'Americanized' Recounts What It's Like To Grow Up Undocumented

Mar 28, 2018
Originally published on April 2, 2018 12:26 pm
Copyright 2018 Fresh Air. To see more, visit Fresh Air.

TERRY GROSS, HOST:

This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross. My guest says her life began during a hostage crisis, a revolution and a war. When Sara Saedi was born in Iran in 1980, Americans were being held hostage by revolutionary Iranian students who had stormed the American embassy. The Ayatollah Khomeini had just come to power, turning the country into a fundamentalist state, and Iran was at war with Iraq. When Saedi was 2, she fled the country with her family and moved to California where they had relatives. When their visitors visas expired, they stayed in California, hoping their applications for green cards would eventually be approved.

Saedi remembers her teenage years as marked by aloof boys, prepping for the SATs and a looming fear of deportation. She became a citizen at the age of 26. She's now a TV writer. She's currently with the CW series "iZombie," and she writes books for young adults. Her new book is a memoir for young adults called "Americanized: Rebel Without A Green Card."

Sara Saedi, welcome to FRESH AIR. So were you the only person your age when you were growing up who you knew who was also undocumented?

SARA SAEDI: Yes. Aside from my sister, who was 3 years older than me, I didn't know anybody else in my friend group or in my high school that was undocumented.

GROSS: So you were 13 when you found out your family's immigration status.

SAEDI: Yes.

GROSS: Tell us the story of how you found out.

SAEDI: Well, you know, I had no idea that we were undocumented. I didn't - I'd never even heard the term. At that time, they said illegal alien. And I had never heard that term before. It was just one afternoon after school spending time with my sister, and she was filling out job applications. And I remember her being really frustrated because every application asked for a Social Security number. And I didn't even know at the time what a Social Security number was. And she revealed to me that we didn't have Social Security numbers because we had entered the country illegally and that we could essentially get deported at any point if the government found out that we were living in the United States.

GROSS: So how did that knowledge affect you?

SAEDI: It was shocking. I mean, at that point, we had been living in the U.S., in the Bay Area specifically, for 10 years. And it gave me a lot of anxiety as a teenager, just the idea that we could get deported, that we could get sent back to Iran, which was a country that I was familiar with because we were Iranian but never - I didn't remember living there. I was 2 years old when I came to the states. So I would say that it gave me a baseline of anxiety through my teen years all the way until I was 20, which is when I finally did get a green card.

GROSS: How worried were you about getting deported when you were a teenager?

SAEDI: It was something that was always in the back of my mind. My parents were very reassuring, and they tried to tell us that something like that would never happen. But we were very aware of the fact that it was a possibility. Our application to get a green card was actually pending at that point. So I found out later as I was researching the book that we would have only gotten deported if our application was denied. But during the process of waiting, we were sort of in a safe period.

GROSS: So you're very funny about this in the book, although it's really not funny. At the same time that you were dealing with fear of deportation, you were also dealing with bad acne. So did the fears of getting deported make the acne seem any less significant?

SAEDI: Probably not. According to my high school journals and diaries, it was - the acne probably came up more consistently than being an undocumented immigrant did. So, yeah, there was still a lot of that typical teen angst that I was dealing with growing up. I think that being undocumented was just another part of it that most teenagers weren't dealing with, and it was actually something that I unfortunately couldn't vent about to most of my friends because it was something that we wanted to keep secret.

GROSS: Right. So the deportation fear was something you had to keep secret whereas the acne you could not keep secret at all.

SAEDI: Yes, exactly. It was right on my face.

GROSS: It was very, very visible.

(LAUGHTER)

GROSS: So it's just such an interesting dichotomy. You know, on the one hand, you're living this kind of, like, suburban life in the Bay Area. You're going to a good school in part because you lied about your address (laughter). You gave a relative's address so that you could get into a better school. When I say you, I mean your parents.

SAEDI: Yes. We were very resourceful in that way.

GROSS: Yes. And so at the same time, like, you're living this, like, nice suburban existence, going to this great school, you're also in some ways having to stay in the shadows and be a little secretive.

