A Young Diaspora Raises its Voice: Creating Iranian Alliances Across Borders


by ajammc

In 2002, a group of Iranian-American students studying abroad made a wild and exaggerated observation: Iranians are everywhere.

Of course, we didn’t mean on TV or in the movies. We meant that all of a sudden, Iranians seemed to be everywhere we went. We were young and traveling, discovering Iranian-Italian restaurants in Dublin, studying with Iranian-Norwegian classmates in London, and meeting Iranian-Colombian seatmates on high-speed trains across the continent. Our observation became a long-running joke: did we have Persian radar or something? How did we just happen to encounter one Iranian establishment after another by sheer luck? Or, could it be that there are really that many Iranians abroad, and we really are everywhere?

The observation that the Iranian diaspora is widespread (if not precisely everywhere), was evident even then, but with a steadily growing media presence is perhaps even more so now. Unlike some diaspora groups who congregate primarily in one or two parts of the globe, the Iranian diaspora is comprised of communities on nearly every continent and subregion in the world. And in each of these communities, one finds Iranian immigrants (and their descendants) who have worked to bring Iranian culture to these new homes abroad, be it through opening restaurants and markets, creating Persian language schools and learning materials, or celebrating Iranian holidays and festivals.

Each of these communities, from Europe to Asia and from Africa to the Americas, have specific histories and characteristics, particular relationships with their host communities, and nuanced sets of needs and challenges. And while many Iranian families are spread across several of these communities, for the most part it appears that the members, and particularly the leaders, of each community are largely focused on their own community, addressing their local needs in response to their own circumstances.

This was another one of the observations raised by the co-founders of Iranian Alliances Across Borders (IAAB) while studying abroad in 2002-2003. Reflecting on the state of the Iranian diaspora at that time, it was not just international diaspora communities that seemed disconnected, and it was not just job-seeking adults who could benefit from an increasingly networked diaspora. At the time, there was but one still-nascent national Iranian-American organization, no organizations reaching out specifically to young Iranian Americans, and no organizations that we knew of with an international reach. With all the ways humans are capable of being connected in the 21st century, and with all that we can learn from each other, why didn’t we see increasing connections or collaborations across Iranian diaspora communities?


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