05 November 2003

Iranian American Cultural Associations Connect U.S. and Iran

Provide social, cultural, intellectual events for Iranian-Americans

By Phyllis McIntosh
Washington File Special Correspondent

Washington -- After 20 years in the United States, Ramin Sina, an astrophysicist and postdoctoral fellow at the University of Maryland, began to get nostalgic for things Iranian. "I used to enjoy holiday celebrations in Iran," he says, "but when I came here these things got lost, and in the past few years, I was feeling like I didn't belong anywhere."

Sina has since found a "home" with the Iranian-American Cultural Association (IACA) in Washington, D.C., where he attends cultural events and socializes with other unmarried professionals. "I have found a lot of friends," he says. "We get together every two weeks for brunches and happy hours and have celebrations for Persian New Year, winter solstice, and other traditional holidays."

IACA is one of four Iranian cultural associations in the Washington-Baltimore metropolitan region and among perhaps dozens that have sprung up across the United States, from Connecticut to California. Iranian student associations that also provide a mix of social and cultural events are flourishing on at least 35 American college campuses.

Some of the cultural associations cater to families, others to singles, and still others to specific age groups, such as senior citizens. A number emphasize professional networking, while others, such as the Iranian Association of Boston, focus on providing guidance and community support for recent immigrants.

But the goals of many of the groups are reflected in the mission statement of the Iranian-American Cultural Association of Washington: "To promote a sense of pride in the celebration and preservation of Persian culture, language, and history among U.S. citizens and residents of Iranian descent; to prove a forum for Iranian-Americans and the greater community to discuss cross-cultural issues, socialize, and network professionally; and to encourage friendly relations between the American and Iranian people."

IACA offers a range of activities designed to appeal to the many singles among its approximately 100 members, including Sunday brunches and parties at local restaurants and most recently a yacht party on the Potomac River to celebrate the group's 10-year anniversary. Cultural events include films, book signings, museum tours, and lectures on Persian Art. The organization's new social director Bijan Khoshnood plans to bring in several university professors to present "more substantive" programs on ancient Persian history and culture, which second generation Iranian-Americans have had little opportunity to learn. "We try very hard not to promote any views but try to provide an outlet for Iranians to learn about their culture in all its aspects, both ancient and modern," he says.

For the Iranian Cultural Association (Kanoon) in the Virginia suburbs of Washington, D.C., intellectual events are the main focus. Its lectures, panel discussions, and music and poetry presentations attract up to 200 people each week, says long-time member Mohammad Borghei.

Other groups are more family-oriented. House of Iran, also in Virginia, aims to promote Iranian traditions and culture, especially among "Iranian children who were born outside of Iran."

The Iranian-American Cultural Society (IACS) of Maryland, whose 250 members are mostly families in the Baltimore metropolitan area, schedules activities to appeal to all age levels. Solmaz Masoudi, a 16-year-old high school student, says she enjoys the skiing, camping, and hiking trips and special Persian holiday celebrations that "help to pull people from different areas of Maryland" and provide "remarkably a good opportunity to meet new Iranians in the area."

Essie Yamini, mother of nine-year-old twin girls, is especially appreciative of the weekly Persian language classes that IACS offers at two locations for members and their children. Yamini has enrolled her daughters in the classes for four years and has been working with them at home in conversational Farsi. Her husband Jim, an American, has taken some of the adult classes and speaks a limited amount of Farsi.

"I feel learning Farsi is an important part of my culture, and I want my daughters to be able to appreciate the culture, art, and history of Iran," Yamini says. "It is also important to me that my children are able to communicate with my family back in Iran."

While many of the cultural associations carefully avoid any political topics, the Iranian-American Cultural Society of Maryland encourages its members to be more active in American politics and invites local politicians and social activists to share their views with its members through lectures and organizing workshops.

While most of the cultural associations are independent and not part of any larger organization, they do consider it one of their important functions to share both local and national information of interest to Iranian-Americans. The IACS web site, for example, refers members to a variety of Iranian professionals and Iranian-owned businesses in Maryland, including restaurants, day care centers, Persian music instructors, physicians and dentists, travel agencies, and financial specialists. The web site of the IACA in Washington keeps members informed about events around town, such as museum exhibitions featuring Persian art, and provides links to other regional groups and national organizations.

(The Washington File is a product of the Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site: http://usinfo.state.gov)




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