My friend Mahsa brought pistachios back from Iran after her recent trip there and a subsequent, inevitable detention by border agents on her way back to the U.S. She's a citizen here, but has history there, and that's enough for scrutiny and concern.
I met Mahsa online, via Flickr, where we messaged back and forth about photos and photography things. We were both living in Pittsburgh then. I didn't get to know her as an Iranian, just an entity on the other side of a social media platform. Didn't think of Mahsa as ethnic or foreign. Had no idea she was Iranian. Eventually we hung out IRL.
I've learned in conversations with her in the seven+ years we've known each other what it's like to be an Iranian living in the States. That experience was not a thing I'd considered before. That experience would obviously be difficult, right? Iran, America? Duh. Grew up in the Regan era. Mentally, I left it at that.
After I left Pittsburgh, one time when I'd returned home, Mahsa came out to my parents' place one night. Ma later said she was striking. Mahsa *was* wearing a stylish, backless dress that night. Ma said she wished she could wear a dress like that. Ma didn't ask "where's she from" or "what's her ethnicity" because we never talked like that around the house. But Mahsa did look striking.
Mahsa looked out of the ordinary – by comparison: Pittsburgh is a town of people mostly claiming a heritage somewhere in Eastern Europe. Where we were pale and pasty, with limp hair and it mousey in color, Masha was high contrast. About as pale as us, but with jet black hair, curled in clusters. Solid eyebrow game going on too.
Did the border agents who detained Mahsa and her mother see them as atypical and striking, like Ma, or as atypical and foreign, threatening?
At the legally defensible whim of the border agents, some of the things Mahsa returned with were confiscated, never to be returned.
These pistachios were not.
Considering our current political climate: the recent negotiations around Iran's nuclear armament and/or the prevention or the delay of it, the rhetoric of numerous presidential candidates, the outrage of talking heads and pundits, the lunatics hoping people will bite on a platform of aggression and assertion of American superiority, it's impossible to ingest one of these pistachios without considering the story of how they arrived at my apartment, their source.
The pistachios should taste like hate, like contempt, like an inevitable attack on Israel, right?
They don't. They're delicious. Mahsa shipped me about a bowl's worth of them.
I regret only that I'll eat all of these pistachios in one afternoon and probably never taste anything like them again.