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We have our work cut out
Productive Iranian-American civic organizations



December 26, 2006

Couple of weeks ago I attended a gathering put together by a local Iranian American civic organization.  The gathering had many purposes with one of them being to create more awareness about our ancient Shabe Yalda celebration.

Well, in the spirit of my last article where I suggested that Iranians need to be  Better Keepers of our culture is why in the weeks following the event I was curious to see in fact in my circle of friends and family there are many good keepers or not. So very casually I observed how they celebrated Shabe Yalda vs. how those same non-Christian IA's devoted their time, energy, and money in celebrating Christmas.

As you probably can guess, Christmas or I should say Xmas won hands down in all categories -- at least in my small sample.

You may ask what does this have to do with the need for more productive IA civic organizations.  Well to put it simply -- if we want to get to a point where we are not so quick to let go of our heritage just like for example how the Jewish-Americans (that are not married to Christians) preserve their heritage by for instance celebrating Hanukah and not Christmas -- we and such organizations then have our work cut out.  

Not only from the standpoint that what these civic organizations are trying to preserve is in a country that its culture is predominately based on European, Christian, Judaism, and even pagan traditions, but they are also going head to head with the powerful force of American consumerism.  Not to mention having to deal with many older IA naysayer's who for various reasons don't even see the need for such organizations (must read for them) or are skeptical of such organizations due to their conspiracy theories.

To overcome these challenges I think what maybe is needed it to find a better way of presenting, repackaging (for the lack of better word), and/or celebrating their rituals. To better explain lets look at the successful (as measured by its wide appeal) rituals/holidays in America that have gone through such transformations.

Of course the grand daddy of reformulating, repackaging a ritual/holiday is Christmas. It has gone from a pagan holiday celebrating solstices to a religious holiday celebrating Jesus Christ Birthday to now a holiday that seemingly has become a celebration of our material world.  This last reformulation is maybe why some have even referred to it as Xmas, and in return why many Christians are trying to once again reinstall the word Christ into the holiday. Other holidays that have also been successful in getting popular by going through a transformations are St. Patrick day, Valentine day, Halloween, and New Years Eve.

Now I don't have a particular suggestion of what is needed for Iranians to make sure that their kids and future generations don't poo poo celebrating Shabe Yalda, or Norouz while at the same time being perfectly fine with celebrating Christmas or Halloween. However I do think that any reformulation (for the lack of better word) should be done with the simple concept that it should be FUN for all participants. For example instead of "just" telling stories, reading Hafez poems (that kids can't understand), eating "ajil" and pomegranate on Shabe Yalda -- how about instead having a Thanksgiving feast like dinner and maybe even giving gifts to the kids that they used to get 4 days later on Jesus birthday -- just a thought!

This is of course were educated activists in various civic organizations can play a significant role in not only addressing issues mentioned above but also many other important issues that I haven't even touched on. After all as evident by the success of other ethnicities in U.S. who have used such organizations to increase their communities unity and success; they can not only address many of the needs of recently immigrated Iranians, but also address needs of those who have been here for a long time. For example they could not only organize events to retain our heritage and cultural values and traditions but they can also raise awareness among other Americans, just like what JCC has done for Jewish-Americans. 

In another example they could help or work with other groups to make sure those of us who aren't privileged enough to hire the best attorney are having our civil and constitutional rights upheld, just like what NAACP has done for the African-American community. If these organizations are successful in their efforts the IA community should then become more empowered. Empowered enough to have more of an impact on our elected officials decisions which will effect us, empowered enough so our kids will be proud of being Iranians, empowered to become a powerful and vibrant economic force in the American economic system and etc ...

Obviously such results are as I mentioned highly dependent on the success of such organizations. In my opinion many of the local civic organizations that have been started in the IA community were as a result of some well intentioned people with usually very limited budget and resources and usually no background in running a non-profit. I would venture to say majority of them probably don't even have a  non-profit business plan -- especially those that failed.  

Moreover as you know and as evident by the number of TV stations serving IA community vs. number of TV stations serving the Spanish speaking community -- is that one of our problems is that everyone wants to be the chief. In fact the sheer number of just "some" of the IA organizations (click here) in relation to the size of our community should make most people wonder about their viability or another word odds of success.  In my opinion it doesn't take an MBA to figure out that in some cases some type of merger or collaborations is needed.

To conclude I urge you to either become more active in an IA civic organizations by volunteering your time, or at least support them by attending their events and making financial contributions -- and in cases that are appropriate do ask those who are active in such organizations to consider merging or at least collaborating with other IA organizations. Comment

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