SAEDI: Yeah. I think the big difference - you know, as I was researching the book and writing about my family's story, the big difference between being undocumented when I was in the '90s versus now is that, you know, first of all, there was no social media then. There was hardly any Internet. So there wasn't the sense of community that I think that many undocumented immigrants luckily have today, whether it's, you know, kids that are in the DACA program that are activists or tweeting about the fact that they're undocumented and the struggles that come along with it. I didn't have that growing up, so it felt very isolating in a lot of ways.

There was a couple of close friends that knew that my family was undocumented. I actually had a really close friend that lived in Seattle. And one summer when I went to visit her, her parents wanted to take us to Vancouver, and they had to ask my mom to make sure that I packed my passport. And my mom had to explain to them at that point that they couldn't take me to Vancouver because I didn't have a green card, and I couldn't leave the country. So there was some people that were very close to us that knew the fact that we were undocumented, but it certainly wasn't something that I talked about day to day with my friends.

GROSS: Your father had gone to college at Louisiana State University, so he lived in the states for a few years and then he married your mother while he was still a student, so she lived here with him for a couple of years. Then they returned to Iran. Why did they decide to flee the country, and when was it?

SAEDI: They decided to leave Iran in 1982. So it was a couple years after the revolution, and they just saw the country go through a very extreme shift in a very short amount of time. During the protests against the Shah, my parents were very much supportive of the Shah being removed from the country at that point. They just didn't realize that - from their perspective, the country was going to change for the worse and - once the Ayatollah Khomeini came into power. And my family was mostly secular, so they just struggled a lot with many of the changes, including, like, when my mother, for instance, grew up in Iran, she didn't have to wear a chador. She didn't have to cover her hair, so it was...

GROSS: No, you say she wore miniskirts.

SAEDI: She did, yeah, she did. I've seen the photos. So Iran during the '70s, I mean, not many people know this, but it was, you know, it was a vacation destination for many Westerners. It was a thriving city, Tehran, where I was born, and, yeah, it had a lot of European sensibilities. And so to watch the country change in the way that it did, it was very shocking for many of my family members, and it was very unexpected at that point. So in 1982, I was 2 years old at the time. My sister was 5 years old, and the country was also at war with Iraq. And that was an interesting time because the United States actually supported Iraq in that war. The borders were closed in Iran, and my dad was able to bribe somebody in the government to get us papers for my mom, my sister and I to leave the country.

So they decided to move to the United States because my uncle was already living in the Bay Area at the time and also because they had lived there for a period of time when my father was in college. But I don't think that they thought this was a permanent move. I think they believed that we're going to wait it out, we'll go to the U.S. for a few years, and eventually, we'll probably end up back in Iran. But, you know, a few years went by, and it became very clear that the country wasn't ever going to be the way that it was when they lived there.

GROSS: When your family left Iran, they had to do it in stages. Your mother went with you and your older sister, and your father had to stay behind. Why did he have to stay behind?

SAEDI: One of the reasons that he stayed behind is because they didn't think that the government would allow us to leave the country if my dad was coming with us. What they - what my mom had told the government was that my uncle was ill in California and that she wanted to be able to see him. It wasn't true. My uncle was actually very healthy at the time. And my dad ended up staying behind because it would seem obvious if we were all leaving together that we were actually going to leave the country permanently. But if it was just my mom and my sister and I and my dad stayed, then they would think that she was planning on returning.

GROSS: So, you know, you write when your father joined your family after three months, you didn't recognize him, and you were afraid of him for a while. And that must've just broken his heart.

SAEDI: Yeah. He says, looking back on that time, that that was the most difficult part of our separation because I was only 2 years old, so I didn't have much memory of him. And it was hard for me to adjust being around this person that I had been away from for a few months who was essentially a stranger to me at that point.

GROSS: So I don't want to get too deep into the bureaucracy of the Immigration and Naturalization (laughter) Service. But can you just give us an overview of what your status was and how it changed over time?

SAEDI: Of course. Yeah. One of my goals in writing this book is that I wanted people to understand how complicated and lengthy the process of becoming naturalized can be. So we entered the country in 1982 on a U.S. visitor's visa, and we overstayed our visa once it expired. We then applied for political asylum, which basically would mean that we wouldn't be able to return to Iran. Because when you're applying for political asylum, you're essentially saying that your life is in danger if you return to your home country. And after a couple of years, we checked on the status of our application and were told that there was no record of it. So to this day we don't know what happened. It somehow got lost in the shuffle.

