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California stories
No other state can claim to be so cosmopolitan and none is multilingual

May 2, 2005

Like most people who live in California, I had no idea what the acronym CCH stood for. When -- an online Persian magazine for which I am a columnist -- contacted me about participating in a writer’s competition sponsored by CCH, I said, why not?

Procrastination being part of my Iranian heritage, I put off reading up on this organization. I became involved before the chance to familiarize myself with CCH. The instructions said to write a letter -- fiction or otherwise -- and compare life in California to that of home. After nearly thirty years of life in Chicago, I no longer know which city to call “home.” So I wrote a letter to my grandmother in Iran and brought both my homes into the picture. Who knew that out of two hundred entries, I’d be one of the winners? It shames me to admit that, even at that point, I knew nothing about CCH or the broad domain of activities it encompasses.

A winner? What a boost to my ego! I bragged to friends and prepared for that special evening when I would receive my prize. Somehow, I had a feeling there had to be more to this. Was it a trick? Why would CCH care what I had to say? What would they gain by knowing how an Iranian immigrant felt about life in California, not to mention how she communicated with her grandmother?

The little research that followed taught me plenty. I found out that CCH, although based in California, is in fact an affiliate of the National Endowment for the Humanities. Among its many tasks, is to provide a cultural connection among Californians. One of the many steps in this direction is a program titled Uncovering California Stories. Essays, such as the one I wrote, are stories told by people of all backgrounds. Thus a new window opens to reveal a variety of views as seen through the eyes of different ethnic groups.

California enjoys a unique, yet wildly diverse, culture. No other state comes even close. This is not new; the history of California begins with the missionaries and the gold rush and other cultural revolutions. No other state can claim to be so cosmopolitan and none is multilingual.

Many parts of this country enjoy transient guests of all nationalities. But those who come to California put down roots, as if the good earth helps them to settle down. Indeed, the cultural mix in California reminds me of a garden where most flowers enjoy strong roots that extend across the globe. Yes, the sunshine and the ocean are breathtaking, but there’s a lot more to the beauty of this sunshiny state. And, that is what CCH aspires to celebrate.

After the winners of the contest had been announced, I was offered a choice among a variety of locations to receive my award and decided to attend the event on April 26. That evening the CCH, in partnership with the New California Media, held a reception at the National City Library, not far from where I live. What I had assumed to be “my evening,” turned out to be an unforgettable event for everyone present.

I met the other winners and enjoyed their stories. After the winners were recognized and prizes had been handed out, the evening’s speaker, Ruben Martinez took the podium. This award-winning journalist/author, the man with a multicultural background and a Californian with the emotional warmth of South America had no trouble in captivating his audience. To top it off, he concluded the program by singing the “immigrants’ song” to the soft strum of his guitar. What a treat!

Home to many cultures, California has succeeded to turn the American Dream into reality. Is it possible that we have neared the cultural harmony others considered unfeasible? How uplifting it is to come across an organization that cares about your world and mine. You and I, who came here with volumes of stories and hearts full of hope.

Throughout the month of April, many Californians of different ethnicity wrote their letters and told their tale. Irrespective of the current events, statistics and stereotypes, people connected, listened and, most importantly, they understood one another.

As I now look at those three letters, C-C-H, the last letter stands out. ‘H’ for humanity. How wonderful it is to realize that despite man’s ignorance, humanity prevails.

Zohreh Khazai Ghahremani is a retired dentist and a freelance writer. She lives in San Diego, California. Her latest book is "Sharik-e Gham" (see excerpt). Visit her site

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