March 1, 2012
At this year’s Academy Awards, the Oscar for the Best Foreign Film was given to the Iranian filmmaker Ashghar Farhadi for his film “Separation.” In his acceptance speech, he spoke of how in the midst of the chatter between politicians and heads of states, the world forgets to see and appreciate Iran’s rich culture and history. I was heartened to hear these words, as so few of us have the opportunity to experience Iran’s cultural contributions at first hand given its strained relations with the USA.
However, while the Academy recognized Mr. Farhadi’s film for an Oscar, the Bravo channel is introducing a reality show called the “Shahs of Sunset,” depicting an Iranian family living in Beverly Hills in all its gaudy in-your-face obnoxious splendor. Sadly, as it is expected of a cable channel that peddles reality shows where good taste and educational value are not its primary concern, we cannot expect an objective portrayal of the Iranian community living in the USA.
There are an estimated 1-1.5 million Iranian-Americans living in the U.S. with the largest concentration—about 700,000—living in Los Angeles. No wonder the city is commonly referred to by Iranian-Americans as “Tehrangeles” or “Irangeles.” But, you can be sure that not all 1.5 million Iranians in the USA live ostentatiously in Beverly Hills like the family depicted in Bravo’s reality show.
Here are three outstanding Iranian-Americans who have had an impact on my life on a personal level.
Hooshang Pak, MD
Dr. Hooshang Pak is a board certified neurosurgeon and practices in CA. Having received his medical degree at Tehran University he continued his postgraduate training in New York in 1975 where he completed his surgical internship at Saint Vincent Medical Center of Staten Island. He completed his neurosurgery residency at Henry Ford hospital in Michigan. He has an extensive and impressive bio which is just what you want when facing a life and death situation as I was when I was 25. A freak accident in a Tae Kwon Do class had triggered headaches that over a course of six months accelerated into such debilitating pain that neither a CAT Scan nor the physicians who had examined me were able to diagnose the problem. A friend of our family recommended that I visit her brother-in-law, Dr. Houshang Pak, a neurosurgeon, for another opinion. It was Dr. Pak’s insistence that I seek an MRI, a process which two decades ago was still considered new, that showed the source of the problem. I was diagnosed with subdural hematoma (collection of blood on the surface of the brain). “Given the significant amount of bleeding and swelling of your brain, it’s a miracle you’re not in a coma and alive. But the bad news is that we have to operate,” is how I recall Dr. Pak breaking the news to me and my father who had driven me to the MRI clinic. It was Dr. Pak who drove me to Long Beach Memorial Hospital where within minutes of our arrival I was prepped for surgery which lasted about eight hours. Needless to say, I am here today because of Dr. Pak’s expertise and his team at the Long Beach Memorial.
Atossa is the founder and Executive Director of Amazon Watch www.amazonwatch.org , a non-profit organization founded in 1996 to protect the rainforest and advance the rights of indigenous peoples in the Amazon Basin. I first met Atossa about seven years ago at a fundraiser for Amazon Watch and since then I have been a staunch supporter of her organization’s endeavors. But it is also her tenacious spirit and fearlessness as an advocate for indigenous rights and for standing up to the oil companies who have and continue to pollute and ravage the Amazon basin that have won my utmost respect and admiration. Her commitment to bringing awareness to the plight of the indigenous peoples in the Amazon means that she will attend an oil company’s shareholder’s meeting and not only speak to those in attendance but invite members of the indigenous tribes to do so as well. Two years ago, after attending a screening of the film Avatar hosted by NRDC on the Fox Studios Lot in Century City, my husband and I ran into Atossa and her husband and together we encouraged her (not that she needed it) to approach the director James Cameron for a brief interview. She wanted to tell Mr. Cameron that the real Na’vi are living in the Amazon basin and struggling for their survival against the polluting oil corporations. Atossa is petite and diminutive, but she pushed through the crowds with the three of us her wingmen and for the next twenty minutes she had Mr. Cameron’s undivided attention. Mr. Cameron was so moved that he gave her his business card to contact him, because this was exactly the kind of cause he wanted to be involved in. Two weeks later, there on the front page of the NY Times, was a photo of Mr. Cameron, his face sporting warrior paint treading carefully through a grassy field in the Amazon flanked on each side by tribal leaders! His journey to the Amazon to speak out against the building of the Belo Monte dam would not have occurred had it not been for Atossa. To follow Atossa and her organization’s on-going endeavors, please visit www.amazonwatch.org and even better, show your support with a tax-deductible contribution.
I never had the honor of meeting Mr. Khalili who passed away in 2008. I first learned of Mr. Khalili and his earth-friendly building designs at a green festival in Los Angeles about six or seven years ago. Born in Iran in 1936, Mr. Khalil was an architect, writer and humanitarian. He practiced architecture in the U.S. and around the world and was known for his innovation of the Geltaftan Earth-and-Fire System known as Ceramic Houses and the Earthbag Construction technique called super adobe. Click here to see some images of Mr. Khalili’s creations. Inspired by traditional arid house designs in his homeland Iran, he applied these concepts by developing his Super Adobe system in response to a call from NASA looking for designs that would accommodate human settlements on the Moon and Mars. Initially, the project was purely conceptual but he was soon able to actualize his designs by partnering with the United Nations Development Program and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees by helping build emergency shelters modeled after his designs. In 1991, he founded the California Institute of Earth Art and Architecture (Cal-Earth) which continues to teach his Superadobe building techniques to students from around the world. Three years ago, on hearing that the Ojai Foundation was offering a week of hands-on training on building an earth-dome following Mr. Khalili’s techniques, my husband and I both jumped at the opportunity. The weekend happened to fall on Valentine’s Day and proved to be one of the most memorable ways of spending the day: outdoor in nature and playing in the dirt! Of course, one weekend wasn’t enough to complete the construction of the earth dome, but working together with ten other volunteers and learning the basics of Mr. Khalili’s philosophy and techniques has me convinced that earth-friendly designs are not only affordable, but sustainable and habitable.
For a list of some notable Iranian-Americans living in the USA, please visit: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Iranian_Americans. Share with us your personal experience with Iranian-Americans who have had a positive impact on your life.
Jasmin S. Kuehnert
President & CEO ACEI, Inc.