I Plan On Never Taking It For Granted By Arash
This story is featured in the Fredericksburg Area Museum’s “Our Fredericksburg Story” exhibit. In this exhibition, local minorities share their Fredericksburg experience in their own words.
“2018 marked 30 years since I first arrived in this country. I grew up in Iran, during the time of Shah and then the Iranian Revolution. Although I excelled in school, it became obvious that under the current regime, I would not be permitted to attend university after high school. As many other challenges came for my family after Shah was overthrown, my mother and father decided we were much better off leaving our home in Iran. This was a difficult decision to make. My mother was a nurse and my father owned a successful engineering firm. However, it was hard to envision and peaceful and safe future for our family. My mother began the process of obtaining a green card in the United States. She left to establish a life for us in America with my younger brother, while my father stayed behind to help figure out a way for me to leave. Because of my age and the restrictions placed on travel, I could not go freely. Several months passed, and many difficult obstacles were placed in my way, but I was eventually able to make my way to Germany as a refugee. In Germany, as an asylum seeker I was placed on a ship where other refugees were housed until there was a permanent place we could stay. I was soon moved to a small town in Northern Germany. I worked there as a groundskeeper for a cemetery, and lived in a dormitory style home with many other younger men like me. I rode a borrowed bike to work each day and dreamt of the time that I could come to America and attend University. Eventually, my mother’s green card came through and I was finally able to leave. With the money I had saved I purchased my ticket to the US. I will forever be grateful for the kindness and generosity of the Germany people.
Shortly after arriving, I enrolled in college while working midnights as a phlebotomist. I earned my undergraduate degree in less than 2 1/2 years. I then attended Medical School in Richmond Virginia, and my ophthalmology residency at Duke University. After completing my training, I briefly held a facility position at Johns Hopkins University. My heart was set on private practice, and after mailing my resume to a number of practices in the DC/Virginia/Maryland area, I received a call from a doctor in Fredericksburg, Virginia. As luck or fate would have it, I was off that day and immediately set out towards Fredericksburg, where I would interview for a position at Access Eye Centers. That same day I was hired, and 2 short years later I was able to purchase the practice from Dr. Robert Caine. I had found my dream job.
Twenty years later, each day I get up I am excited to come to work. I get to interact with the most amazing people Fredericksburg has to offer. I have the opportunity to help make a difference in their lives, but what they probably don’t realize is how much they also impact mine. Over the years, many of my patients have shared their life experiences with me, and allowed me to do the same. I have consoled mothers who have lost a child, and many husbands who have lost their wives, but I have also been consoled and received good advice from many of my long-time patients. When we struggled with one of our children in school, a friend and former school-teacher shared advice that dramatically improved my child’s life. In so many ways, many of my patients are like a part of my family. That is what I love about this beautiful, historic town. Although I grew up in a bigger city, the courtesies, social graces and closeness of the people of Fredericksburg are much more in line with my culture.
Make no mistake, I have experienced my share of discrimination and prejudice. After the attacks on 9-11 it was especially hard to be from the Middle-East. Although not a single Iranian was responsible for the attacks on our country, many chose to place blame on anyone from the region. A few people I had never met called to schedule an appointment, but would ask where I was from. When our staff told them Iran, they said “never mind, I won’t see a terrorist”. Although I didn’t lose a single existing patient to this mentality, it was still difficult for me to understand. I know racism exists, I had experienced it before and I would experience it again. The worst example of this for me, was after the most recent presidential election. My children were told “you and your dad have to get it of our country now!” It’s easy to go from feelings of hurt to anger. However, I refuse to let the small-mindedness of the few cloud my judgement of the many, many delightful people of this area.
Before moving to Fredericksburg, I lived in northern Virginia. Yes, northern Virginia is known to be more culturally diverse, but you’ll often hear me say that my life went from economy to first class when I moved here. My wife jokes that we have to allow extra time when we go out to dinner or to the grocery store, because we’ll run into so many patients and friends that we’ll want to chat with. I wouldn’t have it any other way. We have an amazing life here, and we do our best to give back to show our gratitude for this life. In addition to running our practice, my wife volunteers her time by serving on a number of non-profit boards. I get to do what I love and help those in need by offering eyecare services at no-charge to those in our area in need.
When I look out over our balcony, I see Chatham Square in the distance, the steeples of the churches that mark our skyline and the sun setting on the Rappahannock River. Those are the moments when I feel most grateful. Living, working and loving in Fredericksburg are more than I could have ever imagined as a boy growing up in Tehran. I plan to never take it for granted.”
Editor’s note: Want to see how the 2019 Commemoration is surfacing the stories of Virginia’s immigrants and refugees? Visit the New Virginians: 1619-2019 and Beyond exhibition today.