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Iranian Student Union’s Mission: Cultural Understanding

Photo+by+Arjin+Unlu
Photo by Arjin Unlu

Photo by Arjin Unlu

Photo by Arjin Unlu

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On Sunday, February 12, students from ISU joined over 150 marchers from across the Bay Area in front of Sunnyvale City Hall. Organized predominantly by Sean and Homestead High School senior Yasaman Hakami, the protest was focused on cultivating an environment of cultural understanding among the diverse crowd of attendees.

“I felt like a burden was lifted from us after we protested,” Sean said. “Things felt tense and uncomfortable before the protest, but everyone felt happier and so connected after it was over.”

The protest was designed for students affected by the ban to take action and share experiences. After a short session of poster-making, eight different politically active individuals, ranging from high school students to seasoned activists, spoke about the affected countries and the refugee crisis.

“As we chanted, cars that passed by us honked in support and called out their windows,” ISU member junior Nika Darvish said. “I left the protest feeling empowered by the inspiring words of the speakers, and that I had accomplished something meaningful.”

The fact that the protest was comprised of so many people outside of the Los Altos ISU, despite being organized by the president, may seem at first to dilute the club’s involvement in the event. But the reason that the event was so diversely attended actually fits the character of ISU: ever since its “reboot” last year. Sean has been working to make this club as inclusive toward different cultural backgrounds as possible, and this protest was a manifestation of that.

“One major hurdle we’ve had to overcome is making sure we don’t create an in-group and out-group based on ethnicity,” Sean said, “I want to stress the importance of all ethnicities.”

He’s succeeded. Walk into an ISU meeting or social and you’ll find Iranian food and culture savored by students of all different ethnicities. Members are there for the people, the insight into a different culture and the acceptance the club encourages, regardless of where their parents are from.

“I love comparing and contrasting cultures,” Sean said. “For example, an Indian-American member of ISU was ecstatic when he realized a bunch of words in Farsi are the same in Hindi.”

Many students follow a friend into their first club meeting, but end up staying a member because of the unique experiences the environment offers.

“Although at first I was a little skeptical I would not fit in very well, I was surprised,” senior Nick Rodriguez said. “ They really make everyone feel welcome and they make sure everyone gets to know each other with various activities that are fun and celebrate the Iranian culture.”

Along with the recent protest, ISU has partnered with the non-profit organization Prerna, which works to support refugees that come to Santa Clara County. The Los Altos ISU often raises money for this organization by selling traditional Iranian food or tea at Los Altos school events. Especially after the recent election, ISU has been focusing on alleviating the strain between U.S. and Iran, starting with sharing Iranian culture with the school.

“With Trump’s executive order, I oddly feel more emboldened and empowered to be an Iranian, not a Persian, not a Middle Eastern,” Sean said. “A few years back, people could be outrightly racist, but that’s no longer the case. People can’t call me a terrorist anymore without feeling like a bigot. People can’t call me a terrorist anymore without feeling like a bigot.”

As far as the future of ISU, activism seems likely.

“There’s so much more to a nationality than diplomatic relations,” Sean said. “That’s what we have to drive home. I’m Iranian, but I do not represent a theocratic government… We need to differentiate people from their respective governments in the same way we need to differentiate the American people from Trump’s racist policy.”

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The student news site of Los Altos High School in Los Altos, California
Iranian Student Union’s Mission: Cultural Understanding