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Views expressed by guest speakers do not necessarily express the views of BAIAD

Iranian-American Leaders Discuss the Future of this Community

Report by: Atoosa Savarnejad
IIwrite4u @ aol.com

SAN FRANCISCO, August 14, 2005 – The newly Chartered Democratic Club, Bay Area Iranian-American Democrats (www.baiad.org) hosted an interactive educational forum titled “WHAT’S NEXT? A Profound Inquiry into the Future of the Iranian-American Community.” The forum featured San Francisco City and County Board Supervisor Ross Mirkarimi and Professor Elahe Enssani, Chair, Civil Engineering Department at San Francisco State University, and a Commissioner on San Francisco’s Immigrant Rights Commission.

During the introduction, Mehrdad Moayedzadeh, BAIAD founder and president, framed the program topic: “Today’s topic is at least partially an open inquiry into the elements needed in order for the Iranian-American community to evolve into a powerful and responsible community with fair representation as well as the missing pieces and necessary elements of that evolution.”

Before the discussion of the main topic, two political candidates, one a Chinese American running for San Francisco Treasurer and the other an Iranian American -- Mr. Darab Ghaffary -- running for a City Council seat in Sunnyvale, CA, introduced themselves and explained their motivations for running for office. Although not of Iranian descent, Calvin Louie, the San Francisco Treasurer candidate, had been invited to the event by Dr. Enssani, to highlight how important it was for all groups with a common cause to work together, regardless of national origin.

“I look at [civic participation] as E Pluribus Unum, “out of many, one,” which is what America is made of. We all come together and we all become one. We have to have this strong sense of identity. Then we have to take that one step further and build coalitions,” she said.

Dr. Enssani strongly reinforced the importance of developing a strong sense of identity as a first step. “We want to define what it is to be an Iranian because it’s different for those of us who have been here for a long time and those of us who have been here for a short time. We want to define what it is to be an American. And putting it together, what is it to be an Iranian-American.”

Dr. Enssani called for a return to the same Iranian values that had led to the great contributions of Iranians to the world in the fields of algebra, chemistry, modern medicine, and waterworks. She indicated that those contributions from centuries ago had been the foundation for making Iranians a great nation. Perhaps they had been lost because Iranians had in a way lost their sense of identity. “Who are we as Iranians?,” she asked. Earlier, she had recited some verses from the great Persian poet Hafez. “I read Hafez for a purpose. If you look, who is the most widely read poet in the United States? We all know it’s Rumi. But it had to take Coleman Barks to bring Rumi to the American people, not an Iranian. So should we wait for another Coleman Barks to bring Hafez to the greater America?”

Supervisor Mirkarimi, who spoke before Dr. Enssani, talked about the importance of grassroots efforts as a stronger factor for affecting change than the political parties in power. He cited the former Soviet Union as an example. “In the late 1970s and 1980s, it really wasn’t Ronald Reagan who helped bring down the Soviet Union. It was the citizen movements here in the United States: It was all these grassroots civil liberties organizations or environmental organizations or anti-nuclear organizations or a diaspora of exiled Jews in the Soviet Union who moved to United States or Muslims in the Soviet Republic. There started to be this outcropping of differences in movements throughout the U.S. that was having an underground relationship with many citizen movements throughout the Soviet Union at the time. This was the very organic antidote to the Cold War,” he said. With that example in mind, he reinforced that the time is now ripe for a similar situation to effect change in Iran.

In his follow-up speech, Moayedzadeh offered his thoughts about enabling the course of action for Iranian Americans. He listed about 10 areas of focus which he believes are next in order to accelerate the evolution of Iranian Americans: areas such as investing in the younger Iranian-American generation, political education, electing more Iranian Americans to office, creation of more politically-based Iranian-American organizations at the local levels and more collaborations among the existing organizations. He made a distinction about how some of these areas cannot be shortcut, areas such as increasing grassroots activism as well as what he underlined as the single most important factor of all: transforming the culture of Iranian Americans around politics and civic participation. He dramatized: “We need all hands on deck for this one! This goes far beyond the work of BAIAD and other politically-based organizations. We need cultural, professional, charity and really all Iranian-American groups to work at bringing about such a transformation.”

During the Q&A near the end of the program, all 3 speakers expressed a solid agreement on one issue. In answer to a question about supporting political candidates of Iranian descent, they all agreed that they wouldn’t necessarily endorse a candidate solely based on his or her nationality. “We don’t want to blindly follow anyone because they are of a particular descent, because then we are in our own little corner: Iranians for Iranians, Chinese for Chinese, etc.,” Dr. Enssani said.

Moayedzadeh suggested a solution. “We need to be proactive about this. One of BAIAD’s many projects is to conduct a search to find out which potentially-winnable political offices are going to be open for reelection soon in the Bay Area, and to then seek out qualified Iranian Americans, and encourage and support them to run for those positions,” he said.

 

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Views expressed by guest speakers do not necessarily express the views of BAIAD