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  • A.E. Filabi

Inaugural Iranian diaspora conference

In March 2019, a diverse gathering of scholars, artists, and community members of Iranian heritage came together at San Francisco State University for a three-day conference to explore research, stories, and projects relating to the Iranian diaspora.

It’s been 40 years since the 1979 Islamic revolution in Iran sparked the mass migration of Iranians outside their homeland. This inaugural conference provided an opportunity to reflect on its implications. The event was organized by the Center for Iranian Diaspora Studies at SF State. The conference theme, Forty Years and More, provided a broad umbrella to explore a diverse set of Iranian diaspora experiences since the revolution in Iran changed the course of our history.

The Center’s Manifesto resonates with me – in particular the following quote:

Iranian diaspora studies is neither separate from nor exactly like Iranian Studies — it builds on and projects itself upon the idea that no culture or history is static, and that to understand it, we must have innovative and open boundaries within our disciplines. 

This notion relates not only to the study of Iranian culture and history, but also for the lived experience of those of us in the diaspora. So often I hear from one-and-a-half and second generation hyphenated Iranians who lament that they are not Iranian enough or can’t really connect with the “Iranian community”. I put Iranian community in quotes because I think the sentiment shows that those of us with Iranian heritage who feel a lack of connection don’t see that we are the community; our existence and experiences also define what it means to be Iranian. Perhaps a dominant experience of the Iranian community is lack of connection to itself?

Moving beyond the nostalgia for pre-revolutionary Iran that is prevalent among many in the first generation, towards embracing the idea that all human experience is perpetually in flux, can help expand the circle of what is deemed "Iranian" and how we all belong.

The Center is the first of its kind to study in earnest the experience within the diaspora. The founding principle, as articulated by Neda Nobari in this video, echoes my own impetus to start this website – that the experience of someone from Iranian origin living in the U.S. is not the same as that of Iranians living within present-day Iran. While this observation seems self-evident, so much attention is given to preserving the history of Iran and traditions of Persian (and other ethnic) culture that, in my experience, the living, breathing and ever evolving lives of those of us raised in the U.S. gets lost in the expansive shadow of the Iranian revolution.

The Center is run by Persis Karim, a Professor of Comparative and World Literature at SF State who is also the editor of several short story anthologies of Iranian diaspora literature. I found the conference to be highly inclusive and refreshingly free of politics – uncommon for a gathering about Iran.

The Center's website provides a summary of the event, including pictures and other resources (click here).

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