Interview with a community leader
By Jahanshah Javid
May 18, 2004
Fariba Nejat is everything you would want from a community
leader: positive, tireless, forward-looking, always building
bridges and never giving up
hope. She has struck a perfect balance with promoting Iranian culture
in American society. The kinds of community
services and activities offered by organizations
under her care and supervision in the San Francisco South Bay should
serve as models for other Iranian
communities abroad. I emailed her some questions and asked her
to share her thoughts. Also see
photos of individuals, artists
and events Nejat has organized.
What has been the highest priority in your community activities?
a sense of healthy identity, community support and leadership that
embraces the marriage
and evolution between our Iranian and American cultures and lifestyles,
has been my greatest priority and passion in the activities we
pursue. Drawing from the healing and universal wisdom of our cultural
roots, via dance, music, poetry, art, food, etc., enables us to
evolve into better human beings and representatives of our individual
culture and of our diverse human culture that we all live in.
have been a community leader for many years. What changes have
you noticed in the attitude of Iranian youth and their parents
towards the community?
Iranian youth have moved
from a deep sense of disconnection of being a part of the American
culture and life, to a more connected way of living and interaction
among themselves and other cultural communities. You see more youth
participating and embracing their cultural differences and traditions
a lot more openly and confidently, which my generation did not
have the chance to experience until more recently.
youth have become more open to having intercultural interactions,
interests and relationships, but there is no doubt that they also
mixed feelings of being associated to Iranian culture because of
some of the limiting, old belief patterns that are still being
imposed from the preceding generations that resist change and cultural
I’d like to see more parents encourage their
children to pursue other areas of interests than just academic
because these other interests will give these children a more confident
sense of identity that goes beyond school, grades and jobs. And
these other interests is what will give them that “edge” and “niche” we
all want to have and need to be successful in our lives.
What are your most important obstacles?
One of the greatest obstacles
that I encounter with the Iranian community is the lack of value,
interest, support and participation in keeping the beauty and wisdom
of their culture, heritage and community alive. There is more focus
on becoming “somebody” famous or successful, and not
enough emphasis on keeping the spirit of our culture alive -- the
spirit that can be found in music, poetry, dance, art. Not being
connected to this deep part of our historic selves plays a big
role in why many Iranian Americans do not feel at “home” and
disconnected and alienated in American society.
I also notice that
most Iranians like to take great pride in associating themselves
to their heritage of Iranian poets, music, art and dance, but when
it comes to supporting it, or their children’s interests,
it’s often a different story. The value and wisdom of these
gifts from our culture are often lost in the hurdle of trying to
conform or resist family and societal rules of how and who we should
be, as men and women, boys and girls.
My concern is that the wisdom
and beauty that we can leverage from our Iranian heritage will
be wasted and forgotten if we do not do our best to appreciate,
integrated and apply these gifts into our community. We are responsible
for maintaining the integrity and story of our great past and
for evolving its beauty into our present and future living.
There is another great obstacle
I see with the Iranian community, and other communities as well,
which is a much deeper challenge that will take time, patience
and dedication to work with. It’s how we communicate,
or I should say, don’t communicate. This has been the greatest
challenge I have faced among some of the Iranian community I work
with. Many of them are not about service and are more about getting
recognition and praise, or speaking negatively about someone else
to make themselves look better.
The gossip of “he said, she
said,” has got to stop because it only produces negative
results, thus a negative community. There is a lot work to
be done with many opportunities for growth and prosperity, and
often people escape doing the real work by complaining and gossiping
about others, or even themselves.
Unfortunately, underneath our
beautiful and amazing culture, is this part that needs to be
recognized and addressed. Unhealthy, ineffective communication
community, society and ourselves, and it really goes against
the essence of our culture that is loving, hospitable, creative,
forgiving and compassionate to all walks of life. This kind of
acceptance leads to a universal wisdom that we praise with radiance
when we hear it in our Iranian poetry and music, but avoid it
when our turn comes to apply this into our daily lives and interactions
with our Iranian and non-Iranian communities.
I think if Iranians
take more initiative and responsibility in how they effectively
communicate and participate in their community, they will have
more ideas and solutions, rather than negative complaints, to improve
their voice in the community. This is why I committed to
Is there a network of Iranian community leaders? Should
there be one?
It would be fantastic to
have a network of Iranian community leaders that is free from hidden
agendas, social politics and status cliques, and truly a service
to society. This network would have a clear mission, purpose and
promise of what it means to be an Iranian community leader. The
formation of the Iranian
Federated Women's Club (IFWC), a member
of the California and International Federation of Women's clubs 8
years ago, began with a few women who demonstrated the need and
desire to come together to support and provide leadership and service
to our community. It has since grown in diversity and offers a
wide variety of community services. IFWC has a proud history
with many notable accomplishments. The club is open to women
(and men) of all ages who are in agreement with the purpose
and mission of the organization.
For me, being an Iranian community leader means teaching, by example, adults,
children and seniors, how to be leaders in their own lives and communities, and
most importantly how to be leaders of themselves and their health and happiness.
My belief is that if you are a good Iranian-American community leader, then you
are leader of service to the entire community that goes beyond culture. This
is what my mission is about.
photos of individuals, artists and events Nejat has organized.
May is Mamnoon
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