Kidney Thieves Urban Legend

Kidney Thieves Urban Legend

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Losing Organs at a Party: The "Kidney Thieves" Legend and the Immigrant Experience

My family, most being first generation immigrants, has at times a slightly negative view of American culture. Because of this, many of the family dinner conversations are about the differences between American and Iranian cultures and often how the Iranian culture is better in some ways. To support this theory many urban legends are brought up that show the “dark side” of the American culture. For example, when the family was gathered together for the Iranian new year, a version of the famous legend about the traveler who was drugged and robbed of his organs in a hotel room was told by a family member. It is important to note that he told the story in Farsi, which means that I am translating and not merely re-telling the story verbatim.

The storyteller's version of the story was about an Iranian foreign exchange student who had recently come to the US. The story begins with the student, being alone in this country, going to a party he had heard of from other students. In the party, having had a few drinks, another “American thing” my family is against, he met a beautiful innocent girl who offered him a drink and asked to go to his place at the end of the night. The tone with which he described the girl was specially interesting, noting that even the innocent looking girls cannot be trusted. The story goes that the Iranian student did not remember anything from that point on until he woke up the next day in his bathtub covered with ice. There was also a note next to him telling him not to move and call 911. When the ambulance arrived at his apartment he was told that his kidney was removed and that he was not the first person this has happened to. To add to the accuracy and suspense of the story, the storyteller, a physician, mentioned how the ice was used to keep the student’s body cold to prevent excessive blood loss and inflammation, which was essentially what kept him alive. After being discharged from the hospital for a few weeks with a missing kidney, a big hospital bill, and having fallen behind his studies, the student found out that there is an organized ring of organ thieves who specialize in lonely foreign students, who are as the storyteller sees it, more susceptible to being seduced by girls.

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The storyteller then took on a joking tone, also shown by his mockingly smile and by putting his hand on his stomach and gesturing his kidney being ripped off, when he went on to say how only in America they would rip out a person’s organs by using beautiful girls as bait. This incited small side conversations as each person was discussing the validity of the storyteller’s statement with the person sitting beside him or her.

Other versions of this legend mostly include a traveler, often in Las Vegas, or another popular tourist destination, being given a drink at a bar or lounge and waking up in a bathtub full of ice with a missing kidney. Almost all of the versions found online state the fact that the organ thieves knew what they were doing, shown by the elaborate description of the ice filled bathtub and the clean, sterile surgery. Also, as most legends go, the story happened to the friend of a relative of a friend of a friend, or some other untraceable source. The legend in this case tries to warn off lonely travelers from the possible dangers of being away from home. The thieves are mentioned to be professionals, implying that they can easily victimize anyone they choose. The untraceable source also indicates that it can happen to anyone and anywhere.

Analyzing this legend, coming from a storyteller who is roughly 40 years old and came to the US when he was in his early 20s, shows that this story is in fact rooted in the teller's experiences as a young immigrant student. When he moved to the US to finish his studies, he was alone and away from family and friends in a foreign country with different customs and culture. The differences he saw in his traditional life style and the new environment he lived in created a sense of conservatism in him. Going through the inevitable assimilation all immigrants go through when placed in a different society, the storyteller, as I suspect many others, analyzed and compared each aspect of the new culture with his own culture. He accepted those aspects that seemed to be “good” while rejecting the aspects that he saw as “bad,” either religiously, like drinking and partying, or culturally, including practices that were perhaps too different from the Iranian culture he was used to. In a sense, he tried to conserve as much of his own culture while trying to assimilate as much as he could so as to fit in better.

When it comes to the first generations children, the second generation born and raised in the US often assimilates more extensively, which to the first generation is not always a good thing. I am not sure if the reason for bringing up some specific urban legends, such as the one mentioned, is to deliberately scare the younger generation of the family from assimilating too much into the American culture, but it certainly seems to have this effect. When I asked the storyteller where he had heard this story, he said that he does not remember from whom, but it was back when he was my age. I further asked him if he thought the story was in fact true or just an urban legend, to which he replied “I don’t know, but anything’s possible in this country,” further showing his negative view on some aspects of the American culture.

What is also interesting is that when I asked the storyteller why he doesn’t move back to Iran where he was born and raised, he mentioned a few stories he has heard about how Iran has changed over the two decades he has not lived there. These urban legends showed the negative aspects of the new Iranian culture that somewhat scared him from moving back. The cultural differences this storyteller faced, backed by urban legends, are what made his move to the US difficult and now prevent him from going back to the “new” Iranian culture.
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