Bahai News - Activist promotes tolerance

Activist promotes tolerance

By ROBIN BENEDICK
Web-posted: 7:13 p.m. Aug. 12, 2000

WESTON -- Heather Hosseini knows firsthand what it's like to be persecuted for her beliefs and snubbed by others for being different. The Iranian-born dentist has fought back by making it her mission to persuade people to embrace different races and cultures.
   But there was one neighbor she couldn't win over, and his constant complaints about junky cars coming to her house in a gated Weston subdivision contributed to her family's decision to move. So did comments from several black visitors who told her they felt uneasy about having to check in with a guard at the subdivision's gated entrance.
   About seven months ago, Hosseini and her family decided to move to a semi-rural area of southwest Broward County so they would have more space and freedom to host large groups of people. They bought a home on six acres in Sunshine Ranches, where houses are spread out and visitors can get to her without passing through a guarded gate. Hosseini chose to sacrifice her close-knit, diverse street in Weston, with neighbors from all over the world, for more freedom.
   "I wanted to live someplace where all kinds of people would feel comfortable coming to my house," said Hosseini, a Weston resident for 12 years. Her husband, Sam, also an Iranian, is an engineer. They have two children, Justin, 12, and Leila, 9.
   Hosseini, 40, was born in Iran and spent much of her youth at school in England. Her parents fled Iran during the revolution about 20 years ago. She came to the United States in 1983, settling in South Florida and then moving to Dallas, where her parents are. But the ocean and the mix of cultures lured her back to South Florida.
   In 1987, Hosseini moved to Weston, where she has a dental office. In 1991, she began lecturing to various groups as a member of the Institute for the Healing of Racism, a national organization that seeks solutions to racial and ethnic problems. In 1996, she started the Unity in Diversity Club of Weston. She regularly has 100 people at her home for group discussions on racial harmony and cultural diversity.
   Hosseini thinks her roots in the Bahai faith, the underdog religion in Iran, motivated her to work for racial harmony.
   Growing up a Bahai in Iran, she remembers children throwing rocks at her and her sister when they carried their Bahai books. Bahais, who believe in the existence of one God and the equality of races and genders, are the largest minority in Iran. She said her aunt was executed in Iran after being tortured to recant her religion.
   Hosseini has been snubbed for her beliefs. She remembers two dental patients who didn't come back to her Weston office after they found out she's Bahai. People have to learn to be more tolerant, she said.
   "You can go to the dentist and have an Iranian dentist," she said. "You go to the doctor and you have an Indian doctor. You're served by a Venezuelan at a Chinese restaurant. You can't get around it anymore. We have to unite and accept our differences."
   Several experiences in South Florida also led Hosseini to work for racial equality: an African-American man from Weston was washing his car outside his house when a white man asked him if he would wash his car afterward; a Latin woman, pushing her baby in a stroller, was stopped by a woman and asked what family she worked for; her friend of mixed ethnicity was asked her race when buying something at a department store.
   The clerk wrote "black" on the back of the check. Hosseini complained, and the store no longer does that.
   Said Hosseini: "I want to be part of making us multicultural, of not just tolerating each other, but really accepting each other."
   Robin Benedick can be reached at rbenedick@sun-sentinel.com or 954-385-7914.
   


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