No other state can claim to be so cosmopolitan and
none is multilingual
May 2, 2005
Like most people who live in California, I had no idea what the
acronym CCH stood for. When Iranian.com -- an online Persian
magazine for which I am a columnist -- contacted me about
participating in a writer’s competition sponsored by CCH,
I said, why not?
Procrastination being part of my Iranian heritage, I put off reading
up on this organization. I became involved before the chance to
familiarize myself with CCH. The instructions said to write a
letter -- fiction or otherwise -- and compare life in
California to that of home. After nearly thirty years of life
in Chicago, I no longer know which city to call “home.” So
I wrote a
letter to my grandmother in Iran and brought both my
homes into the picture. Who knew that out of two hundred entries,
I’d be one of the winners? It shames me to admit that, even
at that point, I knew nothing about CCH or the broad domain of
activities it encompasses.
A winner? What a boost to my ego! I bragged to friends and prepared
for that special evening when I would receive my prize. Somehow,
I had a feeling there had to be more to this. Was it a trick?
Why would CCH care what I had to say? What would they gain by
knowing how an Iranian immigrant felt about life in California,
not to mention how she communicated with her grandmother?
The little research that followed taught me plenty. I found out
that CCH, although based in California, is in fact an affiliate
of the National Endowment for the Humanities. Among its many tasks,
is to provide a cultural connection among Californians. One of
the many steps in this direction is a program titled Uncovering
California Stories. Essays, such as the one I wrote, are stories
told by people of all backgrounds. Thus a new window opens to
reveal a variety of views as seen through the eyes of different
California enjoys a unique, yet wildly diverse, culture. No other
state comes even close. This is not new; the history of California
begins with the missionaries and the gold rush and other cultural
revolutions. No other state can claim to be so cosmopolitan and
none is multilingual.
Many parts of this country enjoy
transient guests of all nationalities. But those who come to California
put down roots, as if the good
earth helps them to settle down. Indeed, the cultural mix in California
reminds me of a garden where most flowers enjoy strong roots that
extend across the globe. Yes, the sunshine and the ocean are breathtaking,
but there’s a lot more to the beauty of this sunshiny state.
And, that is what CCH aspires to celebrate.
After the winners of the contest had been announced, I was offered
a choice among a variety of locations to receive my award and
decided to attend the event on April 26. That evening the CCH,
in partnership with the New California Media, held a reception
at the National City Library, not far from where I live. What
I had assumed to be “my evening,” turned out to be
an unforgettable event for everyone present.
I met the other
winners and enjoyed their stories. After the winners
were recognized and prizes had been handed out, the evening’s
speaker, Ruben Martinez took the podium. This award-winning journalist/author,
the man with a multicultural background and a Californian with
the emotional warmth of South America had no trouble in captivating
his audience. To top it off, he concluded the program by singing
the “immigrants’ song” to the soft strum of
his guitar. What a treat!
Home to many cultures, California has succeeded to turn the American
Dream into reality. Is it possible that we have neared the cultural
harmony others considered unfeasible? How uplifting it is to come
across an organization that cares about your world and mine. You
and I, who came here with volumes of stories and hearts full of
Throughout the month of April, many Californians of different
ethnicity wrote their letters and told their tale. Irrespective
of the current events, statistics and stereotypes, people connected,
listened and, most importantly, they understood one another.
As I now look at those three letters,
C-C-H, the last letter stands out. ‘H’ for humanity. How wonderful it is to realize
that despite man’s ignorance, humanity prevails.
Zohreh Khazai Ghahremani is a retired dentist and a freelance
writer. She lives in San Diego, California. Her latest book is "Sharik-e
Gham" (see excerpt).
Visit her site ZoesWordGarden.com