At that point, our only option was to apply to get a green card through my uncle, my mom's brother, who was an American citizen. And so he sponsored us. And we didn't end up getting our green card through that application until the year 2000. So it was 18 years since we moved to the country. I think it was 14 years since we applied to get a green card through him. So it was a very long wait period. Along the way, there was other things that my parents attempted to do once they saw that that application was taking such a long time.

My grandmother on my mom's side was a green card holder, so we decided to apply to get a green card through her to see if that would be any faster. One of the things that my parents were told by a lawyer, though, is that you can't apply to get a green card through your parent if you're married. So my parents ended up getting a divorce so that my mom would be able to apply to get a green card through her mother and hopefully get green cards for my sister and I. When my grandmother passed away, that application became null and void. And so my parents essentially remarried. (Laughter) And we ended up getting the green card through my uncle. It just took an extremely long time.

GROSS: Must've been pretty crazy in your family when your parents divorced in order to get the green card.

SAEDI: Yeah. It was really tough because, you know, I write a lot in the book about my parents' relationship, and I was very lucky that I was raised by two people that were happily married. So the fact that they had to get a divorce to speed up our process of getting green cards was a hard pill for me to swallow because I felt like they had worked really hard on their marriage and they were very happy together. And even though it was just a divorce on paper, it still didn't feel right to me that people would have to go to such great lengths to be able to live in the country.

GROSS: Let's take a short break here, and then we'll talk some more. If you're just joining us, my guest is Sara Saedi. And she's the author of the new memoir "Americanized: Rebel Without A Green Card." We'll be right back. This is FRESH AIR.

(SOUNDBITE OF RHYTHM FUTURE QUARTET'S "IBERIAN SUNRISE")

GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. And if you're just joining us, my guest is TV writer Sara Saedi. She writes for The CW show "iZombie." She's also the author of books for young adults, and her new book is a memoir for young adults. It's called "Americanized: Rebel Without A Green Card." And it's about how her family, when she was 2, moved from Iran to the U.S. They came here on a visitor's visa and then stayed to escape the Iran-Iraq war and the Iranian revolution. And then it took years for them to become citizens. It took years just to get green cards, and they lived in fear of being deported. And her memoir is about being a teenager while dealing with all the teenager stuff and also dealing with all the immigration stuff and the fear of being deported.

So tell us about the day that you became an American citizen. What was the ceremony like for you?

SAEDI: So I became a citizen in 2006. Once you get a green card, you have to wait. I believe it's a five or six-year period of time that you have to wait in order to become a citizen. The ceremony - I'll admit, it was a bit anticlimactic. I had a lot of people around me who were very excited for me. I had co-workers and family friends and my boyfriend's family, who were very congratulatory. And I had really mixed feelings about it. I mean, I was very happy that our immigration struggle was finally coming to an end. I was excited to finally get to vote in an election. But it felt bittersweet because in some ways it did feel like a betrayal to the Iranian side of me. I didn't know how happy I should be about it.

And the ceremony itself, I kind of treated it like (laughter) going to the DMV to get a driver's license. And looking back on it, I'm really regretful of that. I wish that I had more gratitude for the - for finally becoming a citizen. I wish that I soaked in that moment a little bit more. But I was a busy TV executive at the time, and I remember bringing scripts with me to the ceremony and thumbing through it as (laughter) they were swearing us in. So maybe that was the most American thing I could be doing, was to be working while becoming an American citizen.

But it was - looking back on it, there was a sense of community. There was such a sense of excitement amongst all the people there that were also becoming citizens. I had just gone to the ceremony by myself. I didn't realize that there was people that had family members there that were cheering them on from the sidelines. So I think if I could go back and do it all over again, I would have made a bigger deal out of the process than I did.

GROSS: It just impresses me, since you worked so hard to become a citizen and endured so much anxiety about not being one, to take it so lightly during the ceremony itself, (laughter) to be distracted by a script you were reading for "General Hospital" (laughter).

