Asian Americans Advancing Justice - LA

Building upon the legacy of the Asian Pacific American Legal Center

Assisting My Persian Community

Thursday, April 20th 2017

By Nasim Khansari, Project Director - Citizenship

 

On Saturday, April 8th, I woke to maybe my 100th weekend citizenship clinic where I would be helping immigrants apply for naturalization. But, this day was different. I was going to assist my own community, Persians. The thought of this made me nervous. Is my Farsi good enough? I’m probably going to embarrass myself. Will I have proper etiquette? Am I dressed well enough so that they’ll trust I can give them proper advice? As all these thoughts spun around in my head, memory after memory of my childhood came rushing in as well -- all the times my mom told me to properly greet guests, two kisses, one on each cheek, and make sure to always offer to do something for them.

I was born in the United States, but growing up as an Iranian American, I always felt a connection to my Persian culture. My parents came to the United States in 1984 but they never left behind the unique and fascinating quirks of their community. A good example is the infamous taroff. Constantly talked about yet still misunderstood, taroff is the idea that you should always pick up the bill, insist on hosting family, or decline an invitation even if you really want to accept it if it means it benefits someone else. Growing up, it was a difficult concept to comprehend while surrounded in American culture. Nonetheless, I respected it and I appreciated it because it was part of who my family was, and really, part of who I am.

I was excited and nervous as I made my way to PARS Equality Center in Sherman Oaks that morning. I wanted to make my community proud. I wanted them to know that there are Persian advocates in the community willing to help them -- this alone is enough to wake me up any Saturday.

When I arrived, I have to admit, my nerves immediately hiked up. My life has mostly been in the United States; the last time I went to Iran was when I was 5 years old. My conversational Farsi is mediocre at best, which cannot even compete with the three other attorneys’ fluency, having been born and raised in Iran before coming to the United States. Nonetheless, I still felt a sense of pride just being there and pushed myself to call the first client for a consultation.

Even though I was nervous, the odd thing is, I already knew how they were going to treat me. They would tell me how sweet I was and how my Farsi was so wonderful. They would tell me not to be self-critical. They would tell me how grateful they are for these services. And, they would surely offer to take care of my lunch, buy me something, or invite me to a home-cooked Persian meal. Why? Because that is the Persian way.

As the day went on, I became more and more comfortable being there, not because I was using my Farsi to help a room full of Persians, but because THEY were empowering me to help them. It was an experience I don’t think I will ever forget. Before I left, Kousha, the staff attorney at PARS Equality, asked if we could all take a photo together. I agreed to take the photo only if he promised we would collaborate again to provide assistance to our community. Without hesitation, he agreed.

Learn more about Advancing Justice-LA's Citizenship Services

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