Tannaz Tabatabaei

TannazELD Instructor tannaz.tabatabaei@hccts.org
Tannaz Tabatabaei is a perfect example of karmic retribution. Most of Tannaz’s life was one misfortune leading to another, until her arranged marriage turned out to be a dream come true and she won the lottery to become a citizen of the United States.

It all starts like this: Tannaz was born in Iran, but grew up in Germany with her mother.

“I never saw my dad. He visited Germany maybe every six months and eventually ended up marrying someone else in Iran without telling or divorcing my mother,” Tannaz said. “My mother never liked Germany. She hated the weather. So one day when my dad was talking up Iran and how wonderful it was, he tricked her into moving back. Once we moved back, he divorced her and left her with nothing as is custom in the Iranian culture.”

Furthermore, once Tannaz’s mother moved her back to Iran, she was stuck at her father’s will. So when Tannaz’s mother had to move back to her home country, Turkey, to be supported by family, Tannaz had to stay in Iran and live with her father and his new wife.

“It was horrible,” Tannaz recalls, “I am thankful though because his new wife opened my eyes – really. When I came back from Germany I was very naive and I believed everyone. I was a baby. I thought when people said something that was what they meant. She didn’t – she was really mean, but I learned a lot.”

The things Tannaz’s step mother did were akin to the story of Cinderella. She would break crystals and blame it on Tannaz, in hopes Tannaz would be kicked out into the streets. And after this marriage failed, her father’s third wife carried on tradition. This wife would lock Tannaz out of the bathroom if she didn’t clean the house properly. And more than once, Tannaz was pulled out of bed in the dead of night by her father who would berate her for something she never did.

“My father changed entirely in this time. His attitude changed entirely toward me,” Tannaz said. “Because we were in Iran I couldn’t disobey my father. My father was a dictator honestly. Believe it or not I’m still scared of him. Sometimes I have to remind myself, ‘Why am I still scared of him? What is wrong with me?’”

On top of this turmoil in her own home, 18-year-old Tannaz was having a hard enough time adjusting to a Muslim culture after being raised in Germany for the past 15 years.

“It was a shock. I never liked it. I had very high self confidence, but coming back to Iran they broke it. Saying stuff like, ‘Why is she talking like this? Why is she doing that?’ I just had to change and I did, but I never liked it. I just listened to my music and read books and held it all in,” she said.

It was these creative outlets that saved Tannaz in the long run. No matter what was happening, Tannaz said she remembers focusing all of her attention into becoming a university student. This meant perfecting her Farsi and learning Arabic, and all the while maintaining her grades in new subjects like the Quran.

While this period challenged Tannaz, she can now communicate in five separate languages with students at our school, and carries a breadth of understanding and empathy into her classroom.

Tannaz now teaches a classroom full of immigrant women from Afghanistan in West Sacramento. She teaches a morning and afternoon class, which totals in over 50 students. She is beloved by her students and highly respected in their community.

On paper, Tannaz is teaching these women to speak English, but in reality she is doing so much more. She is teaching them to love themselves and she is exposing them to more worldly perspectives.

“My students, every day, they come up to me after class and say things like, ‘Teacher, please forgive us. We are so stupid, but thank you so much for trying,’” Tannaz said remorsefully. “And I’m like, ‘Don’t tell me that! You are not stupid. Don’t say that. I love all of you. I don’t see this as a job. I come here every day to see my sisters.’”

It pains Tannaz, because she experienced this kind of repression first hand, but she continues to fight for what she knows is right.

“I tell them, ‘You have to be proud of yourself because you are here. You are in this class. You could be in the kitchen cutting vegetables, but you aren’t. Good job, you are here!’” she said. “I tell them, ‘You are all beautiful. You have to love yourself. Kiss yourself in the mirror every morning. Be proud of yourself. Never say that you lost everything, that they married me off when I was 17, that my life is ruined. Never say that. Be thankful for who you are. You are able to do anything you want. You just have to put your mind to it. And tell yourself, ‘I can do it. I can do it. I can do it.’’”

The reason Tannaz can speak like this now is because her father’s last attempt to control Tannaz forever is ultimately what set her free.

“I was living with my mom, and my dad called me one day and said, ‘I want to see you,’ and I’m like, ‘Okay, let’s meet.’ So we met at some coffeeshop or something and he said, ‘Okay daughter, you are 22. I just want to tell you that you have to get married.’ Just like that,” Tannaz said. “And I said, ‘Oh really, why?’ And he said, ‘Because I say so, because it’s time, and I know a person and he’s not drinking and he’s not smoking – so that’s it. Let me put it on my calendar – okay this date – done. Just like that.”

Little did Tannaz’s father know, but this man would become Tannaz’s best friend and life partner.
He protected Tannaz when her father attempted to stop her from getting a Master’s degree, he left his successful insurance company in Iran and moved to the United States to start again so that Tannaz could be comfortable in her own skin, and he said he fell in love with Tannaz from the moment he saw her because she was so purely herself and unlike anyone else.

“Sometimes when we lived in Iran we got influenced by all those things,” Tannaz said, “but in a nutshell, when we came to America, we found happiness. You will laugh, but everytime I see an American flag it brings tears to my eyes.”