In development as a television series from Reese Witherspoon’s Hello Sunshine production company and ABC Studios!
The hilarious, poignant, and true story of one teen's experience growing up in America as an undocumented immigrant from the Middle East, perfect for fans of Mindy Kaling and Trevor Noah's books.
“Very funny but never flippant, Saedi mixes ‘90s pop culture references, adolescent angst and Iranian history into an intimate, informative narrative that thoroughly defies current divisive view on immigration.”—The New York Times
At thirteen, bright-eyed, straight-A student Sara Saedi uncovered a terrible family secret: she was breaking the law simply by living in the United States. Only two years old when her parents fled Iran, she didn't learn of her undocumented status until her older sister wanted to apply for an after-school job, but couldn't because she didn't have a Social Security number.
Fear of deportation kept Sara up at night, but it didn't keep her from being a teenager. She desperately wanted a green card, along with clear skin, her own car, and a boyfriend.
Americanized follows Sara's progress toward getting her green card, but that's only a portion of her experiences as an Iranian-"American" teenager. From discovering that her parents secretly divorced to facilitate her mother's green card application to learning how to tame her unibrow, Sara pivots gracefully from the terrifying prospect that she might be kicked out of the country at any time to the almost-as-terrifying possibility that she might be the only one of her friends without a date to the prom. This moving, often hilarious story is for anyone who has ever shared either fear.
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FOUR STARRED REVIEWS!
“A must-read, vitally important memoir. . . . Poignant and often LOL funny, Americanized is utterly of the moment.”—Bustle
“Read Saedi’s memoir to push out the poison.”—Teen Vogue
“A funny, poignant must read for the times we are living in today.”—Pop Sugar
|Publisher:||Random House Children's Books|
|Product dimensions:||5.40(w) x 8.20(h) x 0.80(d)|
|Age Range:||14 - 17 Years|
About the Author
Sara Saedi was born in Tehran, Iran smack-dab in the middle of a war and an Islamic Revolution. She received a B.A. in Film and Mass Communications from the University of California, Berkeley and began her career as a creative executive for ABC Daytime. Since then she's penned three TV movies for ABC Family and a pilot for the Disney Channel, won a Daytime Emmy for What If..., a web series she wrote for ABC, and worked as a staff writer on the FOX sitcom The Goodwin Games. She is also the author of a YA duology, Never Ever and The Lost Kids, published by Viking. She currently resides in Los Angeles with her husband, son, and pug, where she writes for the hit CW show iZombie. Learn more on Twitter at @saaaranotsarah or at SaraSaediWriter.com.
Read an Excerpt
A Brief (but Juicy) History of My Birthplace (and My Birth)
I swear on my autographed copy of Ethan Hawke’s debut novel that this chapter will not be dull, so please don’t skim or skip over it. If you won’t take my word for it and have no vested interest in broadening your worldview, here’s the most important takeaway: Iran is not pronounced I-ran; it’s pronounced e-ron. Spread the word. Tell all your friends. Tweet it. Shout it from the rooftops. Correct people. It’ll make you sound smart and cultured. On behalf of my fellow Iranians (e-ron-ians), we thank you.
Now, for those juicy historical details you were promised! Real talk: Iran has dealt with its fair share of strife and political unrest. And while I’m not one to point fingers or lay blame . . . the United States and Britain were totally at fault. Okay, that’s not entirely accurate. The West might not be directly accountable for all of Iran’s drama, but they definitely stirred the pot, back in the early 1950s. During that time, Prime Minister Mohammad Mossadegh ruled Iran. Personally, I consider the man a hero. He was a democratically elected leader, and a progressive. But his main claim to fame was that he nationalized Iran’s oil industry. Prior to Mossadegh, the country’s most valuable resource was under British control. But why let the Brits instead of Iranians profit off of Iran’s most lucrative industry? That’s the equivalent of Kanye West pocketing all the profits from 1989 (the Taylor Swift album, not the year in history). Thus, Iran told the British oil companies to hit the road, and the Brits were predictably pissed. Mossadegh to Britain: “Bye, Felicia.”
So Britain decided to call in a favor to their bestie: the United States. If texting had existed at that time, then Winston Churchill would have sent President Eisenhower a bunch of crying-faced emojis. According to Churchill, they needed to get rid of Mossadegh. The United States was initially reluctant to get involved, but Britain pointed out that Iran’s beloved prime minister had newly gained the support of the Tudeh Party (an Iranian communist party) and the country would eventually go red. (Oh, hell no it wouldn’t. Our man Mossadegh wasn’t even a fan of socialism. Not to mention, the Tudeh Party frequently turned against him.) So Eisenhower said, “We’re in!” And that’s when the CIA and Britain’s Secret Intelligence Service decided to buddy up and formulate a secret coup to overthrow Mossadegh. They called it: Operation Ajax. Possibly named for the mythological Greek hero or the cleaning product. Your guess is as good as mine. It was decided that Iran’s ruling monarch at the time, Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi (yes, “Mohammad” is like the “Mike” of Iran), would take over for Mossadegh. Initially, the shah said, “You people are nuts! Everyone loves Mossadegh. You’re asking me to commit political suicide.” But then the United States threatened to dismiss the shah as well, and he was like: “How soon do we get this overthrow party started?”
