By Beverly O'Neal, Special Correspondent,
Relatively new minority group increasing its participation in civic life
Los Angeles - Iranian Americans are well-integrated into their communities and are eager to have their voices heard in the 2008 presidential election, according to several Iranian-American organizations.
"Whether it's volunteering for a campaign, leading fundraising efforts, organizing voter registration drives or get-out-the-vote efforts, Iranian Americans are in the thick of things in this election like never before," Patrick Disney, assistant legislative director of the Washington-based National Iranian American Council (NIAC), told America.gov.
The Iranian American Political Action Committee (IAPAC) of the Public Affairs Alliance for Iranian Americans (PAAIA) dramatically increased its contributions to local, state and national candidates this election cycle. Morad Ghorban, legislative director of PAAIA, estimates that IAPAC's contributions and members' direct contributions to candidates total about $500,000. Iranian-American community organizers are working in both major presidential campaigns.
Ghorban credits the boom of activity in part to Iranian Americans feeling more connected to American life. Iranian Americans are a relatively new U.S. minority group - many Iranians emigrated to the United States after the 1979 Iranian Revolution.
Initially, "Iranian Americans' focus was on their families, businesses and assimilation," Ghorban said. "Once the first generation does that, you see the next generation becoming involved in the civic process and giving back to their country."
GETTING OUT THE IRANIAN-AMERICAN VOTE
Recently, PAAIA and NIAC each held voter-registration drives and provided members with information about the candidates. The Iranian American Bar Association (IABA), with seven chapters across the nation, is releasing its pamphlet on voter rights to organizations like PAAIA and NIAC. On November 4, volunteer attorneys from the IABA and other local bar associations will work at different polling sites to help protect voters' rights.
These organizations are optimistic about voter turnout.
"It's not just the newer generation going to the polls," Nema Milaninia, president of the IABA, told America.gov. "You also see more passion and desire to vote by the older generation."
Voting may carry special significance to first-generation immigrants, said Goudarz Eghtedari, chairman of the American Iranian Friendship Council.
"For people who are from countries under some sort of authoritarian regime, it becomes especially crucial to take advantage of the rights we have here in America," Eghtedari told America.gov. "A good percentage of Iranian Americans felt that their voices might not be heard when they left the old country. If they don't take this first step in voting, they're not valuing the rights that they have here."
According to U.S. census data, there are 338,266 Iranian Americans, and they form a small but highly educated and wealthy minority group. According to the census data, the median family income for Iranian Americans is 20 percent above the national average, and Iranian Americans rank second in average level of education among 67 ancestry groups.
"[Iranian Americans] are an overwhelmingly well-educated and successful group, with great potential to provide insight to their representatives on some of the most critical issues facing the United States today," Disney said.
Many of the issues that matter to Iranian Americans are shared by the general public, Disney added. "They want good schools for their children, they want health care to be affordable, and they're concerned about energy independence and threats to American security."
PAAIA lists immigration policy, the domestic effect of U.S.-Iran relations and the domestic effect of U.S. sanctions against Iran as other important issues.
Although PAAIA and other Iranian-American organizations focus on U.S. domestic issues, foreign policy is also a hot topic.
"The overwhelming majority of Iranian Americans do not support the hard-line government in Tehran, but neither do they favor a U.S. war against Iran," Disney said. "First and foremost, Iranian Americans want to see the threat of war reduced."
Iranian Americans want a president who will engage members of their community on these important issues. "The primary issue in this election is to make sure the next president is open to dialogue when it comes to Iran," Eghtedari said.
BEYOND THE VOTING BOOTH
Iranian Americans are doing more than supporting campaigns and voting for candidates. Many are active in politics at many levels. Notable examples include Jimmy Delshad, mayor of Beverly Hills, California; Cookab Hashemi, chief of staff for U.S. Representative Jackie Speier of California; and Darius Shahinfar, a congressional candidate from New York. (See "Legendary American Town Elects a Mayor Born in Iran.")
These people are role models for Iranian-American youth, who can help shape the world's future by participating in the political process, Disney said.
"Young Iranian Americans can help resolve the economic crisis," he said. "They can stop a war before it happens. They can help end discrimination toward people of Middle Eastern descent. They can make it easier for people like them to come to the United States and achieve lifelong dreams. There's nothing keeping them from doing all of these things and more, so now is the time for them to get involved - and stay involved even after Election Day."
About America.gov: State Department's Bureau of International Information Programs (IIP) engages international audiences on issues of foreign policy, society and values to help create an environment receptive to U.S. national interests.
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