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Iranians Bridging Cultural Gaps in Beverly Hills

Community: Immigrants who fled revolution 20 years ago are now moving into mainstream involvement in politics.

July 06, 1999|JOHN L. MITCHELL | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Six years ago, the association held its first traditional "Nowruz" party, celebrating the Iranian New Year and the beginning of spring, in a house with only a handful of officials present. This year's event attracted a who's who of city government and raised thousands of dollars for educational programs.

Pirnia, a psychologist who sits on the boards of several of the city's charitable organizations and is of the Bahai faith, was herself honored in May as co-citizen of the year at a star-studded event held by the Beverly Hills Chamber of Commerce. Such recognition marked a turning point in Beverly Hills, where the population is 32,000, overwhelmingly white and with a large Jewish population of European heritage. However, the school district's student population represents 57 nationalities speaking 46 languages.

Iranian parent organizations have contributed thousands of dollars to the school district, and have begun urging school officials to make changes, such as adding Farsi to the curriculum.

The district has hired a full-time Farsi-speaking language specialist and a home school coordinator to ease the transition for students and to sensitize administrators and teachers to Iranian culture.

In addition, the district has asked the Museum of Tolerance at the Simon Wiesenthal Center to train its staff to serve a multicultural student population.

The Iranian community in Southern California is estimated to be well in excess of 300,000. Because their numbers are concentrated in a relatively small area, many Iranians still manage to live their lives nearly surrounded by the culture of their homeland--going to Iranian nightclubs, shopping for clothing and jewelry at Iranian businesses.

There are Iranian magazines and Iranian television and radio shows in Beverly Hills and West Los Angeles. A 1,000-page Iranian Yellow Pages lists 5,000 Iranian business and professionals--half located in Southern California and many in Beverly Hills.

But as is the case with other immigrant groups, the younger generation tends to lead the way when it comes to adapting to a new homeland, and the older people often find it a struggle to keep up.

Stephan Saeed Nourmand, president of Nourmand & Associates Realtors, recalls the first generation of Iranians who flocked to Beverly Hills, buying expensive properties with cash. Now, he said, a second wave has hit the city.

That next generation, said Dar Mahbubi, who built the fashionable Rodeo Collection on Rodeo Drive, will be the one to branch out into politics.

"The new generation of Iranians feels like they are part of the American community," he said. "They are Americans, blending in and becoming one. It has taken 20 years, but that is the normal time it takes for the new generation to get its foothold and become part of the American community."

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