Increased Political Engagement of Iranian-Americans

At the excellent Tehran Bureau website, a project operated by PBS’s Frontline, Amir Bagherpour has an essay about how the Iranian-American community is becoming more politically engaged on issues not always related to their homeland.

Thirty years on from the 1979 Islamic Revolution, Iranian-Americans, who arrived in the U.S. in droves in the decade following the revolution, are one of the U.S.’s best educated and most successful immigrant groups. But they never formed a political bloc. Although political cohesion within the community still seems far off , since Iranians of all different stripes naturally hold wildly divergent views, Iranian-Americans do seem to be increasingly more directly engaged in the political process in their adopted country.

While political activity continues to revolve around Iranian affairs thousands of miles away, Bagherpour contends that younger Iranian-Americans, born here and unapologetically Iranian and American, are likely to engage in American politics with more of an eye on domestic concerns. But don’t expect their interest in the homeland to dissipate.

Bagherpour writes:

The Iranian community has slowly changed over the last 30 years. A survey conducted by Zogby International last year reported that three out of four Iranian Americans are now registered to vote, nearly 30 percent have contributed to political campaigns, and a like amount have written at least one letter to an elected official. But Arezu Rashidian, an activist involved in the politics of Iran, says, “Although Iranians vote and are involved in domestic issues within the U.S, we don’t protest or get fired-up based on issues facing us in America. We still connect to the issues taking place in Iran because we have a duty to speak up for our brothers and sisters at home who do not have a voice.”

There is some truth to her statement. Instead of focusing on political efforts concerning domestic issues that strengthen the community locally, Iranians Americans have historically organized according to events taking place in Iran. Yet the 2009 Zogby survey indicates that this is changing. As Iranians set down deeper roots in American society, the trend toward participation in American politics, both local and national, is likely to grow. Evidence includes the rising number of Iranian American candidates running for public office. […]

While the number of Iranian American candidates continues to grow, none has yet been elected to Congress. […]

Iranian Americans remain characteristically self-interested and individualistic. But by measurable standards, the situation is changing and they are becoming more organized as a community. In spite of the challenges faced by the first generation of Iranian Americans, there is a slow but expected shift away from the political and cultural tensions that have psychologically constrained them from fully integrating into American society. We can observe this shift at the organizational level as interest groups such as the Public Affairs Alliance of Iranian Americans (PAAIA) and the National Iranian American Council (NIAC) steadily increase their membership base and subsequently their influence in Washington.

For the younger generation of Iranians who grew up in the United States, it is difficult to imagine the feelings of their parents who came to the country with the intent to one day return home. For most, that day never came. Yet as Iranians continue to prosper and adapt, their once temporary homes have achieved a new status.

Ali Gharib

Ali Gharib is a New York-based journalist on U.S. foreign policy with a focus on the Middle East and Central Asia. His work has appeared at Inter Press Service, where he was the Deputy Washington Bureau Chief; the Buffalo Beast; Huffington Post; Mondoweiss; Right Web; and Alternet. He holds a Master's degree in Philosophy and Public Policy from the London School of Economics and Political Science. A proud Iranian-American and fluent Farsi speaker, Ali was born in California and raised in D.C.


One Comment

  1. Nice of you to highlight this here. Iranian-Americans are clearly making a positive contribution to American life. I for one would like to see more Iranian-Americans running for office and getting elected. And of course I believe that positive engagement between the two nations will only profit us both.

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