Queens author uncovers her history in debut memoir
by Sara Krevoy
Apr 30, 2020 | 3575 views | 0 0 comments | 358 358 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Esther Amini, Author; Photo Credit: Aaron Levine
Esther Amini, Author; Photo Credit: Aaron Levine
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Esther, 5 years old, in her Kew Gardens backyard; Courtesy of Esther Amini
Esther, 5 years old, in her Kew Gardens backyard; Courtesy of Esther Amini
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Esther, in New York, with her mother; Courtesy of Esther Amini
Esther, in New York, with her mother; Courtesy of Esther Amini
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On the surface, Esther Amini’s story is one that resonates with many kids growing up in Queens.

The first American-born child to two Iranian immigrants, Amini spent her formative years navigating the intersection of two worlds: the traditions of her parents’ home country and the open possibilities of a new land, America.

In her first memoir, Amini is putting that adventure to paper, uncovering her experiences as a dutiful daughter longing, at the same time, to determine her own path.

“Concealed: Memoir of a Jewish-Iranian Daughter Caught Between the Chador and America” begins in the 1960s with Amini’s childhood, an upbringing defined by the diametrically opposed reactions of her mother and father to living in the U.S.

“Since mine is a story that has never been told, partly due to illiteracy and partly due to secrecy, I felt a strong obligation to pen,” revealed Amini, the first female in her family to be schooled and become literate, “not only the tale of my ancestors, but also how their underground lives bled into my above-ground life here in New York City.”

Amini’s parents were Orthodox Jews from Mashhad, Iran’s holiest Muslim city. Her mother, Hana, was orphaned at birth, and at the age of 14 was coerced into marrying Amini’s father, who was 20 years older than she.

Due to life-threatening anti-Semitism, Jews in Mashhad posed as Muslims in public, while secretly practicing their religion at home.

After World War II, Amini’s mother was resolved to move her family to the U.S., where they eventually settled in Kew Gardens. With the newfound freedom of America threatening Persian traditions, each of Amini’s parents clung to the past in their own way.

To one end, Hana was unstoppable in revealing her voice, while at the same time striving to be the best housewife possible. Amini’s father, on the other hand, was fearful of the outside world and curtailed his daughter’s talking, reading and education, pushing for an early marriage instead.

Though Amini grew up in a tight-knit Persian-Jewish community, she was at the same time attending public schools in one of the most diverse cities in the world. Meeting classmates from all kinds of backgrounds opened the young girl’s eyes.

“It certainly caused me to question my life and the values handed down to me,” she said, “since many of these children were expected to attend college and eventually work. The expectation in my home was that I marry, become a housewife, and remain as uneducated as possible.”

Eager to leave home, Amini threw herself into her studies, opting to attend college rather than agree to a prearranged marriage. The decision horrified her father, who subsequently protested with a hunger strike.

Today, Amini is a writer, painter and psychoanalytic therapist, driven by a desire to understand the complexities of human feeling.

In 2016, Amini was named one of Aspen Words’ two best emerging memoirists and awarded the organization’s Emerging Writer Fellowship based on “Concealed,” then still a work in progress.

By no means is Amini a novice writer. Many of her short stories have appeared in publications like “Elle Magazine,” “Tablet,” “Proximity” and “Lillith.” Her pieces have been performed by the Jewish Women’s Theatre on stages in Los Angeles and Manhattan.

Even so, writing a memoir, says Amini, was an entirely new storytelling experience. And in many ways, the journey to completing “Concealed” mirrors the book’s subject matter.

“From the first syllable to the very last page of my memoir, written words felt like smuggled imports,” Amini describes. “It required digging deep, accessing all kinds of memories, and not holding back.”

As she began to lay out her family affairs for all to read, Amini underwent an internal battle, steadily defying taboos ingrained by both her father and her culture. She found herself buried by “2,000 years of Persian Jewry,” from which emerged echoed refrains to stifle her self-expression.

In the end, however, Amini was propelled to publish the memoir by that same ancestral force.

“I felt a moral obligation to push through and write not just for me, but on behalf of all the women who came before me,” Amini said, “reduced to silence, unable to read or write, unable to leave their stories behind.”

Amini hopes that readers, regardless of ethnic background, will come away feeling less alone. We can all relate to the struggle of solidifying our identities and independence.

“Growing up is difficult, and growing up doesn't end,” she explained. “‘Concealed’ addresses how we’re shaped by the demands of loyalty and legacy and the universal challenge of what to keep and what to discard.”

While she is still focused on “Concealed,” which was released just last week, Amini says that continuing to write feels “essential.” She intends to eventually return to the pen and publish another book.
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