“Start by doing what’s necessary; then do what’s possible; and suddenly you are doing the impossible.” -St. Francis of Assisi
The urgency of greater Iranian-American involvement in U.S public life can feel overwhelming. After all, the issues impacting our community are massive and inordinately complex. Fortunately, an increasing number of Iranian Americans are disrupting the narratives of passivity regarding our community’s political potential, and are leading by example in various parts of U.S politics and government by making concrete, incremental changes.
One such leader is Sunny Zia, an Iranian-American candidate for the Long Beach Community College Board that represents the tenaciousness, hunger for justice, and inclusive values our community aspires to embody in public life.
In a recent interview with NIAC, Ms. Zia emphasized that for individual Iranian Americans and the broader community alike, taking concrete action is fundamental to making a difference. Drawing on personal stories, Zia emphasized how crucial it is that Iranian Americans act locally, and do “grunt work” at the local level in order to learn how to be effective in public life. “It’s amazing to be in someone’s kitchen licking stamps for envelopes -- something so simple that eventually puts someone in office.” This somewhat unglamorous behind-the-scenes work is essential to making political campaigns and policy changes succeed, and therefore should not be taken for granted. Zia’s participation in such efforts empowered her, an Iranian immigrant who moved to the U.S during the Iran-Iraq war, to become a force to be reckoned with in the U.S political system.
Zia embodies success in various levels of professional and public life. Not only has she had a lucrative career as an engineer in the private sector, but she also has a long track record of achievements in the non-profit and public sectors. When asked why Iranian Americans ought to consider participation in the civic sector rather than focusing exclusively on private sector success, Zia responded that, “We are involved in the private sector and that’s fantastic, but I would love to have both [private and civic] elements involved, so we are involved in decisions rather than just being informed of decisions after the fact.” Having a seat at the table in political life is essential for Iranian Americans to achieving long-term results that are in line with our interests, and also to truly reaching the American Dream.
Zia’s reflections on public life offer crucial lessons for Iranian Americans regarding the importance of patience, hard work, and concrete steps locally in order to make a difference. As Zia takes incremental steps toward winning elected office and climbing the U.S political ladder, she along with the NIAC team hope that she inspires others to do the same. Our community can only leave a consequential historical mark if we become active participants in public life and learn through direct engagement. And while we may seek to make changes on the most complex and large of political issues, the first step can be as small as licking a stamp at one’s kitchen table.
A longtime Southern California political activist, Zia currently serves as the Contract Compliance Manager at the Port of Long Beach, as well as the Chair of Congressman Alan Lowenthal's Citizen Advisory Committee on Human Rights and Foreign Affairs. Zia has also led fundraising efforts for several political candidates, including Hillary Clinton. In her current campaign, Zia has received endorsements from national and local officials, including former Beverly Hills Mayor Jimmy Delshad. If elected, Zia will join a handful of Iranian Americans elected to political office around the country. For more information, please visit www.sunnyzia.com or www.facebook.com/sunnyzia4lbcc.
NOTE: NIAC is a non-partisan organization and does not endorse political candidates at any level of government.