Digital Story

A Tale of Two Countries:

Surviving in a Foreign Land

A Look Beyond

As dad’s across the US begin to read the paper each morning, they hand their children the funny pages. Rows upon rows of comics that contain politically and socially relevant information. Five-year-olds are learning about the “Axis of Evil,” not from their parents but from their comics. These same kids are going to school and meeting immigrant classmates or classmates with immigrant parents, and berating and attacking them solely because of the funny pages that morning. This deep seeded fear and hatred of middle eastern immigrants don’t need to be passed down from parent to child, the media will always make sure that fear and hatred never die. 

I chose to write the story of an Iranian immigrant who not just survived her time in the US, but excelled. Nellie Pournader exemplifies the grit and determination needed to grow up as an immigrant in America. She blocked out bullies, excelled in her academics, went into a career field that she was passionate about, and climbed to a position of power and authority. Nellie Pournader achieved something more powerful than the “American Dream.” She was seen as an equal. She was respected.

Nellie’s Story

Nellie Pournader was just five years old when she uprooted her life in Iran with her family and moved to the US. In such a time of great uncertainty, Nellie relied on her one constant: family. The Pournader’s living situation in the US was three families in a three bedroom apartment. “All I remember was getting to spend every day with my cousins and aunties, it was like a never ending sleepover” remarked Nellie. When she started school, Nellie’s Iranian heritage was not taken too kindly by the other students, and even with her strong support system, she began to resent her Iranian heritage and culture.

Nellie went to college to pursue what many Iranian immigrants pursue, either engineering or medicine. She attended University of Maryland as a pre-med major, but it was never what made her happy. With the support of her now husband, Sean, a fellow Iranian immigrant, Nellie stepped away from the traditional mold and took a few business classes. She found she not only excelled in this new field, but was truly passionate about it. After college she received an MBA and began working in the corporate world. She ended up at Sysco Systems, a multinational wholesale corporation.

It wasn’t until college where Nellie met Sean that she began to embrace her culture again. Nellie began speaking Farsi again and cooking traditional Persian cuisine she hadn’t had since she’d lived in that small three bedroom apartment with her extended family. Sean was confident in himself and his heritage which helped Nellie see her Iranian heritage as something to be loved, embraced, and shared. This knowledge was carried with the couple through marriage and into the hearts of their children: Nikki and Nousha.

“Marrying a fellow Iranian has been so helpful with raising our kids. We reinforce the importance of embracing our Iranian heritage in our own ways. I’ve always cooked traditional Persian meals for our girls, while Sean encourages them to practice their Farsi with him, as he is fluent.” One of their daughters, Nikki, is a current UNC-CH undergraduate, minoring in Farsi all thanks to her parents’ dedication to immersing their children in their Iranian heritage.

“If I had to give advice to anyone in the situation I was once in, I would say embrace your culture. Embrace it, love it, and make sure you continue the tradition with your children”

– Nellie Pournader

A Taste
of Iran:

Khoresh Bademjan

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