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Iranian Americans in Seattle watch U.S.-Iran World Cup match with conflicted emotions

A woman with freckles and long brown hair clasps her hands together as she sits in a covered beer garden next to several men. Behind her, a soccer match plays on TV.
Scott Greenstone
/
KNKX
Saghar Amini, an Iranian activist who lives in Bellevue, Wash. and has organized local rallies against the Islamic Republic of Iran, watches the U.S. face off against the Iranian team Tuesday, Nov. 29, at the George & Dragon Pub in Seattle.

A week before the World Cup soccer match between Iran and the U.S., Saghar Amini said she would be cheering for the U.S. She’s Iranian and lives in Bellevue, Washington.

But on the day of, when she arrived at the George and Dragon Pub in Seattle, she felt more conflicted.

"I don't know that I'm cheering for any team today," Amini said before the game started. "I'm not going to be happy if they win and I'm not going to be happy if they lose."

For the last two months, Amini has been organizing and attending local rallies against the Islamic Republic of Iran. In September, Iranian authorities arrested a young woman for allegedly wearing her hijab improperly. She died in custody.

During the World Cup four years ago, Amini came to this same bar and it was packed with Iranian fans.

"I was like cheering when they were cheering. I wasn't, like, nearly as focused as I am now to see what’s happening," Amini said.

This World Cup, when she sees the Iranian team singing along to the national anthem, she wonders how many people are being killed by Iran's Revolutionary Guard at the same time.

At the pub, the first time the Americans almost score but don't, Amini instinctively put her hands over her mouth, surprising herself.

"Oh. I guess I am cheering for America," Amini said. "Wow. That was unexpected."

But Amini was not alone. Scrolling Instagram during the game, she saw videos of fireworks in Tehran; a celebration for the Americans after they score the first and only goal of the game. The bar manager said last week, some Iranian American patrons quietly cheered for England's team in their match with Iran.

Cheering for America and the U.K. — that's not an easy thing for an Iranian to do. In the 1950s, the C.I.A. and British intelligence worked together to stage a coup and remove Iran's democratically-elected leader. As a schoolgirl in Iran, Amini was made to step on the American flag.

Standing behind Amini at the bar, Arash Rezaee is wearing an Iranian jersey and cheering for Iran. He was born in the U.S. and mostly grew up in Bellevue, and he doesn’t support the Islamic Republic. But he doesn’t think Iranians should cheer against Iran.

A man with a beard wearing a beanie and a jersey and jacket with Iran's colors stands, watching as the World Cup game plays in a beer garden. His hands are in his pockets.
Scott Greenstone
/
KNKX
Arash Rezaee, an Iranian-American security guard who was born in the U.S. but partially grew up in Iran, watches Iran's team play the U.S. on Nov. 29, 2022. He's cheering for the Iranian team, but doesn't support the Islamic Republic regime.

"I've been on Facebook telling people that that's wrong, because if you're cheering for the Iranian team, and the Iranian team wins, that means more people are going to pour out into the streets," Rezaee said. That would flaunt the Islamic regime’s crackdowns on demonstrations.

Amini didn’t even like seeing the Iranian flag on Rezaee’s jersey. They argued. She started cheering even louder for the U.S. team and he groaned when Iran nearly scored.

In the final nine minutes of stoppage time Amini was so nervous she drank almost all her beer. She doesn’t even like beer.

But Iran didn't score. The U.S. won. Iran's chances for advancing to the next stage were dashed.

And even though she said she wouldn’t feel happy if Iran lost, Amini admitted she felt proud of the American team — and sorry for the Iranian team.

And hopeful that one day, when the regime is toppled, she can cheer for Iran.

Scott Greenstone started off working at his community college newspaper before interning at NPR’s Weekend All Things Considered and covering homelessness for The Seattle Times. He co-produced the “Outsiders” podcast with KNKX, which was named one of TIME’s top 10 podcasts of 2020.
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