sometimes just because my family still ... My parents have very heavy accents, and anytime I speak to them it's usually in Farsi. We eat Persian food.

For the most part, I'm super grateful that we landed in California above all else. I wouldn't say that my life has been more difficult as a result of being an immigrant, but I feel like I'm more hyper aware of things that affect immigrants, being one. Hopefully I have a level of empathy for all people who are out of the "norm."

 

When you hear the words "Muslim ban," even though I don't technically identify as a Muslim, that wouldn't matter in my case. I'm terrified to leave the country. Even though I am now a United States citizen, I don't think that matters.

 

Let's talk about the last couple weeks. I imagine that has affected you quite a bit. 

When you hear the words Muslim ban, even though I don't technically identify as a Muslim, that wouldn't matter in my case. I'm terrified to leave the country. Even though I am now a United States citizen, I don't think that matters.

I have family who aren't, who are green card holders, and I know that they can't leave the country. I have family who were in the process of getting visas to come visit. That's all gone ... a visa process, by the way, that took two years anyway. There's no point in that anymore.

The biggest fear that I have is being separated from my family, my wife and my son. There's nothing I would do to risk it.

You talked a little bit in your pre-interview about having a wife and son who come from a different place and don't necessarily look like you. 

Immediately after Trump was elected, my first thought was, "Thank goodness my son looks white," which is a terrible thought to have. There's something psychologically profound about being labeled an enemy even though I have nothing but love for this country and its potential. In the eyes of so many people who don't know me, who don't know my family, just having a bias against us that we would want to hurt them in some way is troubling at best.

I have a lot of family in Iran that I haven't seen since I was 11 years old, and unless they were going to come see me, I can't see them because I can't technically go back to Iran without paying a large sum of money because they would throw me in the army or in jail because I was born there and military service is mandatory.

On one hand, I'm grateful that my wife is white and that my son looks white, but it's also awful that I'm grateful for that. 

In a lot of respects, I feel like I've had it much, much easier than most. I'm hoping, through channels like this and grassroots movements that we're seeing around, we'll be able to effect change, but it's exhausting. It's only been three weeks.

How do you function as a normal human, do your job, be a dad, be a husband, with this kind of existential crisis hanging over you every day. How do you do it and not go insane?

I try to separate the political side of my mind from the family side as much as I can. When I'm home with them, I'm playing with my son. All devices are gone. We're just hanging out.

When I'm at work, it's hard. It's really hard to stay focused, which is a terrible thing to say if you're my employer, but it is. It's true. I spend a lot of time, any free time I have at work, trying to keep up on what's going on and making sure that I use whatever following I have to make sure that they're informed. It's not been easy. It's not been easy since the election, and it's definitely gotten worse in the past three weeks.

 

On one hand, I'm grateful that my wife is white and that my son looks white, but it's also awful that I'm grateful for that.

 

Yeah. Did you feel the weight of any of this pre-Trump? 

Yeah, ever since ... It magnified 1,000 times after 9/11, for sure. Even before that, I remember a specific incident when I was nine, I think. It was during the First Gulf War. My dad, who is much darker complexion than me — very clearly Middle Eastern man — we were standing in line at a grocery store and there was a person behind us who muttered under his breath — I don't want to say it — "My son is in the Gulf fighting sand people like you."

I didn't know what it meant at the time, but it stuck with me for a really long time. It came back when I was an adult, and the meaning dawned on me. It affected me much more after I realized what it meant, obviously. Stuff like that didn't happen to me often, but I know my dad heard stuff, especially because he owns his own business and he's had to deal with a lot of different types of customers. I've heard stories from him being singled out because he's a brown man.

Have you noticed any changes in how people around you are acting recently, for better or for worse?

That's been the silver lining in all of this. I wouldn't blame people for just turning a blind eye when it doesn't affect them directly, but seeing the protests that have been going on, all the people who came out for the women's march, it's been incredibly heartwarming to see that we won't take this.

At the same time — it goes back to what I said earlier — the idea that we have to keep this level of intensity up for the next four years, it's hard to fathom, but what choice do we have? Yeah, personally, again, I think this is a side effect of living where I do. It hasn't affected me all that much as far as the people in my immediate life, which is really nice.

Yeah. What does your family think when you are planning to travel, for instance, for the rest of the year? Are those conversations that you're having right now?

Not specifically with my family. I think the expectation there is just we won't until this matter is settled. We don't want to risk it. Even though I am a U.S. citizen — I swore an oath to this country when I was 18 — I don't think that would matter. We've seen a lot of stories coming out lately about people who were born here being stopped at the airport and questioned, and having their phones turned over. I don't know what I would do in that situation. I really don't. I'm going to avoid it.

 

When I'm at work, it's hard. It's really hard to stay focused, which is a terrible thing to say if you're my employer, but it is. It's true. I spend a lot of time, any free time I have at work, trying to keep up on what's going on and making sure that I use whatever following I have to make sure that they're informed. It's not been easy. It's not been easy since the election, and it's definitely gotten worse in the past three weeks.

 

Yeah. What are your thoughts of the future, where we go from here? 

One of my biggest fears is that there will be another terrorist attack on U.S. soil, and that will give this administration an excuse to further consolidate power. We've already seen the rhetoric that he's using when Sally Yates — "a betrayal" — and calling the courts that put a temporary stay on his executive order, saying "so-called courts," things like that, undermining one of our three branches. My biggest fear is that, if there is another attack, it'll give him more power and we will eventually be in a place where we can't stop it. I'm hoping that's not what happens, but I can see it as a very feasible future.

On the other side, I'm hoping that we continue to defeat his xenophobic policies in court. If it ends up going to the Supreme Court, which it probably should, then hopefully we defeat it there as well. Get it in the highest court in the land, get the word out there this is not right and this is unconstitutional, and then hopefully that would be the end of it. Who knows?

I have no faith that they'll stop at any point. Constantly having to hold their feet to the fire while we are winning sometimes doesn't give me much hope because we're going to have to continue to do it. They're never going to do it on their own. Until this administration makes a right choice for the right reasons, we can't stop fighting.

Is there anything that you wish the average American could understand about the profundity of these policies and who they're affecting?

I wasn't conscious of it at the time, but my parents were escaping a war-torn country. So are Syrians. These people already go through a ridiculous vetting before they're allowed to come here or anywhere. I would say to those people, "Go out and talk to an immigrant. Go out to somebody who is so grateful that they're here. Then ask yourself, 'How can I deny that same opportunity to other people who just want a better life?'"

My hunch, my guess, is that a lot of those people who blindly agree have never met an immigrant. I know there are good and bad in every labeled group, but for the people that I know who have come here from situations that were dreadful, they're the most grateful and most loyal people you'll ever meet, my parents first among them.