Iranian Americans are known for their powerful cultural events, high educational achievement, and successful integration into American society. However, for many generations Iranian-Americans neglected to make significant inroads into the American political landscape. Unfortunately, the price of political apathy has been high under the Trump administration. But Kia Hamadanchy, who is running for Congress in California’s 45th Congressional District, is part of a growing tide of political awareness and activism amongst Iranian-Americans. He has been traveling the country raising awareness and campaign funds, and held a fundraiser on Friday, March 23, 2018 at Cherry Street Public House in Pioneer Square with Cyrus Habib who is also Iranian-American and the current Lieutenant Governor of Washington; Cyrus has officially endorsed Kia Hamadanchy’s campaign.
The fundraising event was focused and filled with small pockets of conversation about politics and the power of community. Soft music poured from the sound system and a row of silver platters filled with traditional Persian cuisine lined the wall. As people entered the event, the Cherry Street Public House owner, Ali Ghambari, greeted them enthusiastically and generously offered wine to anyone who didn’t have a glass already in their hand.
“I just love to see Iranian-Americans running for political positions and bringing meaningful diversity so that we can be actively involved in the government,” Ali said as he shared why it was important for him to support Kia Hamadanchy. “And these days getting involved is more important than ever with all the challenges we’re facing.”
But urgent discussions about the challenges facing the Iranian-American community didn’t end with Ali, they were an integral part of every conversation and every speech given at the fundraiser—from Saïd Amin’s passionate opening remarks, to Kia Hamadanchy’s heartfelt story about why running for Congress in Orange County, California was so important to him.
Saïd, an entrepreneur who also serves as a board member for the National Iranian American Council (NIAC), reminded the fundraiser attendees that this event, for an out-of-state candidate of Iranian descent, was unprecedented for Seattle. He also said that Iranian-Americans can no longer afford to ignore American political life. Saïd made it clear that that if Iranian-Americans want to be treated as full citizens with all the rights that come with that, they must become actively involved in politics:
“Iranian American communities tend to excel in organizing cultural events, which is wonderful as they are an important fabric of our identity, but what is equally important is civic engagement in the political process and having agency, both individually and collectively as a group. It’s no secret that our community has for far too long been apathetic towards politics, especially American politics. But that’s changing. We’re finally getting off the sidelines, becoming civically engaged and realizing that the path to power starts with us.”
It was also pointed out that the Iranian-American community has a large presence in California and several other states, but are just now learning to leverage both their numbers and economic power to secure political influence. Many attendees and speakers emphasized the importance of electing candidates who share the values of the Iranian-American community and who are willing to fight on behalf of that community and on behalf of Americans as a whole.
Once Kia Hamadanchy stepped before the room to speak, his credentials had been laid out. He has a law degree from the University of Michigan and worked as legal counsel for the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee under the leadership of education and disability rights champion Senator Tom Harkin. After Senator Harkin’s retirement Kia joined the staff of Senator Sherrod Brown (D-OH), where he advocated for a higher minimum wage, equal pay for men and women, and other measures to reduce income inequality and ensure that every American is treated with the respect and dignity that he or she deserves. If he wins the 45th Congressional seat Kia will become the first Iranian-American to ever be elected to the U.S. Congress.
Kia shared the story of how he first met Cyrus Habib and how he appreciated the fact that Cyrus let him know that he shouldn’t be discouraged from running for political office because of his name and that if someone named Barack Hussein Obama could be elected twice to the Presidency, that Kia should never worry about his name being a barrier. As Kia talked about how the first travel ban motivated him to run for Congress, he noted how powerless and hurt he felt when the first travel ban was passed and he realized he was only being targeted because of his ethnic background. He said that he never wanted to feel that way again.
As the night pressed on and several speakers addressed the room, including Cyrus Habib, the mood of the attendees ebbed and flowed between serious and jovial. But the general sentiment of everyone there is best summed up by Kia Hamadanchy’s words, “I want to live in a country that is free from discrimination and a country that doesn’t separate families based on who has lived here forever and try to deport them. And I want to live in a country that doesn’t say just because you’re Iranian that you’re not good enough.”