When the Trump administration announced its executive order, the “Muslim ban” on January 27, banning the entry of 7 Muslim-majority countries into the US, I was flooded with memories of my 8th grade algebra teacher, Mr. Z.
Mr. Z embodied and taught his love for the transcendental art and beauty of mathematics. That year I willingly spent endless hours doing math problems; mornings, evenings, meal times, summers, I was consumed by the elegance of math. Whether he taught us the relationship between pizza and Pi, or soccer and quadratics, Mr. Z had the uncanny ability to make seemingly disparate topics related to math.
Mr. Z. is also an Iranian immigrant.
Mr. Z not only taught us neat methods for how to solve math problems, but also about the rich history of math that spans many cultures. While he shared his admiration for Isaac Newton and his revolutionary ideas in Physics and Calculus, he also shared how the origins of Algebra were from Persia (from the Persian polymath al-Khwarizmi , and that even the name Algebra derived from Arabic (al-jabr, الجبر). This teaching and realization that math came from all over the world (and not just from Europe), and the universe, encouraged me to solve more complex mathematical equations and also challenged me to understand a more complex history of math and of the world. I enjoyed listening to Mr. Z talking with other Iranian teachers in Persian in the school halls, wondering what it all meant and inspiring me to learn other languages so I, too, could communicate with people from around the world. Mr. Z taught us that although our class was made up of many different cultures and languages, we could all come together for one class period and all learn to communicate in the universal language of math. Since then, I began to see the beauty in math, and began to understand what makes math transcendental.
Mr. Z taught many radical ideas, including the multiple ways to find the ‘square root’. His radical ideas were all related to math, none related to terrorism or other negative stereotypes we hear about Muslim people. Most importantly, Mr. Z taught from his heart. Trump’s executive orders and rhetoric against the Muslim and immigrant communities attempt to erase the unique contributions and different perspectives that Muslim people, including Mr. Z, bring to this country.
On Pi day, I want to thank you, Mr. Z, and all the immigrants who have made and continue to make America great.