The Iranian American Community's New Year’s Resolution
By Mana Kharrazi
2012 was a historic year for Iranians.
Iranians had unprecedented gains within the arts and entertainment fields. Iran claimed its first Academy Award for the best foreign film A Separation. Iranian American entertainers made more television appearances with Nasim Pedrad, Nazanin Boniadi and Necar Zadegan performing in the shows Saturday Night Live, How I Met Your Mother, and Emily Owens MD respectively. Bravo’s latest reality television sensation features an all-Iranian American cast with the stars of Shahs of Sunset becoming everyday household names. And Iranian Americans were the subject of a documentary on public television and a radio program showcasing the LA neighborhood Google now formally recognizes as ‘Tehrangeles.’
2012 also heralded a record number of Iranian Americans running for political office and the election of the first Iranian American, Cyrus Habib, to state legislature as a member of Washington’s House of Representatives.
However, 2012 wasn’t just a year full of success stories.
Community challenges arrived in the form of heightened US-Iran tensions, which resulted in the US waging economic war through sanctions. The impact of tightening sanctions hit Iranians both at home and in the diaspora.
Iranians studying abroad face new hurdles when attempting to access financial institutions – simple acts like opening a bank account are becoming virtually impossible. American and European banks and companies also struggle with new policies as was evident with this summer’s Apple controversy.
Despite any recent achievements, our community faces many more hurdles, the effects of which we will feel far beyond 2012. In light of these challenges, we must focus on community-building now more than ever. We need to support our community’s individuals who are most at risk, namely our youth, the elderly, and the more recent wave of refugees, families, and students emigrating to the U.S. from Iran.
For 2013, our community’s resolutions should be:
- Supporting the large number of Iranian students in the US facing harsh financial constraints and creating organizations to support them. The growing Iranian brain drain to the United States combined with increased sanctions means a population of young Iranians were financially cut off in the last year. These students face employment and aid restrictions due to their immigration status. We need organizations that offer financial hardship stipends and job training to support Iranians making the transition to living in the United States.
- Contributing to local direct service groups that provide social services to impoverished and disadvantaged Iranian Americans, including the new wave of refugees. While there is a lack of accurate statistics about Iranians in the United States, a large number of direct service organizations, mostly non-Iranian and faith-based, provide services to an increasing number of Iranians each year regardless of their religious beliefs. For example, Jewish Family Services of Los Angeles not only assists low-income Iranians, but also provides mental health support through its Iranian peer counseling program and hotline. Organizations like the International Rescue Committee and Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, serve various religious minorities, including Baha’is. Local or state refugee resettlement agencies provide assistance to the new wave of refugees.
- Volunteering for local organizations working with Iranian refugees and immigrants in detention. In light of harsher immigration policies, some Iranians are being held indefinitely in detention centers throughout the United States. Various organizations and legal aid centers working with immigrants in detention regularly request local Persian language speakers to translate formal hearings and meetings for their clients. Non-Iranian volunteers ask for Persian language reading materials to share with Iranians in detention. We can support by volunteering as translators, organizing local Persian language book drives, and offering emotional support to families facing the detention of a loved one.
- Donating to community initiatives. As much as we claim to be a wealthy community, we sorely lack a culture of giving. Persian language schools, news publications, community centers, and cultural groups all compete over a declining number of grants. Many of these centers are the entry point for identity and community building, particularly for our younger generation. Next time you ask if a group receives government funds and hear the word ‘no’, try following it up with an offer to donate.
- Creating community spaces that provide transportation for the elderly. Without such spaces, the elderly in our community become isolated and disconnected, leading to greater instances of depression and serious health issues. Toronto’s Parya Trillium Foundation provides a safe space and a wide range of services for the city’s elderly while several Southern California communities provide free shuttles and various services for the elderly. We need to support them and also create local spaces in more cities, particularly as the post-Revolution wave of immigrants grows older.
- Supporting the development of a new generation of young leaders. Young Iranian Americans grapple with questions of identity and inclusivity every day in school as they face an increasing level of discrimination. Our youth will inherit our community’s current struggles and will dictate its future existence. Through building the younger generation, we effectively equip a crop of engaged leaders with the passion and skills required to move our community forward.
In 2013, we need to invest in our community by protecting our members made most vulnerable by 2012 policies. Through the development and expansion of such social services, we may ensure that in 2013 we take steps forward to building a stronger community.
* About the Author:
Mana Kharrazi is the current Executive Director of Iranian Alliances Across Borders and a former Southern Regional Field Organizer at Amnesty International USA.