December 5, 2013

Conversation with Darius Shahinfar: “Can Iranian Americans Become a Political Force?”

Darius Shahinfar

As Iranian Americans have become increasingly involved in public life, our community faces new opportunities and challenges in building concrete influence in U.S politics. This November, Darius Shahinfar was elected City Treasurer of Albany, New York, making him the second Iranian American to win elected office in New York State. In a recent interview with NIAC staff, Shahinfar shared three key insights for Iranian Americans. First, Shahinfar argued that increased acceptance of ethnic diversity in the “Obama-era” of U.S politics greatly benefits Iranian Americans running for office. Second, Shahinfar expressed that he believes Iranian Americans can exponentially increase their political impact by learning to leverage their substantial financial resources into electoral fundraising. Finally, Shahinfar reflected on what he learned from his past electoral losses, highlighting the importance of perseverance in achieving one’s goals, both as an individual and as a broader community. 

One cannot deny that Iranian Americans continue to face challenges in becoming a force in U.S civic life. However, Darius Shahinfar argued that in the vast majority of the country ethnic discrimination no longer acts as a barrier to Iranian Americans’ capacity to political success. Shahinfar contrasted this political reality to the New York of his youth, during the years of the Iranian Hostage Crisis. Growing up in a mostly Polish and Italian Upstate New York neighborhood in that time, Shahinfar faced occasional hostility merely for having an Iranian-sounding name. Today, he noted, not only does the U.S President have a “difficult” name, but it is no longer an anomaly to find politicians of diverse ethnic backgrounds succeeding in U.S. politics. Shahinfar argued that this “post-ethnic time” means that there is no longer a “glass ceiling” for Iranian Americans seeking elected office.

Iranian Americans have sought to strengthen our community’s political impact by seeking to learn the various methods and strategies used by other successful groups in U.S public life. Shahinfar argued that the most crucial and urgent of these skills for Iranian Americans to learn is political fundraising. He highlighted the unrivaled opportunity Iranian Americans have to become a political force through well-organized, streamlined political fundraising, given our community’s status as the most financially lucrative immigrant group per capita in the U.S.[1] “ We can and must use our success to financially support organizations and political leaders who share our point of view because they will be our voice on those issues,” Shahinfar stated. Expressing frustration at Iranian Americans’ lack of sufficient fundraising or activist impact on policy matters that impact us directly, Shahinfar stated, “our silence is deafening.”

Even as Iranian Americans continue to learn from the successes of communities who have made inroads in U.S. civic life, individuals and the broad community alike will inevitably face political losses. Reflecting back on his past electoral losses in his Congressional race for NY’s 21st district and for City Auditor of Albany, Shahinfar stressed the importance of persevering in the face of defeat, in spite of the many challenges of doing so. Applying this mantra to the Iranian American community’s experience with political losses, we can use our past political defeats both in the U.S and Iran as lessons to shift strategies in order to make gains on future important issues.

NIAC staff’s conversation with Darius Shahinfar underscored the urgency of Iranian American political participation. If we as a community want to make our voices heard in American politics we must come together as a cohesive force both ideologically and financially. By supporting Iranian American leaders running for political office as well as taking a stand on issues affecting us, the Iranian American community can make tremendous political advances.

[1] Fata, Soraya, and Raha Rafii. Strength in Numbers: The Relative Concentration of Iranian Americans Across the United States. Rep. The National Iranian American Council, Sept. 2003. Web.




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