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Being Persian in Canada

JULY 2024

My name is Nika Asgari and I am a recent graduate from the University of Toronto with a double major in Political Science and Diaspora & Transnational Studies.

I became a UofMosiac Fellow to engage with fellow activists and learn more about how to create an equitable world. 

I chose to write about "Being Persian in Canada" for my research paper. I decided to write this paper prior to the current women lead revolution happening in Iran. The experiences and feelings I wrote about in this paper have only heightened today. I hope this paper offers a perspective of what being in the Persian diaspora is like. This experience is unique in incredibly unfortunate ways. I hope that folks who have been fortunate enough to not have such experiences can gain a new perspective through this piece. 

My ultimate hope is that this piece exemplifies why we should all be fighting for Women, Life, Freedom.

AUTHOR

Nika Asgari

UofMosaic Fellow

Cohort: 2021 - 2023

nika.jpeg

On January 8th, 2020, Flight PS752 was shot down by a missile directed by the Iranian government. Flight PS752, which was scheduled to land in Kyiv, fell in Iran and took the lives of all 176 passengers on board, including 55 Canadian citizens and 30 permanent residents. I heard the news that would eventually shock the nation and devastate the Iranian community when I was about to leave a Persian bakery in North Vancouver. I had just sunk my teeth into a Persian pirashki. 

I was flying back to Toronto on January 9th, 2020, and had agreed to go on a delivery run with my father before I left Vancouver. Growing up, my parents owned a small produce store there. It was one of the only Persian/Middle Eastern grocers in the city and, therefore, served the city’s Middle Eastern, North African (MENA), and Mediterranean communities. The store included a deli and a hot foods section which had a variety of foods from the MENA region and surrounding areas. However, there were certain goods, such as freshly baked bread and pastries, that my dad could not make in the shop’s small kitchen. As a result, he would often travel to a bakery that was located in the municipality of North Vancouver - one of Canada’s largest Persian communities. As a child, my favourite activity was to accompany my dad on these visits to North Vancouver. This is partly because these trips were a rare occasion where I could spend quality time with him, but mostly because I got to eat baked goods, my favourite being the Persian pirashki. A Persian pirashki is essentially a fried doughnut that is filled with a sweet custard and that is simultaneously round and triangularly shaped. This doughnut is about the same size as an 8-year-old girl’s head (speaking from experience).

When we would enter the shop at the end of our long drive, my eyes would always shoot straight ahead to the cash register that stood directly opposite the door. The pirashkis (if there were any left) were always laid out on a tray and covered with a thin layer of cling wrap right beside the cash register as though they were jewels that the owner had to keep safe. When it was a lucky day and they had not sold out before our arrival, my dad would always examine the tray and ask for two of the freshest and largest-looking pirashkis with the crispiest edges. Once purchased, I would formally thank the lady behind the cash register, and hurry to the car. As soon as the engine would start running, I would gently take the warm doughnut in my two small hands and take a huge bite that made the sprinklings of desiccated coconut bounce off the top. As I looked down to make sure I didn’t make too much of a mess (which I always did), my mouth would fill with a smooth custard. A bite from the corner of the doughnut would release the spirit of the warm oil that the pastry had just been submerged in. The best part of the doughnut was always the centre, where the sweet custard was pooled. The thick consistency, which was somehow also light, was always the perfect contrast to the heavier, more savoury dough it was encapsulated in. When I would finish my treat, I had made it a ritual to indulge in a well-deserved, food-coma-induced nap all the way back to the store.

In January of 2020, I would have liked to think that my palette and extra-curricular activities had improved significantly since the time that I was 8, but alas, my favourite pastry was still a pirashki and I would greatly look forward to the days that I could go on delivery runs to North Vancouver with my father. So, when my dad asked me to accompany him on a delivery trip the day before I was supposed to fly back to Toronto for school, the answer was an unequivocal yes. Our trip had all the main staples of our delivery runs growing up: we played music a bit too loud on the way, we chatted and caught up with each other, and my dad would drop by the various stores he needed to pick up or drop off items to while I sat in the car and wrote the invoices. Finally, at our last stop, we arrived at the Persian bakery that sold the pirashkis that I had trekked the long trip for. As we entered the bakery, everything was normal. I formally greeted the baker and asked her how she was doing. I eyed at all the baked goods to encourage my digestive system to start running. My dad ordered the biggest-looking pirashkis with the crispiest edges. I thanked the baker as she handed me my doughnut and I immediately felt the warmth of the pastry in my cold hands. That day, I must have perused the baked goods section for a few minutes too long because my stomach was begging for the doughnut as soon as it was placed in my hands. So, instead of rushing to the car and waiting for the engine to run before I took my first bit as per tradition, I decided to take my first bite right there in the bakery. 
   

As I bit into my pirashki and I started chewing, I heard a few gasps in the bakery. I noticed the baker turning the volume up on the TV that was sitting in the corner of the shop. I saw lingering footage of a plane and the headlines of ‘Breaking News’ flashing across the screen. Suddenly, the pirashki in my mouth became a little too difficult to swallow as a growing lump in my throat was competing for space. I watched the TV for what seemed like decades with my fellow patrons. We were all in utter shock. On the drive home, the rest of my now cold pirashki layed in the backseat while I sat in the front trying to fall asleep as my mind ran in sheer panic. Who did I know that was on that flight? 


For the rest of that month, I felt feelings of grief and anger that were inconceivable to me. Before the flight, the United States was having tensions with Iran as they had shot down Soleimani, an Iranian military official. Much of the Iranian community was glad to see Soleimani dead as he had been the cause of death for hundreds of innocent, freedom-seeking, Iranians. However, at the same time, the community was afraid of what might come of this act of aggression as tensions were high and the possibility of war seemed to be on the horizon. When Flight PS752 was shot down, the concern in my body liquified into utter devastation as I slowly learned the names of the passengers on the flight, those who I did not know and those who I did. Among the familiar names were the names of the wife and daughter of a man who owned Amir’s Bakery in North Vancouver. As the community rallied around the grieving father and now-widow, I realized that this man had a very similar role in the Persian community as my father did. This was the part of the attack which has pained me the most. Iranians have always known that our lives are regarded as being disposable to the Islamic Regime that rules over Iran. Iranians in the diaspora are also heavily aware that they are targets of the Islamic Regime and its war on Iranians that oppose them. However, knowing how common the flight route of Tehran - Kyiv - Canada is and how easily the Iranian government is able to murder innocent Canadian citizens who are simply living their daily lives, without a blink of an eye, and without consequence as of January 2023, is both enraging and terrifying.  

AUTHORS NOTE:

*This piece was written before the female-led revolution in Iran during the last 5 months following the murder of Mahsa Amini. The Association of Families of Flight PS752 Victims is an organization founded and led by families who have lost their loved ones on flight PS752. This association asks for justice for their family members by holding the Islamic Regime accountable for their heinous crimes. They have also been a leader in the Persian diaspora which is fighting in solidarity with Iranian women who call for the downfall of the Islamic Regime that is governing Iran. For more information about The Association of Families of Flight PS752 Victims, please visit their website: https://www.ps752justice.com/. 

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