SAEDI: Yes. I know. I'm still - I'm still really regretful of that fact because I remember seeing other people around me being so excited and wondering now if they looked at me and thought, oh, she must have had a really easy time becoming a citizen because she clearly seemed - doesn't seem like she's that excited about what's happening right now. And that couldn't be further from the truth. I think that maybe at that point I was a little bit cynical about the process. I think I was a little bit bitter about what we had been put through in order to become citizens. So maybe that prevented me from embracing it fully. I think politically, too, I was struggling a lot with some of the things that were going on in the country. And so quite honestly it was hard to sit through a video of George W. Bush welcoming me to the United States because I had mixed feelings about that administration.

So there was a lot of other things that came into play that made me struggle with the process. But I think looking back on it, it was such a relief, and it had been such a long and arduous process that it was nice to put that in the past. And I was also really excited to get to vote in an election because I hadn't been able to vote in 2000 and I hadn't been able to vote in 2004. So to be able to finally vote in the next election was a really, really big deal for me. And I will say to this day I vote in every election, and I never, ever take it for granted.

GROSS: So you voted in three presidential elections. Obama won the first two. Trump won the third. Considering Donald Trump's anti-immigration policies and his anti-immigration positions as a candidate, how did his election affect you, and how has his presidency affected you? Has it had an effect on your day-to-day life?

SAEDI: It's had a huge impact. One of the things that motivated me to write the book was the rhetoric that seemed so hostile towards immigrants during the 2016 election. And so as I was writing the book, at that point, I'll be honest, like many people, I assumed that Hillary Clinton was going to win the election. So it definitely shifted the tone of the book once Donald Trump was elected. And I think day to day, any time you turn on the news, you hear about the border wall. You hear - you hear a lot of negative descriptions of immigrants and undocumented immigrants, which were so opposite my experience. So that was actually a great motivator in writing the book and hoping that people would read it and realize that many of the things that were being told about undocumented immigrants are actually really inaccurate.

And in some ways, I think it would have been much more challenging - well, in many ways, it would have been much more challenging to go through the process of being undocumented while having a president in office who is not very sympathetic towards immigrants at all. So I'm grateful for my status today, but I will say that once you become a citizen after going through the process of being undocumented, that anxiety never really leaves you. There is part of you that still always feels like they might find a way to kick me out of this country.

And with the current administration that we have, I'll admit that there - that I do have that anxiety, especially in writing the book and being so candid about the fact that I was undocumented for so long. There's still that part of you that feels like maybe there's a loophole. Maybe there's a way that they're still going to kick me out of this country. And I don't know. Nothing would surprise me these days.

GROSS: My guest is Sara Saedi. Her new memoir for young adults is called "Americanized: Rebel Without A Green Card." We'll talk more after a break. And jazz critic Kevin Whitehead will review the album "Miles Davis & John Coltrane: The Final Tour," recordings of the last dates Coltrane played as a sideman with Miles. I'm Terry Gross, and this is FRESH AIR.

(SOUNDBITE OF RENAUD GARCIA-FONS' "BERIMBASS")

GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross, back with Sara Saedi. Her new memoir for young adults is called "Americanized: Rebel Without A Green Card." It's about her teenage years when, in addition to all the typical things teenage girls worry about, she was worried about getting deported. She was born in Iran in 1980 when the country had just become an Islamic fundamentalist state. Her family fled when she was 2 and came to California where they had relatives. When their visitors visas expired, they stayed, hoping their green cards would eventually be approved. During the long wait, they lived here illegally. Saedi is now a U.S. citizen. She writes for The CW series "iZombie."

So while you're going through all this teenage angst about, you know, boys and how you look and your acne, you also learned that your grandmother in Iran, when she was married, she had an affair with her husband's nephew. And then her husband left her. Because of that affair, she ended up marrying the nephew, and your mother is the daughter of that marriage. How did you find out about that, and how - what did that mean to you since today Iran is so, like, socially conservative, especially for women? I mean, women are so constrained in that society now.

SAEDI: I mean, they were certainly socially conservative on that front when my grandmother was dealing with all that marital strife. And I - again, it was something that I didn't know about all along. I think when I was - at some point, when I was a teenager, I discovered that my aunt and uncle, my mom's two oldest siblings, were actually half-siblings, which meant that my cousins were half-cousins. But it was never anything that came up in our family because we were all so close. And that's when I was told the story.

