Roya Hakakian’s recent book “A Beginner’s Guide To America: For the Immigrant and the Curious” isn’t aimed solely for those who’ve recently stepped foot in the United States.

“The purpose of this book is to show how certain American principles have been formed to make our lives pleasant and we need to protect them,” she said. “We can’t take democracy for granted. It isn’t just an exercise in which we vote every four years. It shapes everything what we do in our lives and if we don’t see the value of a democracy, our values can slip away from us.”

Hakakian, who will discuss her book on Nov. 30 at 7 p.m. at the Gwinnett County Public Library’s Norcross Branch located at 5735 Buford Highway, knows firsthand what it’s like for an immigrant to arrive in the United States and the challenges each faces.

Hakakian, who is Jewish, was born in Tehran, Iran, where she lived during the height of the Iranian Revolution in which the country’s government was overthrown and turned into an Islamic republic by the new regime. The shift in government caused a rise in anti-Semitism, which coupled social and economic pressures and a war with neighboring Iraq, spurred Hakakian and her mother to flee the country, arriving in New York City as a teenager in 1985.

“When I’d speak with immigrants, I learned that they had a lot in common with me,” the 55-year-old said. “We came here with a lot of enthusiasm, and I want this book to speak to them.”

She’s since become a successful author, as she’s published two books of poetry in Persian, along with numerous articles in The New York Times, The Washington Post and National Public Radio.

Hakakian, who has been a fellow at the Woodrow Wilson Center for International Scholars, has also been awarded the Guggenheim fellowship for non-fiction for her book, “Assassins of the Turquoise Palace,” while her memoir, “Journey from the Land of No” earned Elle magazine’s Readers Choice Award.

She was also among the human rights advocates and lawyers who in 2004 founded the Iran Human Rights Documentation Center, an independent non-profit organization that establishes a comprehensive and objective historical record of the human rights situation in Iran and establish responsibility for patterns of human rights abuses.

Hakakian said “A Beginner’s Guide To America: For the Immigrant and the Curious” is just as relevant to immigrants as those who’ve lived in the United States for years.

“I want everyone to have feel for what immigrants and refugees are going through because they are sometimes painted as pariahs or criminals, but really they are coming here because they’ve been uprooted and what a better life,” she said. “With this book, I want people to come as close as possible for someone to experience what an immigrant is going through so they can treat them with humanity. I want them to see the perspective of the immigrant and for those of us who have lived in places ruled by non-democratic regimes. I want everyone to see this country for all of its democratic beauties.”

Hakakian began writing the book shortly after President Trump banned all Muslims from entering the U.S. in 2016. If the mandate had been in effect when she was a teenager, she wouldn’t have been able to leave Iran, where Jews are often persecuted and women don’t have the same liberties as men.

“There was a chorus of angry voices back then and I didn’t want to be another person who adds bitterness,” she said. “I wanted to come up with something that was disarming and compelling. I didn’t want to add to the division. I wanted to speak on behalf of the immigrant and on behalf of the values we need to protect.”

(0) comments

Welcome to the discussion.

Please log in, or sign up for a new, free account to read or post comments.

Keep it Clean. Please avoid obscene, vulgar, lewd, racist or sexually-oriented language.
Don't Threaten. Threats of harming another person will not be tolerated.
Be Truthful. Don't knowingly lie about anyone or anything.
Be Nice. No racism, sexism or any sort of -ism that is degrading to another person.
Be Proactive. Use the 'Report' link on each comment to let us know of abusive posts.
Share with Us. We'd love to hear eyewitness accounts, the history behind an article.