Esther Amini’s memoir, Concealed, is a provocative coming-of-age saga, recounting her youth and early adulthood as a first-generation Iranian American Jewish woman in the 1950s and ‘60s. Her familial and personal struggles are intertwined with her history and culture, as she recounts the story of her Jewish ancestors, forced to hide their identity in the holy Shiite city of Mashad, Iran, alongside the challenges she faced as a first-generation immigrant in America, and as a young woman in a traditional, patriarchal, and authoritarian home.
Amini’s perspective is at once personal and revelatory, providing a rare glimpse into life in America for the first dozen Mashadi Jewish families who settled in Queens, New York in the first half of the twentieth century. Amini’s father was a silent man with bouts of rage, and, fearing his daughter would stray from his circumscribed, traditional morality, he tried to limit her interactions and intellectual curiosity to prime her for marriage. Her mother — strong-willed, emotionally distant, crude, and complicated — often fled the home, leaving a young, embarrassed Amini craving motherly love. Her mother enjoyed the freedoms America afforded her, while allowing the patriarchy to perpetuate in her daughter.
A trained psychoanalytic psychotherapist, Amini unpacks her parents’ unaddressed emotional issues, mismatched marriage, and oppressive upbringing, illustrating how the echoes of their internalized trauma from crypto-Jewish life in Iran were present in her own American childhood. The result is a deeply feminist account, driven by shifting cultural undercurrents.
While Amini reminds readers that her family’s idiosyncrasies were atypical for the small Mashadi émigré community, her words have a ring of universality. Feeling stifled and caught in a clash of cultures, she grapples to find her voice and place in the world, exemplifying the struggles of many first-generation women from traditional homes. Amini navigates between conflicting identities and oscillates between remaining loyal to a traditional way of life, and embracing her independence, intellect, and modernity.
While her perspective on her past is sometimes bleak — condensing the chaotic, rich, and often joyous tapestry of Mashadi-Persian Jewish history — her testimony is powerful, rare, and revelatory. In a tight-knit community, writing publicly about sensitive familial, personal, and local matters can be perceived as an act of betrayal. In Amini’s case, breaking the silence and recounting her story is an act of bravery — giving voice to others and inviting them, through her story, to join in coming to terms with personal, intergenerational, and cultural challenges.
Lerone Edalati serves as a researcher on multiple projects to document the oral histories of Mashadi and Iranian Jews for academics and non-profit institutions. Lerone holds a bachelor’s in Middle Eastern & Islamic Studies from New York University and a master’s in Middle Eastern Studies from The Graduate Center, City University of New York. She is a Broome & Allen Fellow at the American Sephardi Federation.