Show we exist
Next step for the Iranian-American community
October 27, 2004
A while ago we published
a report in the Iranian Studies Group
at MIT on the socioeconomic characteristics of Iranian-Americans
based on the 2000 census. With the report supporting the notion
that Iranian-Americans rank among the most successful ancestry
groups in terms of education and financial status, many critics
scolded us for contributing to the complacency of Iranian-Americans.
Some pointed to the fact that these were not achievements, but
only reflected the status of Iranian-Americans in the American
society. Even if some were actually achievements, these could be
attributed to Iranian-American individuals, not to the efforts
of the community.
They couldn't be more right.
What the report actually does show, is that we don't have any
excuse for not being a strong community, that we have no justification
for not taking responsibility for our weaknesses or not having
an adequate voice in the American society. If we are waiting for
a time when Iran's image in the U.S. media will improve to the
level that we can proudly express our heritage, then count on a
long wait. Instead, I would suggest taking a more proactive approach
and changing the image of Iranian-Americans by actively participating
in American civic life as a "real" community.
What are some goals for a "real" community? Here are
* To create a shared, dynamic vision of the community's future
which inspires members to work together to secure that future
* To link individual self-sufficiency to community self-sufficiency;
* To allow community members to apply their own cultural, political
and socio-economic values to long term strategies that benefit
the community as a whole.
So how do we become a community? Here are my two cents:
1) We need to know more about who we are.
We need to know what it is that makes us Iranian, Persian, or
American? How are our needs or concerns different from others living
in this country? How do we interact with others of Iranian ancestry?
How supportive are we of each other as a community? What parts
of Iranian/Persian culture do we associate with?
We need to critically examine our culture from a new perspective.
Second generation Iranian-Americans are the best people to do so.
They have the ability to discern the inconsistencies, weaknesses
and shortcomings of our culture.
2) We need to invest in our community.
We need to redefine the Iranian-American community as a minority
group independent everyday politics in Iran. For that, we need
more cultural centers, more professional organizations (dentists,
engineers, accountants, etc.), more non-profits, more scholarships
for young Iranian-Americans, more art exhibitions, more career
networks and most importantly more trust and more tolerance for
views different than our own.
These require different levels of commitment, so there is room
for nearly everyone to commit only to the extent they can afford
both in terms of time and financial support. Every hour and every
dollar counts in making this country more hospitable for individuals
of Iranian ancestry.
We need think tanks, we need media outlets, we need good journalism.
We need to cross the barriers created by the history of Iran
itself. We need more integration of Iranian-American Muslims, Jews,
Armenians, Assyrians, Bahai's and Zoroastrians. We need better
communication between first and second generation Iranian-Americans.
3) We need to invest in civic life.
In our country of origin, we have rarely had the experience of
living in a democratic society, and most of us are not used to
the responsibilities that come with living in a democratic society
like the U.S. The advantage of living in a democratic society goes
beyond access to shopping malls, one day sales at Macy's and affordable
mortgage rates. It's the ability to affect decisions that affect
our lives everyday on a local, state, and national level.
We need to support Iranian-American participation in local, state
and national elections. We need to have a high turnout, we need
to show we exist.
There are many efforts underway on behalf of numerous Iranian-American
organizations all across the U.S. that we each of us could support.
These efforts should be complementary not competitive, given the
limited resources that our community can spare. We need to reach
out to the different groups that strive for a stronger Iranian-American
community, forge alliances and pool resources.
Nothing is more destructive for a community than a victimized,
apathetic and divided mindset. We can't just sit down and hope
that our lives will improve by itself through some divine intervention
or random alignment of the stars. Making an effort to shape out
future isn't easy and doesn't guarantee success, but not making
an effort definitely guarantees failure.
Ali Mostashari is a Strategic
Development Consultant to the United Nations Development Program
and serves on the executive board of the Iranian Studies Group
at MIT. He is a Ph.D. Candidate in Engineering Systems/Technology
Management and Policy at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.