So essentially, my grandmother had an arranged marriage to her first cousin. And in Iran, we have something called a sofreh aghd, which is - basically translates to the wedding altar. And one of the elements of the wedding altar is a mirror where the couple sits in front of and looks at their reflection. And the way that my mom always told me the story was that the first time my grandmother saw what her husband looked like was seeing his reflection in that mirror. So even though they were cousins, they didn't know each other. They had never met.

And from all the stories that I've been told, he was a really lovely man, but they just weren't in love with each other. They had three children together. And one summer, his nephew came to live with them, and he was about eight years younger than my grandmother. And they just had this love affair. They fell in love and...

GROSS: He was, like, 21, and she was 29.

SAEDI: Yeah. She was 29 I believe, yeah. And they had this love affair that - the way that I was told it was something that they didn't act on. It was just all emotions until she decided to leave her husband. I quite honestly don't know if that's true or not. But she fell in love with him, and she made the very difficult decision to leave her husband for him, which was scandalous on many fronts because women just didn't get divorced at that time. And not only was she choosing to get divorced, but she was marrying somebody who was much younger and somebody that was related to her husband. And so it created - it created a ripple effect amongst two families. And she was essentially disowned by her family. And she married the nephew eventually, and they had five children together. And my mom is the youngest of those kids.

GROSS: What impact did that have on your mother growing up in this family that was considered scandalized?

SAEDI: You know, I think for her it had actually less of an impact than it did for her oldest siblings who then grew up without their mother. My aunt and my uncle lived most of the time with their dad. And I think for them, it was much harder to not have this family unit that my mom and her siblings got to have growing up. And I will say, too, before writing the book, I always looked at this story through a very romantic lens of, wow, my grandmother followed her heart. And she, you know - if it wasn't for her doing that, I wouldn't exist. And then in going back and hearing the stories from my parents, I realized what a lasting effect it had on my aunt and uncle who didn't get to grow up with both their mom and dad in the same house.

So I think as an adult, I've realized more how complex her decision was and how it had a lasting negative impact on some of our family members, although I think looking back, you know, they're all glad that it happened the way that it did. But, yeah, I mean, it was - it was definitely a decision that would be scandalous today in Iran. Frankly, it would be pretty scandalous in the United States...

GROSS: I was thinking the same thing, yeah.

SAEDI: ...To leave your husband for his nephew (laughter).

GROSS: That'd probably not play well here.

SAEDI: Yeah, exactly. But, yes, in the 1940s in Iran, it was just unheard of that somebody would do something like this, and she did pay a high price. I mean, she did lose two of her kids. And then I write about - I write in the book her youngest daughter at the time...

GROSS: She lost those children in the divorce.

SAEDI: Yes, she lost them in the divorce. They continued to live with their dad. And then her youngest daughter, who was 6 years old, came to live with her and then tragically drowned when she was 6. So there was a lot of loss associated with the decision to leave her husband.

GROSS: So here's another story from your family in Iran. Your maternal great-grandfather was a polygamist, and he was a doctor. And you write that sometimes he'd see patients for free in exchange for being able to marry their young 13 or 14-year-old daughters.

SAEDI: Yes. He wasn't a great guy.

(LAUGHTER)

GROSS: So, like, how - how do you process that?

SAEDI: It's so foreign from what I am used to and what I've been raised with that it almost feels like it's not real. It almost feels like it's some fantasy life that I'm writing about because it's somebody that I never knew and something that my parents didn't talk about much growing up and something that was unfortunately considered the norm back then. And I didn't know the details of it until writing the book. I didn't know that he basically bartered medical care in order to marry these young women. And it was definitely something that had an impact on my grandmother's life because she lost her mother quite young and his other wives helped raise her.

GROSS: So through the memoir, you reprint some of the excerpts of your high school diary. So I'm going to ask you to read your entry from February 8, 1995. Why don't you start by telling us how old you were when you wrote this?

SAEDI: I was 14 years old when I wrote this.

GROSS: OK. Would you read it?

