Iran

Iranian Pop Legend Googoosh on the Bravery of Her Country’s Protesters

Iranian Pop Legend Googoosh on the Bravery of Her Country's Protesters

In 1979, Iranian authorities arrested the country’s biggest music icon for “moral corruption.” Over four decades later, as protests in Iran capture the world’s attention, Googoosh and her American granddaughter, 20-year-old Mya, are speaking out in support of “girls risking their lives for everyone else’s freedom.”

“My whole life, my career — it was for the Iranian people. I was singing for them. Now, I can’t sing. I don’t want to sing.” — Googoosh

It’s a sunny December afternoon in Los Angeles and Googoosh — Iran’s most famous pop star and beauty idol of the 20th century —  is at home, spending time with her granddaughter, Mya Ghorbani. Googoosh greets me at the door with a hug and a kiss on the cheek. She is soft-spoken and naturally warm. Her short blonde hair is slicked back and she’s wearing a gold pendant in the shape of Iran around her neck.

Her modest one-story house is nestled next to the Santa Monica Mountains in the city’s upscale Beverly Crest neighborhood. When you step inside, it’s easy to forget you’re in the home of an international superstar. The place has a lived-in comfort that makes you feel at ease. Colorful Persian rugs cover her living room and dining room floors. Small minakari trinkets and family photos are spread across several accent tables. And oil paintings — depicting traditionally dressed Persian women and horses — adorn the walls.

I follow Googoosh, 72, to her kitchen so she can finish making coffee for her granddaughter. I spot 20-year-old Mya, who was born and raised in Los Angeles, home to the largest Iranian community outside of Iran. The 5-foot-10-inch-tall model towers over Googoosh. She sips her coffee while Googoosh offers me some Persian raisin cookies before gesturing for us to come to the sitting room.

The pair sit next to each other on a beige-colored sofa. On the coffee table in front of them are fresh croissants that a family friend brought earlier in the day. Googoosh asks Mya if she wants one. Mya declines. Googoosh pretends not to hear and insists Mya eat something. Aside from being classic grandmother behavior, it’s the perfect example of Iranian hospitality and our long-standing tradition and ritual known as taarof.  “She knows how I hate trying new food and it makes her go crazy! She tries forcing it in my mouth,” Mya says, laughing. (When it comes to taarofing, I know how she feels. Like Mya, I was born in the United States to Iranian parents and also grew up in Los Angeles.)

I’m eager to know what it’s like having a grandmother whose stardom and legacy in Iran defines a generation and a culture. I ask this of Mya, but it isn’t long before we find ourselves talking about something far more pressing these days for three women of Persian heritage: the protests in Iran.

For months, Iran’s government has been violently cracking down on people who are demonstrating against the law that requires women to cover their hair. The unrest was sparked by the September death of Mahsa Amini, a 22-year-old Kurdish woman who died in police custody after being arrested for allegedly breaking the mandatory headscarf law. Some estimates at the time of this writing suggest 516 people have died, including 70 children. Over 19,000 have been arrested.

“My whole life, my career — it was for the Iranian people. I was singing for them. Now, I can’t sing. I don’t want to sing,” Googoosh says, her voice breaking as she fights back tears.

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