To be an Iranian-American

Iranians are a political people. We were built by politics, lead by politics, changed by politics, and the victims of politics. Most Iranians who came to the United States, came as a result of politics and now most of us who are alienated and isolated are done so by politics.

Yet when asked to express a political view, Iranians hide under the shadow of culture. For the most part, Iranian-Americans are reluctant to activate themselves within politics. Instead most Iranians in a communal setting isolate themselves to cultural attributes such as Norooz. Iranian-Americans will gather together to go on ski trips, but push away those who explain the philosophies behind the Islamic Revolution.

One needs only to note how the vast majority of Iranian-American student organizations classify themselves as cultural organizations and are reluctant to allow discussions or forums on political issues. Unfortunately, it also means that many Iranian-American youth have become detached from being “Iranian”. To be Iranian-American is not simply a cultural identification. Culture is a necessary factor but certainly not sufficient to be “Iranian”.

To be an Iranian-American requires political activism and viability. That is, it requires that we grasp our political self. Let us note that this political identification does not require one to be pro-Islamic or pro-monarchist. However, it requires us to know why such divisions exist and how they are effecting the development of our polity.

It requires Iranians to understand their place in American society and perform their civic duty by voting, campaigning, and seeking a better understanding of their rights and obligations. More and more these days, Iranian-American organizations have noticed what is becoming known as “Iranian apathy”.

Iranian Trade Association and the
National Iranian American Council, for example, provide means of communication for Iranians to reach out to their representatives and let them know what they want. Between these two organizations alone, Iranian-Americans have in their hands both knowledge and communication done with the touch of a button.

It is important for Iranian-Americans to remember that the United States government represents Iranian-Americans. If this government does not do what we want, the fault lies within our own indifference and disunity. I strongly urge the Iranian-American community to become more proactive and responsive to issues that not only involve ourselves but those within our communities across this country.

Unless we provide a powerful political voice our community will find itself weak and without a viable voice. It is only through this dialogue will our youth be capable of exchanging ideas and progress our ideas and advancing ourselves as Iranians. It is only by recognizing ourselves as a political people that we as Iranian-Americans can become active participants of society.


Nema Milaninia is graduate student in international human rights law at the American University in Cairo.

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