Ten years ago today, the National Iranian American Council (NIAC) was born. While I technically wasn’t there as a staffer to see it for myself, I’d like to say I was there in spirit. The reason being, as long as I can remember, I’ve wanted an organization that fights for the rights of the Iranian-American community. And, as long as I can remember, I’ve wanted our community to have a voice and be more than what the media and others define us to be.
I was born and raised in the Midwest, or as my home state’s motto says “The Heart of it All.” While I feel incredibly blessed to have been brought up in a warm and supportive community, a girl named Nobar sporting big brown hair and packing “cotelette” sandwiches for school lunch made me somewhat of an odd ball. I was asked if I “spoke Muslim” and was told I’d go to hell because of my religion. I remember also being told in elementary school that my friend could no longer play with me because I was “a Saddam Hussein.” (Ahem … Michelle, sorry, but I’m still bitter about this!)
I’m not complaining. I love my name, despite the fact that it was easy fodder for the jokesters in school. And, I love my heritage, despite the fact that I complained relentlessly about having to go to Farsi school as a kid. But, these differences didn’t make me weak or scared. They made me stronger, and left me wanting something bigger and better for our community.
And, yet, my story is not a unique one. We’ve all felt the dilemma of being proud of our heritage, but tired at times of feeling like we have to defend it. We’ve all felt the desire to be treated as one of “us,” instead of one of “them.” We’ve all wanted to be heard, rather than told what our community – and loved ones still living in Iran – should do/say/feel.
And, that’s exactly why I joined NIAC.
I started with NIAC as a member, but officially joined the team as the Director of Community Outreach & Programming in October 2010. While it’s been extremely challenging at times, this is hands down the most rewarding job I’ve ever had. It’s rewarding because I get to interact daily with Iranian Americans across the country. It’s rewarding because I know that we are making a difference in the lives of the thousands of people who constitute our membership.
For ten years now, NIAC has been proving itself time and time again by its actions and ever-growing list of accomplishments. Whether we are galvanizing our grassroots for letter writing campaigns, organizing briefings and conferences on Capitol Hill, working with our Ambassadors to plan events at the local level, scheduling in-district meetings between our members and their Representatives, giving Iranian-American students opportunities to intern on Capitol Hill, or shining the media spotlight on issues that matter to us most, the NIAC team is working hard to make sure our community has a voice here in DC.
While others have often tried to intimidate or prevent us from succeeding, we don’t back down because we know we have the support of the Iranian-American community. Our membership helps us determine our policies and priorities. But not only do our own internal polls show the support we have for our positions, external polls do as well. Ten years ago, the overwhelming majority of Iranian Americans who opposed war and wanted to stand up for human rights were not a part of the debate in Washington. And, now we are. Ten years ago, the overwhelming majority of Iranian Americans who wanted an organization to support our rights and help us learn about American democracy, had no place to go. And, now we do.
So … Happy birthday to us! We’re growing up fast, but thanks to our amazing leadership and membership, we just keep getting better and better with age.
And, only because I believe we deserve it … here’s a little diddy from me to us: (insert beautiful Googoosh-like voice here) “Tavalod Tavalod Tavalodet mobarak! Mobarak, Mobarak, Tavalodet mobarak!”