The Displaced Nation

A home for international creatives

Ho’ omaika’i ‘Ana to TCK writer Tony Roberts

Aloha, reader. We would love for you to join our celebration of writer Anthony H. [“Tony”] Roberts, who produced our favorite article of the week, “No Time for Goodbyes,” a gripping account of his family’s sudden departure from Iran in 1978, when he was just 17.

Tony wrote his piece for Denizen, the online magazine for Third Culture Kids — kids who grew up in a culture or cultures other than their own.

Tony now lives on the Big Island of Hawai’i, so our fete in his honor, which has just begun, consists of a min-luau with traditional foods, mai-tais, and a hula performance.

You will also have a chance to engage with Tony directly as he’s agreed to respond to your comments and questions. (Mahalo, Tony!)

In fact, the hula dance is about to begin. Watch the series of three dances telling us why Tony’s life is so special:


From Tony, we can learn about what it is like to be displaced by circumstance rather than by choice. Tony spent five years of his childhood exploring deserts in Saudi Arabia and three years as a teenager running wild in the streets and hillsides of the ancient city of Tehran. Then suddenly the Islamic revolution occurred, and before he had a chance to click his heels even once, he, along with his mother and sister, were transported back to their small farm town in Kansas, where he’d been born but no longer thought of as home:

The greatest sadness of leaving Iran in 1978 was its speed. Our departures were so fast that there was no time for goodbyes. All of my closest high school friends scattered to the winds. Tens of thousands of Americans lived in Tehran when I was there, and by the end of 1979 there were only 52 left — the American hostages.


Tony has done something many expats only dream of: he’s written up his experience in a work of historical fiction. His book, published in February of this year, is called Sons of the Great Satan. It tells the story of an American teenager forging a friendship with an Iranian teenager in the last golden hours before the Shah of Iran falls and the country is engulfed by a whirlwind of chaos. Go to YouTube trailer.


Tony and his family embody our ideal of global citizens. His wife is a Kiwi, his son a Cherokiwi, and they live in Hawai’i, a melting pot of cultures from around the world, with influences from China, the Philippines, Japan, Korea, Portugal and Puerto Rico, to name a few. And let’s not forget Ziggy, the family pet. He’s a Boxador, a cross between the Boxer and the Labrador Retriever. (Ziggy, assuming Fergus makes it to The Displaced Nation, we’re sure he would enjoy palling around with you.)

And now, it’s time to adorn Tony with leis and drink a toast to his honor. Okole maluna! Cheers, Tony!

If you enjoyed this post, we invite you to subscribe for email delivery of The Displaced Nation. That way, you won’t miss a single issue.

9 responses to “Ho’ omaika’i ‘Ana to TCK writer Tony Roberts

  1. Anthony Roberts April 23, 2011 at 2:50 pm

    Aloha nui loa, y’all! That’s a Texan, global nomad, Hawaiian, ‘Big Howdy’ to all Bruddahs and Sistahs of the Displaced Nation! Mahalo and thank you, kindly for the post and sharing my Denizen article with your readers!

    Friends and family are often amazed when I tell them that I loved my time in Iran in the late 70s. How could you love a country that drove you from its borders and held your countrymen hostage? My answer is, “With very mixed emotions.” I was in high school in Tehran and enjoying life. As an expat community were were ignorant of the undercurrents rising to a boil in Iran. Hate for the ‘Great Satan’ was certainly strong among a large segment of the population by late 1978, but there were also many Iranians who showed us much kindness, and to borrow from Hawaii nei, much aloha. I’ve heard many stories of classmates and their families caught up in dire circumstances in those final days, and many times it was the kindness of the local people who saved the day, often at their own risk. One thing we all learn as global citizens is that the world is rarely as black and white as the newsprint.

    Mahalo again for complimenting the act of writing my novel, Sons of the Great Satan. I’m sticking with my story that it is a work of fiction, though friends and family see more biography in it than I’m willing to admit. One of the great pleasure of writing SONS was traveling back and living in that lost time again, if only in my mind.

  2. wandering educators April 23, 2011 at 4:44 pm

    what a fascinating story – and shows the truth of human resilience (no matter how hard it is). would you have changed anything? although i have had many traumas in my life, i am glad for where i am *right now* and they become part of my story. yes?

    • Anthony Roberts April 23, 2011 at 4:54 pm

      I’m exactly where you are, Wanderer. I wouldn’t trade a second of it. Even the bad parts – especially the bad parts – for without them I wouldn’t be who I am, or where I am. There is no teacher like experience, eh?

  3. ML Awanohara April 23, 2011 at 5:05 pm

    Hi, Tony. ML Awanohara from The Displaced Nation here. It strikes me from my own travels (albeit as an adult) that many of my compatriots (I’m an American, too) have trouble making the leap from their particular circumstances to the general issues that affect our entire nation let alone the globe. But how could you not make that leap if you had to leave Iran so quickly, due to international politics?

    And if you were aware of international politics as a young adult, didn’t you feel like something of a fish out of water in this country? How did you cope? Did you argue with people or just keep your feelings to yourself?

