My Uncle's Declaration
- by Siamak Vossoughi
I felt like taking a long walk when I heard
my uncle say that if the United States were to invade
our country next after Iraq, that he would go and
fight them there himself. I felt like taking a long
walk and thinking about America and Americans and how
if one of them had happened to be walking by as he had
said it, they might conclude that he was a terrorist,
and the thing that made me sad was that even though I
didn't want anybody invading anybody and I didn't want
anybody having to fight against anybody invading
anybody, there was still a lot of beauty in a
sixty-two-year-old man saying that he would go and
fight against any invaders himself, and I figured that
American wouldn't see any of it.
I was an American writer and I was used to
sharing something beautiful when it came my way, and
the logical people to share it with were Americans,
and it was the first time that I had thought that no
matter how well I wrote it, there would be people who
wouldn't see it, and it was a crazy feeling because I
had always thought that art was free. I thought that
if I wrote about him the way that he was, as someone
who was not at all trying to sound tough in saying
something like that, but just laying out the facts,
and who might in his next breath notice a bird up in a
tree, then they'd know what I meant. But this was one
where they might not know it even then.
Well, I thought, I guess I can write about
things like flowers and trees and buildings and
streets as much as I ever did, but there's going to be
some difficulties when the people I am writing of and
the people I am writing to don't always see each other
as people. I don't know who else to write about than
Iranians, considering that that's what I am myself,
and I don't know who else to write to than Americans,
considering that that's who I've gone out and seen
each day. It's lousy to think that there might be
stories that I can't tell them. We've always had a
good relationship, at least since I began writing.
I've never held back in anything I've told them. I
didn't want to start now. But I didn't want to spend
any time explaining that my uncle was not a terrorist.
They ought to know that, I thought. They ought to
know it and if I did, it wouldn't be art.
They wouldn't want me doing that anyway.
They wouldn't want me writing as anything other than a
man in the world, because the whole thing didn't seem
to start with just me wanting me to be a writer. It
seemed to start with me and everybody wanting me to be
a writer, Iranians and Americans both. It was a joint
movement. I did not want it becoming fractured. Each
day of the movement was based on what they had in
common, which was everything inside, everything inside
me to start with. My uncle's words went straight
inside me as soon as he said them, and I felt like
taking a long walk because that was what I used to do
with what was inside me before I began to write, when
I had thought that there was nobody to tell.
But I knew that if I did take a long walk, I
would just come back to the same things I already
knew, which were that (1) I did not like war, (2) I
had felt proud to hear my uncle say that, and (3) I
had to not be afraid in what I wrote. If it was
really a joint movement, then I had to trust them that
they would know that the writer of the story of my
uncle did not hate anybody. I had to trust them that
they would know that it was an American story, as
American a story as anything I had written, as
American as anything anybody had written. It was
Iranian too, in ways that I probably did not
understand as readily, and I liked it that way because
a story was an act of peace even when it was about
war, even when it was about a possible war between
those I was writing of and to. Not even that could
stop the movement. Not even the assumption of
terrorism could stop it. The only thing that could
stop it was if I did not write what I felt. That was
what I had done for everything else, and there was no
reason to think of what my uncle said as any
As for the story itself, well, he said it,
and I did feel proud. My aunt did not say anything,
even though she was used to having to remind him that
he was sixty-two years old. My cousins and I did not
even think of saying that. It felt like it would have
been very rude. And we did not doubt him, or doubt
how much he loved Iran, even though he had not been
there in twenty years.
"You should be careful not to talk like that
at work," my cousin Katti said.
"Yes," my cousin Ramin said. "They might
My uncle made an expression that looked like
it could only have been made by someone who already
knew all about being reported on, which he did, from
his days of growing up under the Shah. He seemed to
be considering how much stuff he could take at
sixty-two that he had been able to take at twenty.
"They would do the same thing if their
country was invaded," he said. "Why would they think
other people would be any different?"
We didn't know what to say to that except to
appreciate him. My cousins were still worried that he
would say something at the wrong time, but they looked
like they were proud of him too. Outside our window
was America, and the flowers and trees and buildings
and streets were as much a part of us as they had ever
been. And even the people were just as much a part of
us. There was nothing that we were saying that we
would take with us to the next American we met. There
was nothing that my uncle was saying that he would
take with him to his office. It just happened that if
the United States invaded Iran, that's what he would
do. They might think that it meant that he hated
them, but hate did not have much to do with what we
were talking about. What we were talking about
actually felt like it had more to do with all those
things we were part of.
Some time later I was talking to my brother,
and I told him about what our uncle had said. I
waited until I saw him in person, because it didn't
seem like something I should say over the phone.
My brother smiled. "I can see him saying
that," he said.
"Katti and Ramin were worried that he would
say something in public."
"He shouldn't have to be concerned with that
stuff," my brother said. "He's too old for that. I
don't mean he's too old to handle it, I mean he's too
old to have to put up with that stuff."
"Yes," I said. "He sounded young when he
said it though. I wish you could've seen how young he
sounded when he said it."
"I would've liked to have seen it."
When we were kids, my uncle had told us
about growing up in Iran and how he had finally gotten
so sick of everybody reporting everybody else that he
had decided to leave. For some reason I had always
thought that it was going to happen to me too. Even
though I wasn't growing up in Iran, I had thought that
it was going to happen to me. I just figured it was
something that I was going to end up going through.
I hoped there wouldn't be a war and I hoped
there wouldn't be a time when outside forces would be
trying to get me to choose between being American and
being Iranian. I already knew that there was a way to
not have to choose, no matter what the outside forces
tried to do. I knew it from the last war. I knew
there was a way to wake up in the morning and sign a
peace treaty inside myself before going to bed at
night. But it was going to be hard if it was my own
country that was invaded. It was going to be hard if
it was the people who spoke my language, which was not
the language that I was a writer in, but was the
language that I had been a child in. It was the
language whose speaking was close to writing for me,
because of the way it went back to so many memories I
did not know I had. They came back even just to hear
it being spoken, and the thought of something like
bombs falling on those who were living their lives in
that language, who were saying 'mother' and 'father'
in it as I had done, was a terrible one.
My brother and I didn't know what would
happen if the U.S. invaded Iran and our uncle went to
fight them there himself. We didn't want him to get
hurt, but we didn't think we could say anything
because that was the country he had grown up in. All
I knew was that there would be a time when it would
seem as foolish as any other war ever fought, because
no matter what anybody tried to say, the distance
between the two places was nothing. It was nothing
and I knew it was nothing because it was the same as
the distance between me and me, and there was nothing
that anybody could do to change that.
Siamak Vossoughi lives in San Francisco and works part-time at an elementary school and writes. He is originally from Iran. He looks forward to your feedback at email@example.com.