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In The Spotlight: Persian Cultural Centers

Source: PARSA Community Foundation

Preserving The Bonds, Promoting The Culture


With the generation gap increasingly widening among the Iranian Diaspora, one can hardly blame kids growing up under hip-hop and reality TV cultures for not speaking their mother tongue or wondering why their parents grow wheat sprouts come the month of March. It is hard to expect much when their ancestral homeland is being called a part of the Axis of Evil. That is why it is a delight to see teenagers and small kids join in singing "Ey Iran", or jumping over bonfires on Chaharshanbeh Souri. And that is what Persian cultural centers across the nation are trying to do: maintain the bonds of a cyberspace generation to its rich, ancient roots.


In the case of an immigrant community still in transition, however, that is a daunting task. "For the members of the second generation, the question of identity is not as easily settled as it is for their parents," says Ali Akbar Mahdi, a professor of sociology at Ohio Wesleyan University. "Their parents claim they are Iranians because they were born and raised in Iran, were active members of the Iranian society for years, might still have immediate family members in Iran, have left much of their memories back home, think and act Iranian, relate to the Iranian culture more than to the American culture, and still hope to go back to their birthplace someday. How many of these conditions apply to the second generation Iranians?"


The answer seems to be "almost none." This is why many parents support Persian cultural centers to keep next generations of Iranian Americans attached to their roots. In recent years, these centers have sprung up across the United States, from North Carolina to southern California. Through the promotion of Persian culture, language, literature and arts among the members of the community, they play an important role in maintaining ties between the Diaspora and the homeland.


Some of the participants at this year's sizdah be dar celebrations
in Virginia, organized by the Iranian American Civic Society


The prevailing tension-ridden political climate often leads to the stereotyping and stigmatizing of Iranians. The Persian centers want next generations of the Iranian Diaspora to take pride in their identity rather than feel like second-class citizens. Learning language is the easiest way to connect to a culture. Therefore, Persian language education is a cornerstone of most cultural centers. Besides teaching Persian language, these cultural centers have various programs to educate the younger generations in literature, music, dance and other arts.


Persian cultural centers started as impromptu associations set up to address the urgent needs of the consecutive waves of Iranians migrating to the U.S. "In the early days, we realized that we needed to help each other for the most trivial issues such as helping immigrants with translating documents or finding doctors, so our organization started on the basis of personal relationships, rather than on a systematic approach," says Foroud Arsanjani, president of the Virginia-based Iranian American Civic Society, an organization concentrating on the professional community. 


Modern technology and communications have helped Persian cultural centers become more efficient. While they continue to rely on donations and volunteer work to operate, replacing letters and fliers with websites and e-mail lists have boosted their efforts at community building.


For these efforts to bear fruit, grassroots participation is essential. "We should figure out a way to fulfill the needs of the community and not wait for the wealthy few to solve all our problems. Every level of participation can help," says Shahri Estakhry, co-founder and former chairperson of Iranian Cultural Center in San Diego. " We will remain a voiceless minority unless we unite and become masters of our destiny."


Young students of the Persian language course at the Iranian
Cultural Center in San Diego


Thanks to the tireless, unstinting efforts of Iranian American philanthropists and volunteers, today, there are a dozen Persian centers throughout the country. Funded through tuition fees, grants from foundations and in-kind donations, these centers are determined to ensure the precious Persian culture will survive and prosper. And they have reason to be hopeful. "There is a great demand for cultural programs among the youth," Arsanjani says. "They truly want to be ambassadors of Persian Culture"


Mahsa Esfahani, president of Persian Cultural Club of northern California, agrees. "It feels so wonderful when your four-year-old comes home one day and says she wants to act as the sekkeh in the upcoming haft seen school play. Not to mention how proud you feel when your son, who did not speak, read or write Persian throughout high school becomes a Persian instructor at a reputable American university."

To obtain further information or to donate, you can log on to the websites of Persian cultural centers.


Iranian Cultural Center, San Diego


California boasts the largest number of the members of the Iranian Diaspora, and is therefore home to the largest number of Persian cultural centers. Better known to the community as "Kanoon", the Persian Cultural Center (PCC) in San Diego was established in 1989 to offer a "blend of harmonious experiences for people of all ethnicities interested in the culture of Iran". It incorporates Iranian School of San Diego, Persian Cultural Dance Academy and the Iranian Foundation charity work.


The Iranian School has a two-semester academic year with more than 200 students from various age groups at beginner, intermediate and advanced levels.


Persian Cultural Center dancers represent
traditional dances of different ethnicities of Iran


The Dance Academy was established in 1983. Under the supervision of Hengameh Ayari, hundreds of students of different age groups, from toddlers to adults, have attended dance classes. The academy is now training the second generation of dancers. The students perform dances that represent many of the ethnicities of Iran. The elder students get the opportunity to do choreography. A fusion of hip-hop with modern Iranian dance has been created at the Academy, showing how two cultures that are poles apart can meet and blend in this form of art.


