Recalling a conversation with an immigrant, shortly after 9/11, Bolina writes, “He knows that he and I better resemble photographs of the hijackers than photographs of the firefighters. And when he says, ‘they treated us like dogs,’ us means the Indian conflated with the Pakistani, the Pakistani mistaken for the Afghan, the Afghan called an Arab, the Arab indistinguishable from the Persian and the Turk, the Shia and the Sunni and the Sikh all taken for one bearded and turbaned body.”
Shervin Malekzadeh, an Iranian-American immigrant and visiting assistant professor at Swarthmore College, makes a different point about an immigrant’s life in America. In an article in the Atlantic, marking the recent death of actor Sherman Helmsley, Mr. Malekzadeh, television was the tool for learning about America, and the 1970s comedy hit, “The Jeffersons” was the show that came closest to identifying the challenges of being an immigrant.
Making it in America, making it in terms of the American dream, was compromised for George and Louise by their loss, and it was here that The Jeffersons showed us where the American and immigrant experiences converged. Because of who they were, and where they came from, the Jeffersons could never feel like they fully belonged in tony Upper East Side, or what my father liked to refer to as Grey Poupon society. The past pulled on them, and although neither ever forgot where they came from, the longer George and Louise stayed away from the old neighborhood the less they knew of their old selves.