Iranians at Home in Southern Calif.

Iranians at Home in Southern Calif.


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 nicknamed "Tehrangeles.''

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 completely Iranian.''

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 requests.

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
This story was carried by the following media:
Washington Post,     ABC News,     CNNSI,     CNN,     AltaVista,     and Excite News

Top 19 Baha'i Sites Page last updated/revised 011300
Return to the Bahá'í Association's Main Web Page