Long story short, the coup was a success. Mossadegh was jailed for three years and then placed under house arrest, till his death in 1967. Kind of ironic that today the United States would really love more democratic countries in the Middle East, and Iran was one, until the CIA got involved. J’accuse! The short-term wins for the United States and United Kingdom included regaining limited access to Iran’s oil by having a stake in a holding company called Iranian Oil Participants, or IOP. After the overthrow of Mossadegh, public opinion in Iran was so against the Brits taking total control of the country’s oil supply again that IOP was the United Kingdom’s next best option.
Meanwhile, post-coup, the shah and his family were living it up on diamond-studded thrones until everything went off the rails again, in 1978. This time, the political unrest wasn’t orchestrated by foreign powers. It was the people of Iran who were fed up with the monarchy, and they had good reason. For starters, the Pahlavi family was ridiculously rich, and shamelessly extravagant with their money. Iranians respected properly gained wealth, but they objected to the shah’s fortune, because much of it was stolen from the people. Which is why, beyond the walls of the palace, the country’s economy was in the crapper. Families struggled to put food on the table, while the royal family spent hundreds of millions of dollars on parties to celebrate the monarchy. Not to mention that the shah had a secret police force called SAVAK, which had a reputation for torturing and executing anyone who opposed the monarchy. (Side note: America and Israel helped establish SAVAK. In fact, the CIA helped train the officers, which means they played a significant role in the torture and murder of thousands of shah detractors.) But at this point, even the United States was over the shah because . . . wait for it . . . he increased the price of oil. The overwhelming dislike for the Pahlavi dynasty gave birth to the Iranian Revolution, and by then my parents were also fed up with the regime’s inhumane tactics. My baba, Ali, joined the protests, and eventually the shah was exiled.
Mostly everyone in Iran: “SWEET!”
But with every revolution comes the risk that the new regime might suck worse than the old one, and some felt that happened when the Ayatollah Khomeini (the guy with the long beard and turban“imam” accessories that many now associate with stereotypes like: terrorism) came into power. Keep in mind that the Tehran of my parents’ generation (during the shah’s reign) was a burgeoning metropolis with European sensibilities. My maman (1) walked the streets of her neighborhood in itty-bitty miniskirts, with her long, wavy brown hair blowing freely in the wind.
During his bachelor days, my dad regularly had girlfriends who he could take out in public. The consumption of alcohol was legal, and no one had to worry about the religious police arresting them for throwing a coed party. Tehran (the country’s capital) was a vacation hot spot, and a travel destination for many Westerners. Also, just so we’re clearmy parents didn’t travel around town on a camel. If you want to picture Tehran in your head, don’t conjure up images of Agrabah (the fictional city in Aladdin). Think New York City.
But when Khomeini came to power, he founded the Islamic Republic of Iran and introduced Islamic law(2) to the country. Suddenly there were strict dress codes for women that required them to cover up their hair, men and women (unless they were married) were mostly segregated, Western music and movies were banned, and alcohol became illegal. For some, Khomeini was a total buzzkill. Of course, the new laws thrilled the country’s religious citizens, but my mostly secular family wasn’t having it. My mom had great hair. It would have been a cardinal sin to cover up those luscious chestnut locks. That said, while the country was deprived of my mom’s shampoo-commercial-quality tresses, there were also benefits to the Islamic Revolution. For instance, the literacy rate in Iran nearly tripled (up to 97 percent, higher than the United States’), because social conservatives were comfortable with sending their daughters to school, now that their classmates would also be wearing head scarves. One could argue that the revolution oppressed women, while others could argue it helped liberate them.
Meanwhile, the shah and his family, now in exile, were desperately looking for a country to take them in. President Carter reluctantly allowed them into the United States so the shah could receive surgery for non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, but then all hell broke loose in Tehran. Iranians wanted the shah returned to the country so he could be tried for war crimes. When the United States refused to send him back, a bunch of Iranian students stormed the US embassy and took fifty-two Americans hostage (see: the Academy Award–winning movie Argo). As if a hostage crisis and an Iranian revolution weren’t complicated enough, by 1980 the country also found itself at war with Iraq. The conflict was mostly geopolitical, with a long-standing border dispute between both nations. With the support of the United States (ahem), Iraq invaded Iran. At this point, the United States was politically motivated to back Iraq in the war. After Iran’s revolution, the new regime was pushing hostile propaganda against the West. Iran was also gaining allies in the Middle East, and the US government worried the country would become the sole power in the region, thus wielding far too much influence. But guess what else happened in 1980?
I was born!
(1) Maman means “mom” in Farsi.
(2) Islamic law (also referred to as Sharia) is a set of moral laws that come from the Qur’an instead of legislation by the people. Some aspects of Islamic law are observed in Iran’s legal system, but today the country mostly operates under civil law, ratified by the parliament.
