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In Iran Exploding Interest

Growing up, I didn't feel a strong connection to Iran. I wasn't born there and I've only visited once in my life.

As a kid, I remember tuning my dad out every time he talked about Iranian politics. And they were definitely conversations to avoid around the dinner table, because they usually ended with him dropping the f-word — fascist. My dad seemed addicted to conspiracy theories involving the government. I always figured that it couldn't be as bad as he said it was. But now that Iran's big fake lever of democracy has been revealed for what it is, I sympathize with my dad a lot more.

When millions of people began protesting the Iranian election results, it suddenly felt very personal. My aunt and uncle from Iran were actually visiting me in New York on the day of the election. Their daughter is just two years older than me. She's also in college. She volunteered for Mousavi's campaign doing basically what young volunteers do here in the States — handing out literature and putting up posters. But that proved dangerous after the election.

She called my uncle often in the early days of mass protests and police crackdowns. These moments full of hushed tones and furrowed brows, would snap us back to the reality of the situation. After one of these conversations my uncle grimly told my aunt that someone had taken their daughter's license plate. I was confused about why this was so serious. Why did they both look so scared? They told me this is a common strategy used by Iranian police against critics of the government. When people like my cousin report their missing license plate, the police arrest them.

When my aunt returned to Iran, she retrieved the license plate for my cousin without any repercussions from the police. But my family considers the incident a thinly veiled threat. They worry that my cousin could disappear herself if she continues her vocal opposition and protesting.

Now when I see photographs from the protests, it's like looking at pictures of my family. I find myself wanting to tell people, "Yeah, I am Iranian."

I try to stay in touch with my cousin as much as I can. I often find myself up until 3 a.m., following Twitter and Facebook updates from her and other relatives who I've never even met before.

But lately, my cousin's Facebook updates and Twitter messages have become less frequent, and I'm left to wonder why. Is she avoiding attention from the government — taking a long view and quietly working for some kind of lasting change? Or is it something else?

Not knowing is the hardest part for me. All I can do is worry about my family in a country that seems so far away, but is also mine.

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