Audio Recording of Interview
An Iranian refugee who is Baha’i, a minority religion in Iran, Saghar discusses her experiences facing persecution by the post-revolutionary Iranian regime, what it was like to flee to Turkey and then to the United States, and navigating the Baha’i community in San Antonio. She also discusses the struggles she faced with the immigration process in the U.S., and adjusting to American work culture.
Other interviews of this person can be found below:
Narrator: Saghar Roshan
Date: July 16, 2020
Location: San Antonio (narrator); Hong Kong (interviewer)
Summary: An Iranian refugee who is Baha’i, a minority religion in Iran, Saghar discusses her experiences facing persecution by the post-revolutionary Iranian regime, what it was like to flee to Turkey and then to the United States, and navigating the Baha’i community in San Antonio. She also discusses the struggles she faced with the immigration process in the U.S., and adjusting to American work culture.
Topics: Immigration process, employment, persecution, historical context, education, family, personal finance, post-conflict journey, pandemic, cultural adjustment, religion, immigration process
Section 1: (00:00-11:10)
Saghar gives consent to be interviewed and for her interview to be used by the Princeton Oral History Project, with no restrictions.
Immigration Process, Employment: Catholic Charities sponsored Saghar to come to the U.S. from Iran in 2004. Since 2009, she has worked with the organization as an employee. Since 2016 she has been the program director for the reception employees.
Persecution, Historical Context: Saghar is 5th generation Iranian Baha’i, a religious minority. Before the Islamic Revolution, Baha’i had some measure of religious freedom, but the Iranian regime that came after began persecuting the group and restricting their rights.
Education: Saghar experienced discrimination in school (she describes an instance when she was eight years old).
Section 2: (11:10-20:13)
Education: Saghar’s last two years of high school were very difficult because of the persecution she faced. Baha’i were not allowed to do higher education (university), which was very difficult for Saghar because she was a top student in engineering.
Saghar became involved with the BIHE (Baha’I Institute of Higher Education), an underground Baha’I university. The university did not have many resources—books, professors, etc.—and Saghar had to travel 7-8 hours to the capitol city in order to attend classes.
She finished her studies at BIHE but had difficulty finding work because her education was not recognized by potential employees.
Family, Persecution: Saghar’s father was in jail when she was 21 or 22. He had been a well-known businessman, and authorities took his businesses, then came to their house to inspect for Baha’I materials and arrested him.
Saghar was the eldest sibling and her mother was sick, so she had to take care of the household
They were regularly interrogated about her father and accused of spying for Israel, told that her father had been killed, etc.
Saghar’s father was released after local residents protested his detainment.
Section 3: (20:13-29:49)
Personal Finance: Saghar began to realize that she had no future in Iran because she did not have a job and needed to rely on her father’s financial support. She was volunteering for the Baha’I university but did not get paid for it.
Education: She continued her research as part of the University while still in Iran, and wrote two books.
Persecution, Post-Conflict Journey: At the time when Saghar left Iran, government agents (presumably) had already been following her consistently for several years. Then, because Iran had no UN office, she had to travel to Turkey. She lost all her money and possessions on the way, then struggled to maintain a living in Turkey.
Family, Post-Conflict Journey: Saghar went to Turkey by herself because her father was not allowed to leave Iran and her younger brother was not given a passport because he had not served in the military. Her father is now 73, but her family’s activities are still being closely monitored.
Section 4: (29:49-42:16)
Pandemic: The COVID situation where Saghar’s parents live is very bad, especially because they are near the beach.
Post-Conflict Journey, Finance: Saghar’s father did not want her to leave for Turkey, so at the beginning he did not support her financially. However, she was robbed on her way to Turkey (perhaps by the regime) and lost all her belongings, so her father began to support her again.
Saghar was in Turkey for six months, then moved to San Antonio.
Cultural Adjustment, Religion: There is a sizeable Baha’I population in San Antonio, but not many Iranians. Saghar had difficulty adjusting to the practices of her new Baha’I community, because she often felt like her community in Iran took the religion and its practices more seriously.
She also had to adjust to the more material culture of the U.S. She has to devote much more time to working and making a living.
She was frustrated with how the Baha’I in San Antonio practiced religion, and with the Iranian Baha’I who she felt should have taught the others more.
Section 5: (42:16-49:34)
Cultural Adjustment: Saghar feels that it has taken some time for her to adjust to her new community, because everyone comes from different backgrounds, but she is happy living where she does. She has also been interested to see the interfaith gatherings that happen in San Antonio.
Religion, Immigration Process: Religion was important for Saghar to hold on to, especially when unexpected difficulties arose. Saghar’s sponsor was meant to be one of her relatives in San Antonio, but at the last minute he decided that he would not sponsor her, a change which made the immigration process much more difficult for her.
Section 6: (49:34-58:21)
Immigration Process, Post-Conflict Journey: Saghar still did not have much money when she left Turkey (because the Iranian police had taken it). She wore her necklace with the Baha’I symbol on it to the airport. The man who arrived to pick her up recognized the symbol—he was Baha’i. It was a relief for Saghar to find community in her new city.
Employment: Saghar wants to serve humanity through her career because she knows what the people she helps have been through.
Refugees do not want to leave their home countries—they only do when they see no future there or are forced out.
Section 7: (58:21-1:08:48)
Discussion between Saghar, a Catholic Charities Representative, and Sophie (the interviewer) about the Oral History Project.