On the morning of November 11, 1979, exactly one week after the Iranian revolutionaries climbed up the US Embassy walls in Tehran and took 62 Americans hostage, a group of American high school students in Denver, Colorado, armed with baseball bats and beer bottles went looking for Iranians to beat up. They went inside an apartment building where a 20-year-old electrical engineering student, Afshin Shariati and his pregnant American wife lived. They looked at the mailboxes outside the apartment complex and found his apartment number.

As they threw beer bottles shattering his apartment window challenging him to come out, Afshin grabbed his shotgun, came out and shot and killed one of the teenagers and wounded two more. The rest ran away. Afshin was arrested and was tried later in 1980.

A few days earlier and shortly after the US Embassy was overrun by the Iranian students in Tehran, President Jimmy Carter went on TV and announced to the American people that there were more than 50,000 Iranian students studying in the US and he had ordered the FBI to interview and register every single one of them, and those with any visa problems will be sent in front of the immigration judge and deported.

In a matter of hours and days, the American public which was subjected to around-the-clock news and disturbing images from their embassy in Tehran realized that there were 50,000 of “them” living among “us” and the Iranian students in the US who had nothing to do with the events in Iran and the majority of them condemned the hostage-taking became the subject of attention by the Americans.

Within 2 months following the announcement, the FBI interviewed 50,437 students, 41,254 of whom were in compliance and 405 had applied for asylum. They found 6,042 deportable, with some 3,200 who’d not produced enough information at the time of their interviews.

Over the months that followed, Iranian students were harassed, beaten, deported, denied entry into discotheques and clubs, and even the famous whorehouse in Reno, Mustang Ranch had a big sign in the front, “No Iranians Allowed!”

Overnight, the Iranians were called I-ranians just as a way of putting them down and ridiculing them; to which the Iranian students in the US responded and started calling themselves, Persians!

Afshin Shariati was tried in court in late 1980. His lawyer argued that a man’s home is his castle and he should be able to defend it. It did not take the jury too long to acquit him of all charges and everyone agreed that he had every right to defend his wife, his child and his home.  

Now, 40 years later, as I am looking at the massacre of the Mexicans and others in El Paso, I can’t help but compare these events. I am sure that Jimmy Carter did not mean to send a bunch of crazy lunatic losers armed with bottles and bats after us, but his words were heard by some and we were in their crosshair. It doesn’t matter what a US President says or does not say, what’s important is what’s being heard by the people living in the darkest parts of the country or the internet equipped with AR-15’s and AK-47’s.

Afshin was lucky that he was armed and could defend himself and his family against bottles and bats. The fact that he was married to an American wife also helped him not get charged with some bogus weapon charges.

The Mexicans and the Latinos in El Paso were not as lucky.