The Myth of the Successful Iranian American Community
As IAAB approaches its 10th anniversary, we will publish a series of articles about our experiences working with the Iranian American community in the past decade. We have come a long way in the past ten years, but we have a long way to go and we need to continue working hard.
Ramin Bajoghli, President of IAAB's Board of Advisors, writes about the dangers of perpetuating the myth of the successful Iranian American community. The following article was published in PBS Frontline's Tehran Bureau.
Diaspora | Community (Re)Defined: Hailing Successes, Recognizing Failures
by RAMIN BAJOGHLI
10 Dec 2012 18:520 Comments
Reflections on ten years working for the Iranian American community.
[ opinion ] The all too common Iranian American myth goes something like this: we are the wealthiest, smartest, most successful diaspora community in the United States.
Unfortunately, by perpetuating this myth, we ignore or refuse to acknowledge the very serious challenges facing the Iranian American community.
In the last decade, various national organizations and numerous individuals have worked tirelessly to combat the racist and misrepresentative images of Iranians in mainstream media. The 1979-81 Iran hostage crisis created a wave of anti-Iranian sentiment that in some measure continues to linger today. In response, many in the Iranian American community have sought to take control of its public image. However, the narrative we've created for ourselves is one of extreme levels of success: we are not the bearded and veiled religious fanatics of yesteryear, but instead, we demand recognition as the CEOs, bankers, scientists, doctors, lawyers, and engineers pioneering the United States in the 21st century.
Although our successes in the United States need to be celebrated, we are treading a treacherous slope with our narrow definition of success. As with any community, our socioeconomic conditions are diverse. The real difficulties faced by our community are not a matter of public relations and image; instead the complications emerge from one of exclusivity. We are marginalizing scores of our own who do not fit this golden image of success.
Socioeconomic issues are not the only barrier Iranian Americans need to recognize and address. Problems of mental illness, health and disability issues, domestic violence, racism, sexism, and homophobia are very real and occur daily in our community. Without an honest and open debate on these issues, Iranian Americans will never stand on a par with other successful diaspora communities. A serious study of said communities reveals a common characteristic sorely lacking among Iranian Americans: each diaspora community -- Jewish, Puerto Rican, Cuban, Armenian, Arab, etc. -- provides resources and social services to those in need.
Having spoken with leaders of these various communities over the past decade, three common elements in building a powerful and active diaspora community emerged: (1) take care of your own (the poor, the sick -- anyone in need); (2) be active and participate in domestic policy issues; and (3) once significant ground has been gained on the first two, enter and sway foreign policy debates.
A successful diaspora community is one that celebrates the triumphs of all its members, regardless of profession, and comes to the aid of those in need. We must learn that individual success does not equal community prosperity. At this critical juncture for our community, it's the only responsible way forward.
As Iranian Americans, we love to cite the oft-quoted Saadi poem that adorns the entrance of the United Nations.
Ironically, it seems, we never heed Saadi's words when it comes to our own.
Human beings are members of a whole,
In creation of one essence and soul.
If one member is afflicted with pain,
Other members uneasy will remain.
If you have no sympathy for human pain,
The name of human you cannot retain.
Copyright © 2012 Tehran Bureau
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