Reza Namin, who this week took over as superintendent of Westbrook schools, immigrated from Iran nearly 30 years ago. With no family or friends in the country, Namin said he chose to settle in Worcester, Mass., because of the number of colleges in the town, and an education what he was after. He went on to earn a doctorate in math and science. As his native country continues to protest against the results of its presidential election last month, Namin, 49, spoke this week about the issues at hand for Iranians, President Barack Obama’s reaction to the situation in Iran and the general perception of America today.

Q: Do you have relatives who are in Iran? What do they say about what’s going on there?

A: I have all of my family there. For people who live there, the common thing is the economics. It’s about the impact they have at home. It’s about the comfort and happiness of each household. There’s a high inflation rate and unemployment, and that’s what people talk about. It’s about the maturity and growth of a nation and going through the same struggles the United States had to go through in 1776. It’s all about internal struggle, which every country has to go through. As a nation grows, they have to fight for their rights. The courage of the young women fighting for their rights is something I always knew, and it’s good that other people are seeing it, too. You can’t separate politics and religion. The struggle is always going to continue on because the separation is not there.

Q: Have the people you know participated in protests?

A: Not that I know.

Q: Where do you feel the origins of the anti-American sentiment in Iran come from?

A: I don’t think there is any. I and people I know believe in what the United states stands for. Maybe there’s a controlled group that is trying to present that, but the truth is the real people don’t. It’s the opposite of that.

Q: How did you form your opinions of America and why did you decide to come here?

A: It’s about the opportunity. My opinion from the beginning was having the right to grow personally and express yourself and to practice what I believe, which is respect and tolerance of differences. With my family, that’s what we stood for, which are basic human rights.

Q: How do you feel the election of Barack Obama has affected the situation in Iran?

A: I think it did significantly to the entire Middle East. You don’t necessarily have to do anything. By representing who you are, I think that has a significant impact. Sometimes without saying anything, when you are there and speak as a role model – he reflected what America’s really about. That had far more impact than any actions in my belief. You could force that or you could just reflect that by who you are.

Q: How do you think Obama and America should react to what’s going on now?

A: I think that what they’re doing is what they should. What he’s doing is basically respecting. Over a period of time, change will happen. If you bring people the change, they don’t have the ownership of it. I think sometimes the best thing to do is just reflect who you are and what you stand for, not force your opinion on others. It’s all about tolerance and differences. Clearly, history shows the other way didn’t work.

The family of Reza Namin, Westbrook’s new superintendent, still lives in Iran. He believes Obama’s election had an effect on people there simply by showing them what America was about.


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