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How One Decision by Arnold Shokouhi’s Mother Changed His Family’s Life Forever

After escaping the Iranian revolution through a series of tunnels, McCathern, Shokouhi, Evans managing partner Arnold Shokouhi shares the lessons he took from immigrating to the United States.
| |Photography courtesy of Arnold Shokouhi
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Brotherly Love: Shokouhi and his older brother Mike (far right) stuck by each other’s side during their journey to America.

How One Decision by Arnold Shokouhi’s Mother Changed His Family’s Life Forever

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Arnold Shokouhi left Iran in 1983 with his family during the Iranian Revolution. Born in 1981, he was an infant when his mother, Mahin, fled the country with his middle brother and him. Shortly prior, his oldest brother left on his own to avoid being drafted for the Iran-Iraq War. Shokouhi crisscrossed Europe through Turkey and Italy before arriving in Las Vegas as a child. Eventually his family settled in Austin in 1986.

In Austin, Shokouhi was raised in an 1,100 square-foot, two-bedroom duplex. His older brother and his fiancée lived out of the main bedroom, while Shokouhi, his other brother, and his mother shared the second bedroom. Shokouhi earned his bachelor’s degree from SMU in 2003 and earned his law degree from Michigan State University. Now, a managing partner at McCathern, Shokouhi, Evans, he credits his mother with the life he leads today.

Here, he shares stories from his upbringing and the mindset that drives him:

“My mom is the hero of my story,” Shokouhi says. “She was married to my father, who was an absentee father and eventually fell out of the picture. She took my brother and me and escaped through some tunnels and got us to Turkey. That is when we applied to the American Embassy to come to the U.S. We lived in Turkey for two years until all our documentation was approved.

“Our next stop was Italy, and we were there two years before we landed in Las Vegas, of all places. From there, my mom picked Austin. She wanted a college town because she understood education would be important in her children’s lives. My mom came to this country and did not speak a lick of English. My oldest brother came over from Europe and met us. So, it was my mom and her three sons. She went to cosmetology school, became a hairstylist, and now has her own salon. She never remarried and just did it on her own. We are the American dream. I have a unique American experience because we were adamant about not taking advantage of social services and making something of ourselves in the process.

“It just felt normal. That’s something I will credit to my mom and older brother; they never made life seem like it was not normal. I was just too little to know what was going on. But now you look back and you’re like ‘Holy crap, that was amazing.’ I feel like I’m a first-generation citizen rather than part of the immigrant-generation because my mom was the one that took that burden on. By the time I got here I’ve never felt anything but American. I think that’s one of the beautiful parts of this country is that once you become an American, you’re an American. And I’ve just never known anything other than that. My oldest brother is a pediatric dentist and my middle brother is a very successful cybersecurity engineer for a pretty big company. My mom did well and the three of us have done extraordinary for ourselves in this country.

“Austin is one of the coolest cities in the world. I travel all over the world to this day, and Austin is gorgeous. It’s cool, it’s hippie, and super liberal. Even though you’re in Texas, Austin is its own world. I couldn’t have thought of a better city for a young immigrant family. It was a highly educated population at the time and there was only about 100,000 people in Austin and a lot of them were University of Texas educated. When I first got there, people thought I was Mexican. I remember the first day of school, I spoke four languages, and I was walking into class and the teacher started speaking to me in this whole other language. I had no idea what the heck it was and was so confused. It was Spanish, of course. But, man, Austin was a great, accepting town.

“I try to tell my kids that this is an unbelievable opportunity our family has been given. A lot of responsibility comes with it, and its our responsibility to leave this place, and our family, better than when we got here. My mom took our stake and she put it as far as she could into the ground. I’ve taken it, and my brothers have taken it, as far as we can. But our stories aren’t over yet. When you plant that stake it’s your responsibility to take this family even further. And you have to realize what we came from to do that. I don’t want my kids to ever feel the way I did growing up. Not necessarily the good parts, but the traveling all over trying to figure life out and not understanding where you were going and what was happening to you. I don’t want them to feel that but I want them to appreciate the sacrifice it took for them to be able to live in the house they’re in now.

“I always said there isn’t ability for me to fail in life, because my family is relying on me. If my mom sacrificed her whole life, everything she ever knew—her family, her brothers and sisters, all our friends—and took us halfway across the world with a lot harder life than she had back home, so we could have a better future, there’s nothing in the world that is going to stop me from being successful. There is nobody I know that is going to outwork me.

“That’s why when I came out of law school I started my own practice. That was a pretty ignorant and arrogant thing to do, and I did it. And I would not fail. I worked harder than anyone around me. By the time I met my partners, joined them, became an owner, formed our new entity, and became the managing partner of our law firm I was 31 years old. That’s my mom’s story and that’s every immigrant’s story. You have to come here and do what is best for your family. And you cannot quit, and you cannot fail. There is no safety net. Being an immigrant is a high wire act and that’s honestly how I feel every day, to this day. I know I have made a successful life around me, but I still feel like any day it can be taken away.”

The vast majority of Shokouhi’s family now lives in America, including his mother who lives in Dallas. Every year for Christmas, Shokohui hosts his brothers and extended family for 10 days over the holidays. And while Shokouhi is steadfast in maintaining his mother was the catalyst for building a foundation for the family’s future generations, he maintains a deep-rooted faith that allows him to believe his mother was not acting alone in her journey to the States.

“My faith has played such an important role in my life,” Shokouhi says. “I’m a pretty strong Christian. I really strongly believe in my faith. I tell everyone, ‘If you don’t believe in God, you can’t believe in my story.’ It’s been a pretty miraculous journey. I am thankful for all the blessings in my life.”


Layten Praytor

Layten Praytor

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