Political Cartoon: “Nonmacher BBQ Non Sequitur On Bigotry” 2011 by Iranian American Cartoonist and Artist Kaveh Adel
At first I was angry at the photo of cowboys posing next to a hanged “Iranian”. This had been in Mr. Nonmacher’s Barbeque restaurant in Katy, Texas since the hostage crisis in 1980. Why then all of a sudden, is it getting so much press?
And why did I feel compelled to draw a cartoon about it?
My first instinct after anger was to go into a rant, as I would sometimes do, and tell this gentleman off. To tell him that his “Iranians suck” t-shirt truly sucks, launch an attack on him personally and express unfounded generalizations about Texas and all the people who live there. Believe me, I read what some of my compatriots, friends and even family members wrote. Some went into rather long-winded and even derogatory terminology to express their disgust. But then I thought what is really accomplished by this? Am I acting like an animal who is wounded and feels the necessity to bark and attack back or is there another way? a knee jerk reaction?
I took a breath. And listened and watched. And listened some more. I find that listening is a skill that in today’s world is missing. But I digress. I wanted to get into the mind of the restaurant owner despite the fact that bigotry oozed out of every pore. I did not see eye to eye with him one bit. But I listened…..
Flashback to 1980.
I was 6 years old when the hostage crisis happened. I lived about a 20 minutes walk from the American Embassy in Tehran and walked past the embassy everyday on my way to school. I used to cringe when I saw the effigies of America (Uncle Sam) hung and burnt at the anniversary of the storming of the embassy. I also witnessed hanging of political dissidents in Iran at the hands of the Islamic republic. I used to think to myself ” why should I hang and burn something that I have not understood?” When we studied history of Iran we knew ourselves to be hospitable people, tolerant and caring. What happened? What happened to our humanity?
The hanging image hung in my mind’s eye on an unsettling wall, so to speak.
I also read and learned about American history (not in school, but from books in my father’s library–back then we could not google it!) I read about Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King, Geronimo and John F. Kennedy. But, I also saw the photos of lynched and hung Native-Americans and African-Americans. I asked myself the same question as before. What happened to our Humanity? America, Land of freedom, but what happened ? At what cost? What about their humanity?
It was puzzling.
Who was better?
Who was worse?
Was there something else going on here?
Flash forward to 1987.
I immigrated to the U.S. in the late 80′s where I got to form my own experiential feel of America in the Midwest, Northeast and even the South.
I realized that not everyone expresses themselves as I do. Nor should one expect all of us to be alike.
We are the sum total of our experiences.
The America I know is different from the America that an American-Born feels and knows. And, an American from one part of America has a different experience that the other. But again, I was surprised that even that rule did not apply. That geography did not mean much once we go deep down into the core of the matter, more accurately the core of the person. The core of each individual is unique and has the ability to think and feel individually regardless of its surroundings.
One can lift one self out of one’s own situation, one’s current way of thinking. Or just be happy to be where one is, physically or intellectually. America grants each person that, for the most part. It allows for that individuality, no matter how strange it may look to another.
It’s the freedom to express one’s views. without being persecuted.
Which brings me to my dilemma. The same great freedom is granted to me as is to Mr. Nonmacher. I respect his first amendment right as he should mine to disagree with him. I discourage and urge those who want to force him to strip down that vile photo, because that will only do one thing.
It validates the bigotry. Victimizes the bigot.
I truly believe that there is a reason behind it and I am willing to bet with communication we can find out the cause, maybe even come to understand it.
Once we bring down the gauntlet on freedom then we become what we tried to get away from, a crusader who is putting an effigy on stick and is burning it or hanging it or someone who relishes in seeing others suffer.
My Humanistic Challenge:
I invite Mr. Nonmacher to a mutual gathering where he would learn about Iranians as I have learned about Americans, precisely why I proudly call myself an Iranian-American. I guarantee that once he sits down and talks with me, learns about Iranian people, the culture, the poetry and maybe even gets to sample some of my Iranian (Persian) food and I some of his food( I do love Barbeque–and yes I do eat pork!) he will find more in common than he realized before. And then, we can start to understand each other, listen and maybe even become friends. Maybe then he will come to realize what is bothersome to me and others like me in his hanging photo.
To Quote a wise American Writer, Dale Carnegie, let’s “Appeal to the Nobler Motives.”
To quote my father, “Where ever you live learn the language, the customs and the way of life of the society you live in and help those around you, be a positive force in your surroundings.” That’s what I have done since I set foot in America and I have proof, Mr. Nonmacher.
Maybe he will willingly take it down and as a humanistic gesture I will take down my cartoon and replace it with a photo of both of us shaking hands. That’s a promise. It’s a human thing to do. I respect individuality and personal choice and I think until we don’t understand each other we need to all wear a T-shirt saying “My Bigotry sucks.”
Kaveh Adel, the Human.
Kaveh Adel, Iranian American Artist and Cartoonist.