Growing up, all W. Kamau Bell knew about Iran was “hostages, hijacked planes and Jimmy Carter looking like he wished he had stayed a peanut farmer,” he intoned in the latest episode of “United Shades of America,” which premiered on CNN on Aug. 30. But after traveling to New York City and speaking with Persian-Americans, including State Sen. Anna Kaplan, he learned more about Iranian culture.
Kaplan, a Democrat from Great Neck who represents large portions of Elmont and Franklin Square, immigrated to the United States in 1979 — a tumultuous time in the country’s history. In the wake of a popular revolt that overthrew the American-installed shah, exiled cleric Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini returned from Paris to assume power as head of the state, and began consolidating his grip on the country. Kaplan was only 13 at the time, and remembered the schools closing, shooting that took place throughout the day, and the strict curfews that kept people off the streets at night.
Among the chief victims of the regime change was the country’s sizable Jewish population, of which Kaplan was a member, and who, as part of Khomeini’s strategy to undercut more liberal elements of Iranian society, was targeted for state-sponsored discrimination because of perceived links to Israel.
Within the first few months of the revolution, Kaplan was among the hundreds of Iranian Jewish children to flee to the United States as refugees. On an especially cold April night, Kaplan recalled arriving at John F. Kennedy International Airport, and was bused to Crown Heights with four other girls. Read More