Table of Contents
Chapter 1 A Brief (but Juicy) History of My Birthplace (and My Birth) 9
Chapter 2 Partners in Immigration Crime 21
Frequently Asked Question #1: What's the difference between being Persian and being Iranian? 37
Chapter 3 Sporting the Frida Kahlo 41
Chapter 4 The Myth of the Iranian Parent 55
Frequently Asked Question #2: What do Iranians have against Sally Field? 74
Chapter 5 Love and Other Drugs 79
Chapter 6 My Muslim Grandmother and Me 97
Frequently Asked Question #3: Why do Iranians keep watering cans in their bathrooms? 107
Chapter 7 I Didn't Ask to Raise This Anchor Baby 111
Chapter 8 Rhinoplasty Acne-pocalypse 127
Frequently Asked Question #4: What is the deal with Iranian weddings? 139
Chapter 9 Thick as Thieves 145
Chapter 10 Divorce: Illegal Immigrant-Style 169
Frequently Asked Question #5: Why do Iranians always argue over the bill? 183
Chapter 11 I Am a Product of Incest 187
Chapter 12 Home, Sweet Homeless 203
Frequently Asked Question #6: Why the hell is it the year 1396 in Iran? 215
Chapter 13 Sex, Prom, and Other Catastrophes 221
Chapter 14 Illegal Immigrant Problems 243
Frequently Asked Question #7: I'm undocumented and I'm scared. Any words of advice? 253
Chapter 15 I Am a Spork 261
Epilogue: An Open Letter to Myself 267
Your Illegal Immigrant Refresher Course! 272
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
As a child of the 80s, this book was a real eye-opener to me about political issues and other history that took place during that decade, as well as the ones before and after. I remember hearing a lot of the terms discussed in the book, but growing up as a white, middle-class child, those were things I heard on the news, that I never watched, and hated the fact that my parents made me turn off whatever afternoon show I would rather watch, or even switch off MTV during a video I loved so that they could see what was going on. Obviously, the author of this book had a very personal connection to issues and people such as the Ayatollah Khomeini, the American hostage situation in Iran, the Iran-Iraq war, and more. The author lived in Iran with her family until she was 2 years old, at which time her mother and older sister moved to America to escape all of the scary things that were going on. To learn that all of the ways we think of for Muslim women to dress, and the other conservative ways actually is newer to the country instead of something that has been a constant, well that blew my mind. So much to learn from this book. I always love when a memoir explains the family dynamics and culture of a country or group of people I don't have much experience with. This book reminded me a lot of Mindy Kaling's first memoir: Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? (as referenced in the synopsis), but also of Kunal Nayyar's (The Big Bang Theory) memoir: Yes, My Accent is Real: And Some Other Things I Haven't Told You. I love hearing how families of other cultures are different from my own, and even sometimes just how similar we all are at the heart of things. Not only did I learn more about historic events and Iranian culture, I also learned a lot about how someone becomes a citizen of the United States, but especially about what they have to do just to get a green card. I learned that some terms didn't mean exactly what I thought they did, what they sound like they mean. For instance, an undocumented immigrant isn't necessarily here illegally. It could mean they are just waiting on their applications to be processed. They may be here on a work visa, and not have a green card yet. Getting those documents can mean getting a social security number, which then means that they pay taxes on the money they earn when they work. I honestly feel that this is a really great book for all of the students at my high school to read. There are those that are growing up sheltered, like I did, that will learn so much from this story, that can help them to make well informed decisions on how they vote and who they vote for. For my students that may be in a similar situation, worried about DACA and the other bills being passed or taken away, this is a great book to read and know that others have gone through the same process, and understand. That it can work out, you just have to be persistent and patient at times. I'm very glad that I read this, and can't wait to get a copy to put in my school library for my students (and teachers) to read.
Now more than ever in the US, xenophobia seems to be creating too many traps of misunderstanding and even hate toward other cultures Stories like Sara Saedi's need to be read. Xenophobia seems to be creeping into the
I can’t sing the praises of this book enough. It’s written so that it feels like you’re listening to your friend tell you a story filled with humor and emotion. I learned so much about the immigration process and all of the pitfalls that can happen to families looking for safety and a better life. At this time, it is the perfect book for young and old alike. Let’s start trying to understand one another better. Highly recommended! This unbiased review is based upon a complimentary copy provided by the publisher.
What a fantastic book! This is such an eye opener for anyone wondering what it takes to become an American citizen. It's an eye opener for those of us who take our privileges for granted. If Argo, My Big Fat Greek Wedding, Sex & the City, Bridget Jones' Diary and My So Called Life were tossed into a blender and baked into a book, THIS would be that book. Sara grew up balancing being a '90s teen in California with being an undocumented immigrant and her family's 15+ year journey to become American citizens (Yes, they paid taxes, no, they couldn't afford to get so much as a speeding ticket). I laughed, cried, and related. I wanted this book to be twice as long. I wanted to meet the author's crazy extended family and laugh over lavash and Morgh Polow (And take Sara to The Winchester Mystery House). At times touching, at times funny, at times thoughtful, this raw, honest biography about chasing the American dream while still holding onto your culture is a must read for everyone. From the same writer who brought you Never Ever and it's upcoming sequel Lost Kids, and a writer on the CW show iZombie. I can't wait for her next books.