Sepideh Moafi Opens Up About Being Born in a Refugee Camp, Why She Wants to Help Other Immigrants
The Deuce star Sepideh Moafi just wrapped up her arc on her third and final season of the HBO show, but she now has other big plans in mind (other than also starring on the upcoming The L Word: Generation Q on Showtime).
The actress, who now lives in L.A., wants to do everything in her power to help the plight of refugees and immigrants — which is something that she can easily relate to.
Moafi, 34, was born in a refugee camp in Germany, where her parents were living after risking everything after being forced to flee Iran in the years following the Islamic Revolution. After spending two years in Turkey, then Germany, seeking political asylum and claiming refugee status, they were granted Visas to come to the U.S., and spent several years before building up their lives in a foreign country.
Moafi, who has since found success through acting, now dedicates much of her time and energy to raising money and awareness for the International Rescue Committee, where she attends events and volunteers.
On Sunday, Nov. 17, she’ll host a fundraiser in New York City in support of the IRC and the Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs to raise funds and shed light on (and honor) stories of immigrants and refugees, all of which are similar to her own — parents fleeing war-torn countries or oppressive regimes to provide better lives for their children.
Below, Moafi explains in a first person essay her own plight as a refugee, and why she now feels so compelled to help others in the same situation.
“Hey Sepideh, did you know that you’re an alien?”
“No I’m not,” I scoff.
“Yes you are. What does that say?” My cousin hands me a card with my baby picture on it.
“Resident Alien?” I read in shock.
“It means you’re an alien who is a resident here in America,” he smugly replies.
“But …” The horror.
“You’re an alien! You’re an alien!” He mocks, relentlessly.
I scream (think Sigourney Weaver in Alien) and run into my very own twilight zone.
I later learned that the Resident Alien card was actually my Green Card, but that didn’t stop my ten-year-old self from spiraling into her first existential crisis – one that had been brewing for some time. Where do I actually belong? Where is home?
I never felt at home.
I grew up in an exceptionally warm, loving, abundantly generous, welcoming home life (though sprinkled with frequent panic attacks and PTSD from unprocessed trauma resulting from having escaped a war-torn, dictatorial country). In contrast, I found myself in a mostly cold, isolating, racist (though maybe I couldn’t admit it as such at the time) unwelcoming school life. The dissonance of these two realities created a dissonance within me.
In hindsight the question of belonging took root far before my family’s uprooting. I was born in a refugee camp in Regensburg, Germany, after my parents and sister were forced to flee the oppressive regime and war in Iran in the years following the Islamic Revolution. After spending two years in Turkey then Germany where they sought political asylum and claimed refugee status, we were finally granted Visas to come to the US.
On the surface it seemed like my family was finally able to take a deep breath. But the reality was that in addition to having to adjust to life in a completely foreign land and language, they were left with deep wounds from experiencing revolution, war, and political oppression that lead to the frequent executions of their friends and family members, as well as the loss of a hard fought battle for democracy.
Fast forward to 2016, at the height of the Syrian war as I sit in my beautiful, sun-drenched apartment in Los Angeles, enjoying cold watermelon on my day off from working as a series lead in a highly anticipated TV show (canceled after one season, but that’s beside the point). A recurring theme in my life revisits me — another existential crisis but this time with different question: why me and not them? How come I have the luxury of pursuing my dream while these equally exceptional human beings are suffering, and are refused a home and basic human rights as they endure unimaginable hardship resulting from the same circumstances my family endured.
Enraged at the injustice, I FaceTime my parents and ask through my fire-filled tears: “Why do I get this life, and they don’t?” To which my mother, in all of her glory and wisdom replied “Don’t ask why. Just say thank you.” In that moment, this golden nugget of wisdom quelled my fire and my heart flooded with gratitude.
Over the years I have come to realize that this gratitude, while essential, is not enough. Being a refugee has shaped my life and I feel fiercely moved to not only help destigmatize but also humanize our struggling brothers and sisters around the globe.
In a time when Trump has slashed refugee admissions to a historic low and we’re in an unprecedented need for global resettlement, I’m inspired by agencies like The International Rescue Committee, with which I work closely. I am spearheading a fundraiser alongside HBO for The IRC as well as The Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs in NYC on November 17, 2019. Founded by Albert Einstein, The IRC has resettled over 400,000 refugees into the U.S. since World War II, and provided relief to millions of uprooted people around the world.
Though I am a U.S. citizen today, I have yet to graduate from feeling like that ten-year-old “alien”. I wonder: does any displaced person ever feel “at home”?
Home is relative. Coming to this realization is a privilege.