I Belong In This Country, But The Census Doesn’t Recognize That
“Feeling like you’re the ‘other’ and trapped between two worlds is something countless Iranian Americans and Middle Easterners have experienced.”
A couple weeks ago, my friend sent me a TikTok of someone ranting about whether they should be considered a person of color as a Middle Easterner. Her text read something along the lines of, “I feel like this is you in a nutshell.”
I laughed, knowing full well that I’ve shared the same gripes with her countless times. I also instinctively looked over at the U.S. census postcard collecting dust and cat hair on the floor of my foyer and cringed.
Completing the census is one of the easiest things the government asks us to do — or at least, it’s marketed that way. But I just can’t seem to muster up the energy to complete it, because the census has brought up a lot of emotions that I’ve been grappling with for as long as I can remember.
Which racial box should I check? Do I consider myself a person of color? Did that salesperson give us a dirty look because we were speaking in Farsi loudly in the Macy’s makeup department?
I’ve been asking myself some of these questions since I was about 6 or 7 years old, but I still don’t have the answers. By that age, I’d developed a thick unibrow, a peach fuzz mustache and coarse, unruly black hair that made me look like I had stuck my finger into an electrical socket. As one of the only Iranian Americans in my Catholic elementary school, I felt like a sea creature compared to my straight-haired, porcelain-skinned classmates.
Curious friends would pepper me with questions about my lunch, so I would beg my maman for Lunchables instead of the fragrant, saffron-infused rice and stew she packed with love every single day (she never caved, and I thank her for it). My classmates were often just excited that someone had brought something different to lunchtime, but as a third-grader, I desperately wanted to blend in and feel like I was one of the cool kids with a pre-packaged pizza kit and a Capri Sun.