Iranian-Born Woman Embraces Life and Culture

Iranian-Born Woman Embraces Life and Culture

Ian Cervantes

Verzhine Nikoghosyan, staff reporter

Leaving her life behind, she only packed two suitcases, not realizing that she would never return.

Catherine Yesayan an Armenian, was born in Tehran, Iran, in October 1948.

“It was the year that taxi cabs started working in Tehran,” said Yesayan.

Moving to the U.S. in 1979, she found herself in a position of a stay-at-home mother of three, two girls and a boy, facing new challenges.

Despite living under the Shah’s rule, life was full of happiness and content because of the love from her family and friends.

“I always felt Iran was my country,” said Yesayan.

Everything seemed perfect until a dark day in Iran’s history, known as “Black Sunday.” It was Nov. 5, 1978 when an angry mob took to the streets demanding the Shah’s resignation. Protesters wore white robes demanding that the monarch resign.

In Islamic tradition, dead bodies are wrapped in white robes before they are placed in a coffin. The symbolism of the white robes meant that people were willing to die for the cause, said Yesayan.

Packing only two suitcases, Yesayan fled Iran for England with her husband and a 4-year-old daughter. Hoping to return, they left everything behind. It was 25 days after Black Sunday when they arrived in England, and they never returned.

“We didn’t really know what was going on and we went with two suitcases thinking that when everything quiets down we will be back,” she said.

While staying in a hotel in England, they learned that the situation was getting worse and decided to stay longer.

The crossroads took them to the U.S., their final destination.

“Friends in London advised us to look into opportunities and new beginning in the United States rather than in London. So, after a week staying in the Kensington Hilton we flew to New York, where my uncle had a rug business. There, friends and family advised us to look into California. So, on January 6, 1979 we arrived in Glendale and had been living there since,” she said.

In the U.S. she found herself surrounded with a new life, full of changes and adjustments. It wasn’t difficult for her to get used to the new surroundings because she attended American University in Iran. Nevertheless the new life had its joys and challenges.

“When we came to the U.S. we were seven years married with one daughter but I had two more kids here. I was so busy with the kids, a new country, a new life. I really didn’t have a chance to educate myself,” she said.

Her desire to continue her education never vanished. The missed opportunities didn’t make her give up.

While she doesn’t regret anything in her life, she does wish she was able to finish the Art school in Tehran. “Sometimes when you are young you don’t appreciate what you have. So I went back to painting by taking classes in Glendale College.”

Some time after raising kids and still being a grandmother, wife and a daughter, she decided to go back to school to pursue her dreams. “You think it’s much easier when the kids are gone, but I guess now I have my other responsibilities. I help my daughter with my grandchild, I also help my mother, who is here in the U.S. and my mother in law too. As a matter of fact I guess when the kids were young I had more more time to do what I wanted to do.” As every woman her life is full of things to be done but she finds time for herself too.

“I always strived to go to college, but it was not easy because my husband started an antique business and I had to support him. Then he went into real estate and I joined him. Having three kids and taking them here and there, chauffeuring around is handful. You really can’t do much with three kids, but when everybody went away to college, I decided to go back to school.”

Yesayan sacrificed her dreams and career goals to raise a family but somewhere in between all this there were still dreams that remained hidden inside. There was still a burning passion.

“It’s a matter of having a passion,” said Yesayan. “When you have a passion in life then you want to pursue it. I realized that my passion is to write and I am writing. I write about what happened in Iran, my life and my reflections.”

She took writing classes in Glendale College and now she is blogging. Her blog, Beyond the Blue Domes, has 2,000 visitors monthly, according to her. The title represents the domes of the mosques in Iran which are usually decorated in blue tiles. She writes about the past, present and everything on both sides of these domes, about Iran and outside its borders. She plans to continue taking writing classes.

Her active life never stops. She has been a member of Human Relation Coalition and working close with the city of Glendale, she helped realize number of projects.

She is a strong advocate of diversity and culture, which is why one of her suggestions to the city of Glendale was to bring different cultures together when the violence and gang clashes were overflowing.

She brings people together by organizing meetings at her home too. Every month she opens her home for a club for women. Marilyn Gunnel, community activist, has known Yesayan for 15 years and attends her club.

“She is an unusual lady, she has many talents, and wherever Catherine is there is food for everyone. She is intelligent and experienced in many things and anyone who is around her loves it,” said Gunnel.

The Shades of Culture Women’s Club, created by Yesayan, meets at her home every month to discuss diversity issues. She opens her doors with food and warmness to bring women of different cultures together.

“I started the club because I wanted to bring different ethnic groups together. I thought there was a need to break the barriers of different ethnic groups but as a matter of fact, now I don’t think there is that much of a difference.”

Karine Armen, teacher, writer, and friend said, “She is very caring, compassionate, and she has a passion for writing. The Shades of Culture Women’s Club was her idea and she opens her home for us. She is always welcoming and hospitable.”

There is still much more that Yesayan has accomplished and still accomplishes in her life, but the most important thing for her is not what she does but who she is.

Her work in the community is the result of her passion and strong feel for cause.

Those two suitcases were not the only things she brought to America, she brought her dreams, her passion and herself. This is encouragement for all women to pursue their dreams and passion.