Sara Saedi was born in Tehran, Iran during the Iranian Revolution in the late 1970s. Her family immigrated to the U.S., where Saedi grew up to become a storyteller. She has worked as a creative executive for ABC Daytime, penned movie and television scripts, won an Emmy and written books.
We recently spoke with her about her career, parenting and her latest book, “Americanized: Rebel Without a Green Card,” which chronicles her story of growing up in America as an undocumented immigrant from the Middle East. The book is in development as a television series from Reese Witherspoon’s Hello Sunshine production company and ABC Studios.
What made you want to write this book?
Mainly, I wanted to address misconceptions that I’d experienced my whole life about what it means to grow up undocumented. At the time that I sold the book, immigration was (and continues to be) such a hot-button issue and one that’s become increasingly politicized. I wanted readers to get an up-close-and-personal look at what it’s like to live in this country and not have a green card and, more importantly, I wanted readers to know that’s it’s truly an uphill battle to become a U.S. citizen. My parents did everything in their power to do things “the right way,” and oftentimes the system failed them. Another misconception that I wanted to address were stereotypes about being Iranian. I grew up in a very warm and loving home, and my experiences were never reflected to me in popular culture. I was tired of seeing Iranians depicted as villains and terrorists.
Our world has changed in so many ways in the last two years. What do you hope readers will take away from your book now? How has your perspective changed since writing this book?
I hope readers whose experiences are similar to mine will feel comforted by my story, and I hope readers whose experiences are nothing like mine will feel deep [sympathy] for the immigrant journey. For the most part, I’ve been genuinely touched by the response to the book and very proud of the fact that it’s being taught in high schools all over the country and beyond. Last year, I got to Zoom with a high school class in Senegal who had read it! What that has taught me is that so many of our experiences, especially as teenagers, are universal, and that it’s very meaningful for young readers who are in the thick of all the angst and hardships of being in high school to hear an adult say, “Everything that makes you feel bad about yourself now will be what makes you flourish in the future.”
‘Americanized’ is funny and real and touching at the same time. Has humor always been the way you work through big feelings and life’s challenges?
Yes, definitely. In so many ways, our immigration story was a comedy of errors, and I think hindsight and a happy ending was what allowed me to see the humor years later. I don’t know how we can get through the ups and downs of life if we can’t have a sense of humor. I recently heard Esther Perel talk about working with Chilean torture survivors to adapt their stories to the stage. She said that when they came and watched the performances inspired by their stories, they said: “Where’s the humor? We had grit, we had resilience, but we also had humor.” That truly says it all.
You have two sons and you are raising them in a multicultural household in L.A. How do you talk about culture, differences, your background?
Sometimes I feel myself fumbling my way through these conversations, but I think books and storytelling are the best way to connect to our kids about cultural differences. I try to share my personal experiences as much as I can. I told my oldest, Ellis, about how my family escaped Iran, and when he learned that I couldn’t bring any of my toys with me to America, he said: “Oh, Mommy, that’s so sad.” Our favorite books about the Iranian culture are “Saffron Ice Cream” by Rashin Kheiriyeh and “Seven Special Somethings: A Nouruz Story” by Adib Khorram. I also expose them as much as I can to Persian food — tahchin is the one thing I make that they’ll both eat — and Persian music.
How has becoming a parent changed you?
How has it not? It changes everything. It’s made me more joyous, more anxious, more tired, more fulfilled, more loving. It’s made me confront the worst sides of myself and discover the best sides. And it’s forced me to get better at asking for help and taking time for myself. I am constantly surprised by my kids. The cliché that they teach you more than you teach them is so true.
What are your days like right now?
I feel very fortunate to do what I do for a living. The best part of my career is that there’s flexibility and stretches of time off. The worst part is the unpredictability. As much as I miss being in an in-person writers’ room, the way a writing staff operates lends itself to video conference as well. So, these days, I’m mostly working from home via Zoom. Right now, I’m putting the finishing touches on my new young adult novel, “I Miss You, I Hate This,” which will be published by Little Brown [in October] and wrapping up on the first season of “Green Lantern” [for HBO Max]. The toughest part of the pandemic was not getting much uninterrupted time to work. Now that my kids are in school full time, I’m able to focus in a different way.
When not working, what do you enjoy doing in and around L.A.?
We love living in Silver Lake. We’re very lucky to be a close drive to Griffith Park, so that we can take our kids to Travel Town and Shane’s Inspiration on the weekends. We also enjoy walks around the Silver Lake reservoir and our neighborhood. My kids are currently obsessed with the secret stairs in Silver Lake, so we often walk to the hidden staircases we have nearby. My husband and I just reinstated a weekly date night — probably for the first time since we had kids — and it’s been really fun to go out to dinner and have uninterrupted time together. Some of our recent favorites are Yakiniku Osen, Gwen, Found Oyster, Cara Cara, Kali and Horses.
To learn more, visit sarasaediwriter.com.