Recently a bit of action hit the Iranian community in the San Francisco Bay area, San Jose, Silicon Valley or whatever you want to call this neck of the woods we live in out here. The city of Sunnyvale received a rather interesting request by a local Hindu temple. They wanted to request that the name of the street on which the temple sits, be changed from Persian Drive to “Mandir Drive”. The word Mandir is Hindi for Temple. Why they simply didn't request that it be changed to Temple Drive is still a mystery.
Normally this would have been rejected by the city council for the usual cost reasons. However when news of this request and moreover the justification for it hit Mohammad Mortazavi, President of the Society of Iranian Professionals and a local community activist, a concern for the protection of our heritage arose.
You see, in justifying their reasons for the name change, members of the temple had made the mistake of including that the name ought to be changed because the word “Persian” is of “Islamic origin”. (Note: since this unfortunate comment the temple has repeatedly renounced this as poor judgment, wrong to use as a reason for the name change and has been very apologetic of the statement)
So on Halloween, Mortazavi decided to do something about this, and sent out a call for help to everyone in the community. Normally we shy away from this kind of publicity don't we? But the relative climate being what it is these days, a different wind was a' blowin'. Within 2 days enough emails had flown back and forth to cause a swelling uproar in the community and people and their newly formed groups with the new words “Iranian-American” attached to it, began suggesting ways to counter this latest attack on our heritage.
None of these suggestions involved the slightest bit of revenge against the temple or it's followers or Indians or anything extreme. All the suggestions were of a true activist nature involving the use of the available political process to pressure and protest the situation. Wheels were turning furiously trying to find all the legal loopholes. Iranian lawyers offered Mucho-Pro-Bono.
As I watched the events unfold I was cautiously looking for a very specific “thing” to happen. This is the “thing” which usually does not happen, and I have to admit, I did not expect it to happen this time either. The “thing” is the thing we all know we need to do but rarely seem to find the time or the courage to do. This is a “thing” which has plagued us throughout our history, and with good reason. Those who in the past had done the “thing” had paid a tremendous price for it. Their lives. People like Mossadegh, Golesorkhi, the Forouhars etc.
So what is the “thing”?
The thing is Standing Up.
It seems simple enough to do, but takes a surprisingly lot of strength. It's even harder for us to do as a group.
November 5: A bold email from Ramin Farjad went out to the community. It very simply identified the time and place of the next hearing of the city council of Sunnyvale in which the issue of renaming Persian Drive was to be heard.
The email asked everyone to be there; November 12, 2002, 7:00pm.
No big speech, no crybaby whining, no victim complaining, just a sweet simple email, 3 lines, maybe 4.
November 7: At the monthly general meeting of The Society of Iranian Professionals a simple petition was prepared and placed on the table at 7:00pm for the attendees to view and hopefully sign. By 9:00pm no one had touched it. Finally someone grabbed it and pushed it into the lap of the last person seated in the ballroom, and slowly but surely it made it's way through the crowd from one seat to the next row after row until every single person in the room had signed it, email o-hamechi!
So what happened? I'll tell you what happened.
On the eve of November 12, 2002 we did the “thing”. We all stood up, as a community, as Iranians, as Persians. Over 500 people showed up at the Sunnyvale city center and proceeded to pour out their hearts in defense of an entire culture. 150 people signed up to speak, how many actually got a chance is unknown, but the hearing went on until 2:00am.
KTVU Channel 2 (FOX) the only TV station brave enough to cover it was there until the very end, and as a result we all like, correction- LOVE Channel 2 and watch it every chance we get, forever and ever.
At the end of it all the temple withdrew their request (albeit for the moment) and the mighty Sunnyvale city council resolved (in the usual politically correct manner) the following;
The requestors failed to prove the justification for the name change. That a name change solely based on religious belief is unconstitutional.
Mandir Drive does not satisfy the standard criteria for naming streets in Sunnyvale.
The name change is against diversity.
The costs of the name change to businesses and the residents was prohibitive. The temple had initially planned to cover the costs of the name change, until they learned about the greater costs of changing maps and data outside the city, and at the state and national level.
Approval of such a request alienates a portion of the community resulting ultimately in political liability for the city council.
The word Persian is Not of Islamic origin.
The next day the emails ran long and sweet my friend, as group after group congratulated themselves, each other and their teams for a job well done. The credit taking had begun! I have counted no less than 8 of the “Iranian-American” groups, who now claim their rightful (if partial) roles in this latest bit of history. Now the long emails and grand plans of what to do next and how to expand activism to other more significant areas of concern flowed like fine Shiraz wine at a north Tehran wedding.
And you know what? That's perfectly fine! Let them enjoy it, noosheh-jaan, fadaayeh sareshoon, let them taste how good standing up against something wrong makes you feel. They deserve it after all because they were there. They bothered to show up, spoke out and damn if they didn't stop a bad thing from happening to all of us!
All for a tiny little road that runs parallel to a big smelly freeway in an obscure and insignificant part of town.
And that's how Persian Drive was saved. Sleep well Cyrus, we got your back.