Behrouz Bahmani September 9, 2004

As the election draws nearer and nearer, Iranian-Americans realize just how visible or invisible we are in the unfolding dialog and debate in America.

After several years writing for this esteemed publication, I'd like to think that I have learned a thing or two about us. As I explored my own knowledge and understanding of what kind of an Iranian I am, I also gained from the wisdom of the readers who set me straight whenever I drifted. I have formed an opinion of sorts, that, as I have been told by my closest confidante, occasionally goes “over the top”.

But one thing I have observed is that we are all too often, too quiet, too polite, and seem to not care about our collective plight. And we rarely (if ever?) move in a common direction. If you disagree with this and can prove me wrong, then I am glad to be so.

But, exactly, who are we in America? And how do we show this to America?

As I asked these questions a year ago, I found to my great dismay that the answer although somehwat and semi obvious to us within the Iranian-American community, was not tangible. At least not enough to really do anything with it.

It was then I decided to go check out the US Census. Last taken in 2000, this surely would be a source one would think would offer the answers to our questions. One would think. And one would be wrong. As it turned out the US Census not only did not ask if a person was Iranian, but it did not offer a realistic estimate either, never mind the important data that needs to be behind it (Average age, Income, household size etc.). The California state census, lumped Iranians under the “Hispanic or Some Other” ethnic grouping. No, really, it actually said “Some Other”.

Shocked and dismayed, I looked to the community to see if I could find anything. The best I could find was a secondary research study conducted by The Iranian Studies Group at MIT, a group of real smart MIT students, which I have to say did a pretty decent job, even though it was based on the Census which in 2003, was now 3 years old. I contacted the MIT boys and they said they had used what they could, and wished there was better data.

It was the monthly mixer of the Iranian American Chamber of Commerce (IACC) in San Francisco, that put me in touch with Mike (Mehdi) Ghodoosian (I now call him IranMike, get it?). Mehdi is a principal at Universal Responses Corp. and his firm conducts extensive online marketing surveys for the likes of Microsoft, eBay, Siemens, FannieMae, the province of Nova Scotia in Canada and on and on.

As he explained his company to me, a light suddenly went on in my head. If I could convince him to let us use his survey system, we could gather our own data! I just needed to find a way to reach across America and connect with a focused group of Iranian-Americans. How to do that?

I frequently work on Marketing projects with a few community groups like BAIVOTER, Persian Center, IACC and PAYVAND in the San Francisco Bay Area that I could get help from, I knew my good friend Dr. Mohammad Ala from Iran Heritage in Southern California would totally support it, and then I realized I also had a good contact Trita Parsi at NIAC in Washington DC, and I scoured my addressbook and re-found Neda Nabavi at Shabeh Jomeh in Chicago who could enlist her buddies at New York and Seattle, and before you knew it, I had about 10 well respected community groups lined up.

I contacted each group through my primary contacts and started to discuss the idea. We would launch an online survey to collect and tabulate the various average temperatures of the Iranian American community! It had never been done and the odds were against it happening, and I hadn't even started to think about the costs. But without flinching, everyone said it was a good idea and supported it right from the start.

The Money.

So back to Mehdi, I went, hat in hand, hand over chest, I was determined to play my most nokaretam, khakeh-patam, jooneh-Behrouz, plea for the usual deep discount. It was a waste of time. As soon as I told him about the response, he immediately offered to conduct the survey for free. This amounted to a “gift” of around $30,000-$40,000. Shocked, I somehow “negotiated” that he should “at least let us cover your overhead costs!” This amounted to $2,400. “I can get that easy!”, or so I thought.

I have to stop and take a moment to express my sincerest gratitude to Mehdi Ghodoosian, because without his help and generosity this project would never have happened. His faith and trust in someone he did not know, solely because we were both Iranian was nothing short of inspiring. You are a jewel sir.

So off to the community groups I went. I figured I could get 10 groups to pay $240 each to sponsor the project. A paltry sum for most, this turned out to be a good strategy and everyone pretty much sent in their check more or less on time. If I had to do it over again, I would work on collecting the money sooner, because it took a lot longer to get the checks than I thought.

But we started with the survey questions. I sent out a series of starter questions to each group and asked them to review and send back their feedback. As expected the feedback was overwhelming.

We knew we were dealing with a timid community, and nothing like this had ever been done before on this scale. We decided we would NOT ask ALL of the possible questions, and ONLY ask SOME of the questions we were all dying to know. The idea was to plant a seed of success, to show it could be done, and to leave something on the plate with which to encourage others to join. Kind of a teaser.

Another issue that was extremely controversial was the issue of people's privacy, and as we debated it back and forth, we ultimately determined that for this first effort, we could not risk alienating those who might be afraid and decided to make the survey completely anonymous.

Another issue was the question of accuracy and validity. I contacted several American survey firms and discussed this at great length. The consensus, was that although we were limited on exactness and verification, the fact that we could focus the survey so precisely on Iranian-Americans would far outweigh any sampling error, and the study would still be considered highly accurate.

Another issue was the question of the possible skewing of the results because we were only using the internet for our survey. Once again the experts assured me that the statistical difference between the computer literate and computer illiterate was negligible these days, even more so for Iranians, given their expected high level of education. Meaning more Iranians than not have access to a computer which essentially washes away the impact of those that don't. Although I still have a problem believing this, we had no choice but to accept this assumption, because the funding requirements of a full-blown paper-based survey, mailed to Iranian-American households (as if such a mailing list is even available), or published in Iranian periodicals and then the mail-box, fax back, data entry issues were simply too far beyond our financial and logistical ability. We wanted to, but the simple fact is that we couldn't afford to.

And so here it is. In all it's glory.

We give you your first ever 2004 Iranian-American Survey. If you haven't already, take it now, becasue it will be closed on Sept. 15th, and the final report of the findings will be published on October 1, 2004.

Now it's up to you to make us all proud.

The Iranian Letters Section

the writer Behrouz Bahmani

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