The Kanoon regularly holds cultural events such as seminars, lectures and concerts, and organizes celebrations for Persian feasts. It also publishes Peyk, a bi-monthly, bi-lingual newsletter which covers the center's activities as well as issues of interest to the Persian community.


Iranian Cultural Center of Orange County


Another major population center of Iranian Americans in California is Orange County. With the initial aim of helping new arrivals from Iran to adjust to their new environment, Iranian Cultural Center of Orange County was established in the early 1980s. Based in Irvine, its focus is to promote and spread Persian cultural values and ideas among Iranian Americans, as well as other nationalities.


When ICCOC was launched, no major university in Orange County offered Persian as an accredited foreign language course. ICCOC took the initiative to work with California State University, Fullerton, and successfully introduced a Persian studies program which is now open to all students with little or no background in Persian language.  Registration with the Persian Studies program, which is funded by ICCOC, is not limited to Persian language courses and can contribute to any area of research and study on Iran. 

Persian Cultural Club of northern California


Based in Campbell, California, Persian Cultural Club (PCC) seeks to promote Persian culture, language, literature and arts among the members of northern California's Iranian-American community. PCC offers group and private lessons in Persian language as well as in art, music and literature. Instruction in the Persian language is provided through Dehkhoda Institute, arguably the best-known Persian language school in the U.S. Offerings include pre-school classes, Persian classes for 1-8 grade level students, as well as individual and small-group lessons for older students and adults. Language classes offered through Dehkhoda Institute have been approved for second language credit transfer by San Jose Unified School District.


Children having fun at Persian Cultural Club of
North California's 2007 summer camp


Classes are held at Campbell Community Center, where in addition to Persian lessons, students receive instructions in music, calligraphy, painting, etiquette and summer camp. In October 2006, they began to offer language classes in Santa Cruz as well. PCC has held annual celebrations for Norooz and Yalda, and has taken part in other community efforts such as summer camps for children. More than 300 families participate in these programs annually.


Iran Cultural and Educational Center of Maryland


After California, the largest numbers of Iranian Americans can be found in the Washington D.C. areas of Maryland and Virginia. Therefore, the area hosts several Persian cultural centers. Based in Potomac, Maryland, ICEC seeks to bring Persian culture and heritage to places where it can be shared with all individuals interested in the Iranian culture and in which the quality of life of the community can be enhanced. Offering Persian language courses, organizing cultural events and participating in local art festivals are part of the Center's efforts to encourage youngsters to connect with their Iranian heritage, take pride in it and become ambassadors of cultural awareness and diversity.


2007 Norooz celebration organized by Iran Cultural and
Educational Center of Maryland


Educational programs, from kindergarten to grade 7, include Persian language courses, Iranian history, geography and literature. ICEC has a library of over 500 books and videos.


The center organizes various cultural events including Yalda and Norooz celebrations as well as exhibitions, workshops, picnics and civic engagement programs.

Iranian Community School, Virginia


Neighboring Virginia is home to another Persian school. Established in 1986, the Iranian Community School in Vienna is yet another testimony to Iranian philanthropy in the United States. The first Persian language classes were held in the house of the school's founder Shahantaj Deyhimi with just two students. Moving to new sites several times, the activities of the Iranian School subsequently underwent considerable development to meet the needs of its students, so much so that the management is now planning to expand the current school site.


Young Persian American talents from the Iranian Community
School performing at Norooz festival


IRAMERICAN Civic Society of America (ICS)


Also based in the Washington, D.C. area, this Persian civic, cultural and educational organization is involved with Iranian Americans and other similar recent immigrant communities. It aims to promote good citizenship, civic engagement and professional community participation. Iramerica Civic Society, or ICS, supports and sponsors civic and educational capacity building programs, professional and community  events and, according to its website, "celebrates the best of two great cultures".


The nonprofit, all-volunteer center was established in 1994 in Mclean, Virginia, by a group of newly arrived Iranian immigrants that was settling in Washington, D.C. to help with social relief services. From providing guidance with medical and prescription needs for low-income individuals through participating local physicians, the scope of ICS's activities has expanded to official sponsorship of voter registration and election forms, workshops to support citizenship applications, and organization of blood donation drives and Environmental Clean-up Days.


Environmental clean-up drive is among the activities of the
Iranian American Civic Center of Virginia


The center has also supported relief efforts overseas for flood and earthquake victims and raised funds for local cancer patients. Furthermore, ICS regularly holds Norooz and sizdah be dar celebrations, and organizes community sporting events. 


Persian Cultural Center of Carolinas (PCCC)


Moving further south along the East Coast, you can still learn Persian and get to know the culture and traditions of Iran. The Cultural Center of the Carolinas (PCCC) in Charlotte, North Carolina, offers a variety of language classes for adults and youth through beginner, intermediate and advanced classes.


The center also has a diversified program in arts and crafts for children, adolescents and even adults. The courses include dance, flower arrangement and drawing. Classes are conducted in Persian language to reinforce and complement the language classes. PCCC's dance troupe performs at festivals and cultural events.


... Payvand News - 9/5/07 ... --

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