SAEDI: Of course. (Reading) I feel so ugly. There must be something really wrong with me. All the guys like all the made-up, permed hair, easy, trendy girls, and I really refuse to change my whole personality to be liked by guys. I know I'm not disgusting. I guess I'm pretty average. I just feel so inexperienced, and I'm sure it shows. Sometimes I just wish I could get in people's heads and see what they think about me. I've never felt like such a loser before.

GROSS: What had happened that made you feel like such a loser?

SAEDI: It was in response to a guy that I had a crush on my freshman year of high school who sat next to me in English class. And one day, we - I thought we were flirting and just, like, making fun of each other. And he pointed out the fact that I had a unibrow. And I don't know why I didn't realize the fact that I had a very noticeable unibrow and was surprised when he pointed it out to me. And it was just one of those moments where you kind of realize how a person you have feelings for sees you. And it's not the way that you want to be seen at all.

GROSS: So after that boy told you that you had a unibrow and you found it very upsetting, did you tweeze your eyebrows?

SAEDI: It actually took me a while to tweeze my eyebrows because, strangely enough, even though many Iranians are OK with their teenagers getting plastic surgery, plucking our eyebrows was sort of a rite of passage that my mom didn't want us to do until we were 15 years old. That was the rule in the house. And I think I finally wore her down after this happened. And I begged, and I begged, and I begged. And she finally relented. But I was also very conscious of the fact that if I went to school the very next day having plucked my eyebrows, he would know that the comment really got under my skin, and I had too much pride to let that happen, too. So I wanted to wait at least a couple of months so that me plucking my eyebrows and him making fun of my unibrow wouldn't feel like they were two related events.

GROSS: Why was tweezing your eyebrows considered, you know, crossing a line?

SAEDI: I'm not exactly sure. I think from my mom's perspective and my aunt's perspectives, it felt like something you do once you're a woman, as far as any form of hair removal, whether it was shaving our legs or waxing our upper lip hair, the many things that you have to deal with when you're an Iranian woman who has unwanted hair (laughter).

But it was something that - for my mom, it was just always a cultural thing, that it was something that you didn't do when you were too young. But I do think that it was a real struggle for her in a lot of ways because she wanted to make life easier for us as, you know, insecure teenagers but that there was also part of her that didn't want her sisters or the rest of the family to look at her and think that she was becoming too lenient as a mom.

GROSS: If you're just joining us, my guest is Sara Saedi. Her new memoir, "Americanized: Rebel Without A Green Card," is about being a teenager and about being here without documentation and all the work her family went through to become citizens. We're going to take a short break, and then we'll be right back. This is FRESH AIR.

(SOUNDBITE OF SLOWBERN'S "WHEN WAR WAS KING")

GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. And if you're just joining us, my guest is Sara Saedi. And she's a TV writer. She writes for the TV series "iZombie," which is on The CW. She's also the author of books for young adults, and her new book is a memoir for young adults called "Americanized: Rebel Without A Green Card."

Her family is from Iran. That's where she was born when she was 2. Her family moved to the U.S. They had to, like, sneak out of Iran because the borders were closed. This was after the revolution, during the Iran-Iraq War. And when they came to the United States, they were here on a visitor's visa, but they outstayed the length of the visa and then went through a long process of trying to become citizens and trying to get green cards and living in fear of being deported.

You were a creative executive at ABC, and I know you were working on "General Hospital" there. I bet you heard a lot of really crazy plots (laughter).

SAEDI: Yes, definitely. And a lot of my notes, if I could go back and look at them, are ridiculous because the things that we were discussing were the, you know, tried-and-true soap opera cliches like the evil twin and the - you know, somebody coming back from the dead. And it's very - you know, the movie "Soapdish," which is fairly old now, but it is very accurate in a lot of ways...

GROSS: With Billy Crystal, right? Yeah.

SAEDI: (Laughter) Yes. It's definitely very accurate in some of the ways. Like, some of the actors that gave us a lot of trouble, we would just kill them off.

(LAUGHTER)

GROSS: So now you're working on a series on The CW called "iZombie." And I confess I haven't seen the series, but I was reading about it. And the plot sounds kind of crazy. Like...

SAEDI: (Laughter).

