Photo shows Rudi Bakhtiar of PAAIA at the IAAB Conference, Berkeley, April 4, 2009
I have been attending the Fourth International Conference on the Iranian Diaspora, organized by Iranian Alliances Across Borders (IAAB) in Berkeley this weekend. A ballroom full of beautiful, intelligent, educated, and accomplished Iranians has been keeping me engaged. Scholars, artists, writers, researchers, politicians, and celebrities have come together to help address Iranian diaspora issues. From issues of identity and discrimination, to political activism, civil society, human rights, arts and music, the Conference panels are leading the audience through discussions which will hopefully answer the growing Iranian community’s questions about how to find a unified voice and how to make that voice heard by politicians and other citizens of the world.
Everybody here is so young! The youth and exuberance of the participants brings so much excitement and freshness to the analysis and suggested solutions. It is really refreshing to see how the new diasporic Iranian identity is taking shape, finding its way to Capitol Hill, American media, and university research centers and projects, not to mention arts and music.
The panels today covered subjects of “Classifying a Community: Definitions of Race and Ethnic Identity,” “Negotiating Identity: Exploring Cultural Production,” and “Challenging Established Views: Fostering new Dialogues about Culture and Tradition.”
The distinguished panelists today were John Tehranian of Chapman University; Nina Farnia of UCLA; Babak Hoghooghi of Public Affairs Alliance of Iranian Americans (PAAIA); Michelle Moghtader of National Iranian American Council (NIAC); Donya Alinejad of Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam; Amy Malek of UCLA; Mazyar Lotfalian, independent scholar; Jasmin Darznik of The Association of Iranian American Writers (AIAW); Neda Maghbouleh of UC Santa Barbara; Ahmad Kiarostami, Videographer/Independent Researcher; Ross Mirkarimi, City of San Francisco Supervisor; Banafsheh Akhlaghi of Amnesty International USA; Hooman Khalili, radio host; Rudi Bakhtiar of PAAIA; Morad Ghorban of PAAIA; Azadeh Shahshahani of American Civil Liberties Union; Abdi Soltani of PARSA Community Foundation; Mina Trudeau of Al-Fatiha; Sanaz Raji and Shahrzad M. Davis of University of Leeds; Gelareh Bassiry of Fairfax County Domestic and Sexual Violence Services; Marjan Moinzadeh and Mansour Taeed of Javaneh Theatre Group.
In the panel discussing “Definitions of race and ethnic identity” a very important and timely subject was discussed. By legal definition, Iranians are considered White/Caucasian. But are we Iranians really white in the eyes of US laws? John Tehranian’s reponse to this question was: “White? Well, that’s not what they call me at the airport!” In fact while being “white” means that Iranians practically receive no protection from discrimination, being Middle Easterners has been sure to increase the potential of discrimination and harassment for Iranians socially and in the work place over the past 30 years and most particularly since 9/11. In his book Whitewashed: America’s Invisible Middle Eastern Minority, he proposes that Middle Easterners should try harder to establish their own social identity and to become unified to combat the realities of being considered “perpetual foreigners” in the US. I found this segment of the conference, which also contained a report on PAAIA’s survey results about Iranian Americans, and a report on NIAC’s efforts to battle the “Iran blockade resolution” last year most thought provoking. Say, did you know that Senator Diane Feinstein represents the largest Iranian American community in the US? Think about that and how each and every one of us should establish contact with her to ensure our voices are heard when she talks and votes in the Senate!
I may write about this conference again.
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