When our graduate students began contacting me, asking what they could do to help Esha Momeni, who is currently imprisoned in Iran for researching that country’s women’s movement, I asked a couple of them to write some comments to post on this blog that might help people see a fuller picture of Esha.
We have a small program of 45 or so students reflecting the diversity of Los Angeles itself — from the children of farmworkers to those whose parents hold PhDs; some are American born, others come to us from around the world. Many, like Esha, have a foot in two worlds, and work to help us see other countries as they see themselves. As the last few days have shown, we still have quite a ways to go in letting go of stereotypes and opening up to new, more complicated understandings.
Esha is a rarity. She is the type of person whose very presence and personality cause you to rethink many of your long-held assumptions – particularly about the roles of women and all Iranians living here and abroad. Through just our half-joking, half-serious conversations in the classroom, she taught me more about the beauty and complexity of Iran than any textbook or news report. Her love, her passion, for her people and gender is utterly infectious. I remember how, right before she left, she opened up her home to me and immersed me in Iranian culture. It was an unforgettable, eye-opening night filled with traditional songs and stories from her homeland.
She has enriched my life more than I can say, and Iran, and the world, needs to hear her message as well.
This will seem beyond cliché, but Esha is an absolutely beautiful woman- inside and out. She and I often talk about girly things – cooking, hairstyles- the typical conversations you’d expect from two young ladies. We’ve been trying to find time to plan a joint dinner party, but two years of heavy coursework can easily get in the way. Esha’s very into learning about other peoples and their cultures – I suspect this dinner party is her secret way of learning just a bit about the black experience from me under the guise of a potluck. And if you know her, you’ll know that I won’t mind acting as her ambassador at all.
On her birthday she invited me and countless other friends into her home for a party I still can’t believe I had to leave. I can still see Esha’s smiling face encouraging everyone to get on the dance floor. I can see her taking us from table to table, explaining all the colorful dishes from her homeland and apologizing for not having more vegetarian selections for me. Trust me, her passion for the Iranian food on display almost tempted me into having a taste.
This same passion for her food, her music, her art is what led her to CSUN for grad school, a place where she has become a friend to all of us. It’s why she is so loved and so missed and in my prayers.
-Anasa D. Sinegal
Esha’s friends in the campaign to free her — found at For Esha — and in the Campaign for Equality, the group she is studying, also want people to know that Esha is an Iranian-American who loves both Iran and America. The group she is studying has a history of being arrested but not of being tortured. Please read their incredible post quoting Esha’s mother about her daughter’s desire to show how powerful Iranian women can be.
If you would like to help Esha, please sign this online petition.
And finally, an excerpt from a letter written by our department chair, Dr. Kent Kirkton, circulating to our colleagues around the country:
Esha was surprised and bewildered by the image of Iranian women that most Americans seemed to have and began to explore stereotypes and barriers to cross cultural communication. She eventually decided to employ video in her thesis to document the everyday lives of Iranian women in order to combat the stereotype of them as passive and ineffectual. She had been in Iran for several weeks taping interviews as preliminary work for her thesis when she was purportedly stopped for a traffic violation.
We are heart sick that Esha is being held but hopeful that she will soon be released. Esha is a vibrant and compassionate young woman who is dedicated to greater understanding and open discourse among people. In that way, she embodies the basic notions of all of us in the academy. She is a remarkable young woman to whom the faculty and her fellow students were inevitably drawn.