GROSS: It sounds like the main character is a woman who becomes a zombie. She works in a morgue and eats the brains of people she autopsies. And after ingesting the brain, she takes on some of the characteristics of the person whose brain she ate, including some of their memories. So with that special power, she becomes a consultant to the police to help them solve murders. Do I have that right?

SAEDI: Yes.

(LAUGHTER)

SAEDI: That's exactly right.

GROSS: How do you cook that up (laughter)?

SAEDI: Well, the show is based on a comic book, and I actually joined the writing staff in the second season. And I will say there's definitely moments where we're all sitting in the writer's room and we kind of look at each other and we think, I can't believe I'm getting paid to do this. I can't believe I'm getting paid to talk about what brains she should eat in this episode...

GROSS: (Laughter).

SAEDI: ...And how that'll impact the rest of the characters and all their stories...

GROSS: And help the world (laughter).

SAEDI: Yes, exactly. And, you know, we usually start every episode by trying to figure out, you know, who the murder victim should be and how they should get murdered. And usually we try and find a brain that's going to negatively or positively impact what the main character is dealing with in her own personal life. So it's a lot of fun.

I mean, every week it's different. And this season - you know, the first few seasons, nobody knew that she was a zombie. And this season, the secret is out. And a good chunk of Seattle, where the show takes place, are now zombies. So it's a really fun show to work on. And in some ways, many of the stories that we've done this season have become allegories for what's going on politically in our country today. So it seems comical, but there's a lot of depth there as well.

GROSS: Are all the more recent zombies good-guy zombies like the main character is?

SAEDI: There's a good mix. There's definitely many bad zombies out there as well. And there's - in this season, the city of Seattle has a border wall around it, so nobody can leave the city or get into the city, so there's a human smuggling storyline that we do where - people who are coming into Seattle because they don't want to be separated from family members or people who are terminally ill and coming into Seattle and want to be turned into a zombie so that they won't die.

But it's kind of interesting that I wrote this book on immigration, and there is definitely, like, an immigration storyline in "iZombie," which you wouldn't think, considering the plot which you just described.

GROSS: You're an American citizen now. You're married to someone who's American-born. And you have a child who's 15 months old. So your child is American. You're an American citizen now. You're married to someone who's American-born. And you have a child who's 15 months old. So your child is American. He's American-born. What does that mean to you?

SAEDI: You know, one of the things that was really eye-opening after he was born was how quickly and easily we received his Social Security card in the mail. And that was a really significant moment for me because it sort of felt like my immigration story had almost gone full circle in that moment, of realizing everything that my family went through and everything that I went through to get a Social Security card. And he was born here, and so we just received it in the mail a couple weeks later. And in a lot of ways I was grateful for that, and I'm grateful for the fact that he's not going to have a lot of the same struggles that I did.

A lot of what I write about in the book is those parts of me that are very American and those parts of me that are very Iranian and how challenging it can be to mix the two sometimes. And I think that's actually been amplified now that I'm a mother and now that I'm raising a child myself because I look at him and he doesn't - you wouldn't know that he was half-Iranian by looking at him.

And I try and speak with him in Farsi, but my Farsi is not that great anymore. And there's this part of me that realizes that it's going to be even more challenging passing on my Iranian side to him because he's growing up in a home with two primarily English speakers, and he's not going to have that exposure to aunts and uncles and cousins the way that I did. Most of my family is still in the Bay Area, and I'm in Los Angeles.

So that's a big part of becoming a mom and raising a child myself. And it really makes me sympathize with what my parents went through because I definitely want him to grow up knowing about his Iranian side, and I want him knowing how to speak Farsi and I want him being familiar with the smells of Iranian food that I grew up with. And I don't know how possible it is to do that for him because he is growing up in a household that's so different than the one that I grew up in.

GROSS: OK. Well, thank you so much for talking with us.

SAEDI: Thank you so much.

GROSS: Sara Saedi's new memoir for young adults is called "Americanized: Rebel Without A Green Card." After we take a short break, jazz critic Kevin Whitehead will review the new album "Miles Davis & John Coltrane - The Final Tour." This is FRESH AIR.

(SOUNDBITE OF MILES DAVIS' "IF I WERE A BELL") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.