Iranian Americans celebrate Nowruz at California State Assembly

More than 50 Iranian-American community leaders, businessmen and artists of various faiths from across California gathered March 16 at the State Assembly in Sacramento to celebrate Nowruz, the Persian New Year. 

The festivities were part of an Assembly resolution that was passed unanimously honoring Iranian Americans in California. It was introduced by Assembly member Adrin Nazarian (D-Van Nuys), the first Iranian-born member of the Assembly. 

“It was very important to shed the light on the different residents of California that have gone through difficult circumstances as new immigrants and contributed so much to our city and state,” Nazarian said. “The Iranian community is one of those special communities, and honoring Nowruz, which is celebrated by people of all faiths, was the best way to acknowledge them.”

Nowruz is an ancient Persian secular holiday celebrated by Iranians of all faiths worldwide. It marks the beginning of spring, carrying a message of peace, brotherhood and renewal. This year, it fell on March 21.

Nazarian first began the Assembly’s tradition of recognizing Nowruz last year, as California is home to nearly 1 million Iranians, one of the largest populations outside of Iran. This year, Iranian Americans flocked to the state capital to be a part of the special celebrations. 

“Nowruz is one of those rare holidays which brings Jews, Christians, Muslims and every religion together in harmony — so, for Iranians in California, it is a huge honor for us to get recognized by the state government for our contributions and this holiday,” said Joe Shooshani, an Iranian -Jewish planning commissioner for the city of Beverly Hills.

Los Angeles City Council also officially honored local Iranian Americans by acknowledging Nowruz in the council’s chambers on March 20. And more than 2,500 Iranian Americans gathered at Grand Park in Downtown L.A. the next day to celebrate. 

LGBT Persian Jews live in changing times

Although attitudes are becoming increasingly accepting toward homosexuality in the Jewish community, prejudices remain in the typically more conservative Persian community. To help bridge the gap, JQ International — a nonprofit, Los Angeles-based organization dedicated to supporting LGBT Jews — held a celebration of Nowruz, the Persian New Year.

The March 19 event, held at Spice Affair Indian restaurant on La Cienega Boulevard in Beverly Hills, drew more than 100 people, including Jews and Muslims, for dancing, drinking and shmoozing from 8:30 p.m. to 1:30 a.m. Attendees enjoyed Persian snack food, Indian entrees and cocktails and filled the dance floor as a DJ played upbeat Persian sounds. 

As the evening went on, the energy of the room went up a notch. Couples and groups boogied on the floor, showing off traditional Persian moves — arms extended outward and rotating in circular motions, knees bent — and even the older members of the mostly male crowd were showing signs of life. 

Among those celebrating Nowruz, whose official observance was March 21, was a 74-year-old man named Jansheed, who declined to provide his last name and who came from Newport Beach for the event.

“I was always out — I was never in,” he told the Journal when asked when he came out of the closet.

Born Muslim, the man described himself as nonreligious. He attributed the growing acceptance of LGBT people to education and “television, radio and newspapers that say, ‘It’s all right to be gay.’ ”  

Asher Gellis, executive director of JQ International, said this was the first time the organization coordinated an event specifically for the LGBT Persian community. The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles and ROI Community helped put on the event. 

JQ International board of directors member Shervin Khorramian, who spent his 20s living in Asia and Europe, according to the JQ International website, said there was a specific goal to the gathering. 

“This event is really a chance for us to get the Persian community together, specifically, the gay Persian community,” he said. “It’s an effort to get people together and create a Persian community for the gay Persians of this city.”

Many of the attendees at the event were still in the closet, Gellis said. 

Attendee David Kianmahd indicated that this type of party could be just the beginning, as more gay Persian Jews come out of the closet and parents of LGBT Persian Jews have to change their attitudes if they are still hanging on to biases against homosexuality.

“I feel like there is this new, young generation starting to come out,” he said. “It’s kind of forcing parents to deal with it.”

Meanwhile, Khorramian, 44, who said he came out to his friends and family approximately 20 years ago, has been dedicating his life to promoting inclusion for LGBT Persian Jews ever since. He drew a parallel between his personal journey and that of the larger community. 

“It’s been a real step-by-step process, learning to accept, having them [my family] accept back — it’s been a give-and-take, and now I can say after 22 years, we’ve really crossed the Rubicon. This is it, we’ve crossed the point where we are in a position of being accepted. Fifty years from now, we are going to look back, and we will no longer have to say whether we are out or not, we just are,” he said. “We’re taking that final journey.”