Iranians at Home in Southern Calif.
Iranians at Home in Southern Calif.
By TESSIE BORDEN
Associated Press Writer
LOS ANGELES (AP) -- As the popular singer Siavash took the stage
at the foot of the Hollywood Hills, tiny pinpoints illuminated a
darkened concert hall crowded with Iranian teen-agers.
They weren't holding up lighters -- they were cell phones.
Half a world away, dozens of relatives listened to the percussion-heavy
Eastern beats of an emerging Iranian music industry. Daring for
conservative Iran, the freewheeling sounds tied them to a city they have
In the generation since the Iranian revolution overthrew the
U.S.-supported Shah, hundreds of thousands of Iranians have settled in
Southern California, cobbling together a community as hardworking as it
is eclectic. They are flexing newfound power as they make Los Angeles
their largest community outside Iran.
That community is in the spotlight as Iran's soccer team visits this
week for its first game against a U.S. team on U.S. soil since the 1979
revolution. It plays the U.S. team Sunday at the Rose Bowl.
"They have a word in Persian, 'do-hava','' said Sanam Ansari, president
of the Iranian Students Group at the University of California, Los Angeles.
"It means 'two-weathered.' You're not completely American and not
Along Westwood Boulevard and in the San Fernando Valley, signs in
Farsi's delicate, cursive script advertise Persian rug merchants,
restaurants serving a staple rice-and-meat dish called chello kebab and
grocery stores stocking biryani paste, lavash bread and halva, a nougat
made with sesame seeds.
In Studio City, the young spend weekend nights dancing to Persian and
American pop at Cabaret Tehran. In Irvine, thousands gather to celebrate
the Persian new year.
The pull from Iran remains, though. Students here followed last July's
clashes in Tehran between student protesters and Islamic hard-liners
through e-mail and cell phones.
In Iran, youths get a taste of Los Angeles, Iranian-style, through
music, which makes its way from Southern California.
"They love anything that's American,'' Ansari said.
The community in Southern California numbers as many as 600,000. While
the majority are Muslims, Jews and Bahai figure prominently in the
community, although their exact numbers are not known.
Soccer, known in Iran and elsewhere as football, brings them together.
The Iranian team, cheered on by thousands, defeated Ecuador, 2-1,
late Wednesday at the Coliseum. Tickets for the rematch against the
United States are selling briskly.
"When the national team comes from your motherland, it touches you,''
said Shayan Afshar, who works at the Ketab Bookstore in Westwood. "You
may not be able to define it, but it's significant.''
Enthusiasm for the game grew out of the teams' 1998 World Cup meeting
in France, when players exchanged flowers and jerseys. After the Iranians'
2-1 victory, celebrations in Iran went on for days and signaled political
defiance of the Islamic regime as women took off head scarves and mingled
with men. Similar boisterous celebrations took place even earlier when
Iran unexpectedly qualified for the World Cup.
"Some people called it the Football Revolution,'' said Nayereh Tohidi,
who teaches at California State University-Northridge.
The soccer federation originally planned this week's game on the East
Coast to give Iranian players a shorter trip. But the response in Los
Angeles was so intense that officials changed their minds. Spokesman Jim
Moorhouse said Iranian media have flooded the federation with credential
In politics, too, the community has begun to emerge, fielding its own
candidates for public office.
Maziar Mafi is a Democratic candidate for Congress in a district held
by powerful Republican Christopher Cox. In state government, Sara Amir
is running for a West Los Angeles district of the California Assembly
under the Green Party.
Neither candidate is expected to win. But Amir says she has moved
Iranians to action here and in her home country.
When she first entered politics two years ago as a Green Party
candidate in the lieutenant governor race, she organized voter
registration drives, bringing dozens of Iranian-Americans to the polls.
Her campaign speeches, meanwhile, were broadcast to Iran by the BBC
and the Voice of America, inspiring activists there, she said.
"I have heard so many comments from people there,'' Amir said. "They
were saying, 'You're giving us hope. We know that you're one of us.' I'm
running here and I get all these nice e-mails from Iran.''
©Copyright 2000, Associated Press
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