See you in 10 years! This census is done! All but a gleam in the eye of the 30+ community groups (see list below) that were involved in promoting it.
Once the tallies have been made and the final numbers are out, the biggest surprise won't be that for once a decent total number of Iranians living in the US will have been counted, but that the community groups managed to put aside their own endeavors and pull together to push through the biggest coordinated community mobilization effort in the short history of Iranian-American community groups in the US.
As a community volunteer working for the committee that was made up of all of the groups and volunteers, I watched first-hand as efficiency, budget-mindedness, and above all, consensus and respect, dominated the efforts by all, in this seemingly simple project.
Having been around the bend on this before with my own project in 2004 (See 2004 Iranian-American Survey Project), I had a good idea of the challenges involved.
All too often on these kinds of projects, our relative inexperience at it, often ends up being a "manage by committee" result, often tepid and somewhat communistic. One of the best ideas to organically come out of the census project, was to put a Project Manager in place. In 2004 I was the Project Manager, so I can attest to the fact that having some authority within guidelines, goes a long way towards getting things done quickly and efficiently.
As a colleague and fellow warrior, I have to take my hat off to Bita Milanian who was chosen as the Project Manager for the census. With a fair, firm, steady and creative hand she managed to pull together a massive communications barrage that included the production and broadcast of numerous PSA's (See Maz Jobrani's PSA), both online and on-air, with dedicated TV call-in talk-shows broadcast live as well as archived on YouTube. Print, Radio and TV ads with minimal budgets were pushed out to the community with the help of the TV Stations, and publications who rallied to support the mass effort.
But I knew all of this already. I have never bought the line that Iranian groups don't work well together, or that there is competitive oneupsmanship and so on. In 2004 on my small version of this kind of project, I too witnessed the immense support by the groups and TV/Print media I approached to get involved.
The myth that Iranians don't work well together, FOR each other, is nothing more than a myth. Proven now, at least twice in my book.
This time around, the main enemy however, was apathy and the known suspicions by the community itself. Here we were, asking perfectly naturally wary Iranian-Americans to go against their gut and biologically accurate racial categorization, and instead of marking themselves as the usual translucent "White", stand together and loudly proclaim that we are "Iranian-American".
As expected, the arguments against this "foolishness" were reasonable, after all, Iranians are for lack of a better category, White.
Additional arguments were concerns over privacy, and the very real fear that Iranians would be "identified" and in the event of a not-too-ridiculous prospect of war between the US and Iran, something like the Japanese Internment camps could be possible.
The interesting thing though, is that in almost all cases, the people making the cautionary arguments, would often talk themselves out of it by the end of their inquiry. Apparently public discussion and debate, which has been looked down upon in the past as too controversial, turns out to be a very healthy way for us to work out our problems.
What struck me the most however, was the overall tone of overwhelming support, and courtesy. Never before have I seen so many speak and work with each other so politely and respectfully. This is the other myth of Iranian-American community work, that it quickly turns rude and personal.So many myths! So many disproved!
Ultimately the primary arguments for all of us to pull together in this census and identify ourselves as a single group, distilled down to the basics.
First, it is important for us to simply be counted. This effort made sure this happened. If we are not counted, the thing we hold most dear, namely where we physically live, would not receive it's fair share of federal dollars. In the end, the possibility that your town or neighborhood loses that $3,000 per year to Schools and libraries and the cops and fire department, all because you didn't feel like taking 5 minutes to answer 10 easy questions, was a non-issue.
Second, after over 30 years as mere rumored Iranians, apparently it was time to wake up, stand up and be counted. Watching in the wings as other ethnic groups expertly wielded political power and gained advantage, or possibly it was those pride inducing PowerPoints touting the might and measure of successful Iranian executives, scientists, and CNN reporters, that we seem to get in our email daily, and possibly dare I say, even Anousheh Ansari's stroll in space (OK maybe that is a stretch!), seemed to convince everyone that "Tonight is Your Night, Bro!" and that, "Yes, By Golly! It's high time we were identified as one group!".
So the benefits of being tallied as a single ethnic group, versus remaining safely hidden in the shadows, in the end, overrode racial accuracy. In the end Heart (and Head) won out over mere Cold (and Cowardly) Logic.
Now all we need is for the Census folks to hurry up and release the numbers, please! Then the real fun can begin!
Here are the list of Groups that came together to work on the Census:
Alliance of Iranian Americans
Iranian American Professionals (AIAP)
Iranian-American Democrats (BAIAD)
Iranian-American Voter Association (BAIVOTER)
California Zoroastrian Center (CZC)
Dast 2 Dast
Alliances Across Borders (IAAB)
Bar Association (IABA)
Association of Boston (IAB)
Psychological Association of America (IPAA)
School of San Diego (ISSD)
Group at MIT
Muslim Association of N. America (IMAN)
Center of Northern California
Iranian American Council (NIAC)
Iranian American Professionals of Orange County (NIPOC)
Advocates for Human Rights
American Society for Health Advancement (PASHA)
Persian Cultural Club
Persian Cultural Foundation
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