    • Anthony Roberts April 23, 2011 at 5:19 pm

      Aloha ML! The return was difficult and followed in late 1979 by the taking of the American Hostages, which made things even more emotional. I played softball against some of the marines who were taken hostage and I had friends whose parents worked at the Embassy. In the USA, everything was focused on the hostages. This was a time of huge hatred toward Iran, though I would suggest that hatred could have been better aimed at Ayatollah Khomeini and his followers than the Persian people as a whole. I had Iranian friends in the US who faced discrimination and reprisals during that time. Unfortunately, many of those who fled Iran took the heat for Khomeini’s actions, even though they were far from supporters of the Islamic Republic.

      As to speaking out, no. I quickly learned not to talk about my feelings or my past. There was no one who could understand my point of view at that time, and I wanted to fit it. Those who could have understood what I experienced had been scattered to the winds. One of the great aspects of today’s social media is that many of us old TASers (Tehran American School alums) have reconnected after all this time. It’s been a great experience to talk again to those who ‘get it’.

      • ML Awanohara April 24, 2011 at 3:59 pm

        As a teenager, I think I would have gone crazy if I couldn’t share my thoughts and feelings with close friends — is that because I’m female? I believe I would have also felt intensely alienated from a society that painted everything in black and white terms when I could perceive the shades of gray. (I was a deep thinker back then!)

        And did you ever imagine, all those years later, that TASers would reconnect thru a new communications vehicle? Such an extraordinary development… Have you ever arranging a reunion in person as well?

      • Anthony Roberts April 25, 2011 at 12:38 pm

        @ ML Awanohara ‘As a teenager, I think I would have gone crazy if I couldn’t share my thoughts and feelings with close friends — is that because I’m female.’ No, I don’t think ‘crazy’ is a gender divider. 🙂 For a few years after Iran I was very restless and angry. At one point a counselor diagnosed me as having a ‘General Anxiety Disorder with feelings of unresolved anger.’ You think? 🙂 Looking back now at my behavior post-revolution – the alienation, the anger – these were typical TCK patterns and would be recognized as such today. Feeling ‘intensely alienated’ is an excellent way to put it. In some ways, perhaps many ways, Sons of the Great Satan was my chance to explore my feelings and thoughts about Iran on many levels and through a multitude of viewpoints: all those conversations that I kept bottled up for 30 years – a massive emotional and intellectual brain dump of my years in Tehran, albeit through a fictional page-turner.

        Tehran American School Reunions? Yes, east coast, west coast, Dallas – they happen. I haven’t attended any as I’m way out in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, but I would like to one day. My dream reunion would be a massive party in Los Angeles for the alumni of Tehran American School and the Iranzamin High School (the largest Iranian High School in Tehran at the time I was there). There is a huge Persian expat population in Southern California. I think it would be a wonderful event for both cultures to celebrate together. Almost all of my interactions with former classmates is through the Internet, and specifically through Facebook and private chat groups. I also follow events in Iran through social media and through various members of the ‘freedom/azadi’ movement online. I have a great desire to return to Iran one day. It’s changed so much since my days there, but I would still love just to stand on the streets of Tehran and look up at those mountains again…

  4. April 24, 2011 at 7:22 am

    This is a great interview (also read the Denizen article). What a fascinating front row on history you’ve been blessed and cursed with. I, too, am an American (from a small town in upstate New York), yet I always knew that I’d study international affairs, travel, work in that arena and live abroad. Go figure. With the rapid evacuations in Cairo, Libya, Tunisia, etc.this year, I’ve been thinking about Tehran as well. Some displaced students ended up at my teens’ school here in The Hague, and I explained how important it was to welcome them to some semblance of normalcy, even if only for a few days or weeks. My daughter had been in Cairo in November for a tournament, and it really clicked for her. I’m definitely going to get your book – thinly veiled historical fiction, in which you can’t really tell where the truth leaves off and the fiction starts – that’s the best. Good luck!

    • Anthony Roberts April 24, 2011 at 12:37 pm

      Thank you, Linda. My thoughts naturally turn to the Middle East as internal turmoil rises. I started writing ‘Sons of the Great Satan’ after the Green Movement demonstrations in Iran in 2009. Seeing the huge crowds on the streets of Tehran again triggered many memories of those days in the late 70’s. It is my wish that the Iranians find the freedom that so many of them seek, but it will be a great struggle against a government that shows no signs of wanting reform.

      Mahalo for welcoming the students from the current evacuations. Their situation sounds very familiar. Certainly they will be feeling lost and ‘homesick’. With the advent of social media, at least they can contact former friends and associates. 30 years ago we had no way of knowing what happened to our friends. Facebook has been a great tool to reconnect and share those times with each other at long last. Feel free to email me should you wish to discuss the book! You’re getting the ‘extended version’ now. This summer I’m going to attempt to edit it down to a more marketable paperback size. It’s currently 130k words, which feels right to me but is about 30K too long for the current market. Rather than take it down current industry standards of 80-100K, I decided to publish it as an ebook. Enjoy, mahalo and aloha – Anthony

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