The Iranian American Experience: Overcoming Obstacles and Celebrating Success
Washington, DC – “We all want to see Iranian-Americans in the highest levels of government but we are not going to get there if we don’t see Iranian-Americans in lower levels of government” said Darius Shahinfar, former congressional candidate.
The second panel of the first annual NIAC leadership conference featured sanctions attorney and expert Erich Ferrari, former congressional candidate Darius Shahinfar, and NIAC Research Director Reza Marashi. The main theme that shined through in this panel was the importance of community and civic participation in the wider Iranian-American community.
Ferrari, an attorney specializing in sanctions law, began his talk by emphasizing that of all the immigrant communities he has worked with, Iranians-Americans were unique in the respect that “they love Iran…there is a very strong affinity within the Iranian community for Persian culture and the homeland.” The physical and financial ties to the homeland are under the harsh restrictions of sanctions resulting in the creation of obstacles for the Iranian American community. These obstacles are only getting more and more pronounced as Congress is ratcheting up their efforts to sanction Iran. Specifically, when it comes to interacting with the Treasury Department and FBI, the Iranian-American community must be willing to “engage in dialogue,” “build relationships with the government,” and gain acceptance as “leaders” and as a “community,” said Ferrari. This will allow the Iranian-American community to overcome the heavy burdens that come with the being from a country that is heavily sanctioned and viewed as an opponent of the U.S.
The second speaker, Darius Shahinfar, ran for Congress and was a former aide to Congresswoman Kristin Gillibrand. Shahinfar stressed the role of the Iranian-American community during his campaign running for Gillibrand’s seat. As Shahinfar stressed “his heritage was not an issue” and that this “bodes well for Iranian in politics,” but the instinct of most Iranians is to avoid politics, to “get away from politics.” While this instinct served previous generations of Iranian-Americans it would not serve current and future generations. Shahinfar ended his speech by stressing the importance of “supporting Iranian American candidates” and continuing political involvement by maintaining “your membership and involvement with organizations like NIAC.” For the Iranian-American community’s voice to be heard from the local level to the federal level, Shahinfar ended on the note that “we [Iranian-Americans] should support not just Iranian-American candidates but candidates who will listen”.
NIAC Research Director, Reza Marashi concluded the panel by stating that the Iranian-American community is a “late comer” to the political arena. According to Marashi, the narrative of Iranian-Americans has been driven by others, including the Iranian government and non–Iranians. The Iranian- American community “must tell our own story” Marashi emphasized. The way to do this is through participation in government and politics either by joining government itself or through nongovernmental organizations.