CNN Security Clearance

By Elise Labott

Iran has begun installing advanced new centrifuges at its main uranium enrichment site at Natanz that are capable of accelerating production of fuel for a nuclear weapon, a move that senior U.S. officials warned could jeopardize upcoming talks aimed at curbing Iran’s nuclear ambitions.

The disturbing revelation comes as the “P5 plus one” diplomatic bloc of countries is preparing to offer a package of incentives to Iran to close its underground facility at Fordow and ship out its stockpile of uranium already enriched to a high purity level of 20%.

READ: Sources: Iran to be offered ‘serious’ incentive

“This can’t help the talks,” a senior US official said.

The P5 plus one bloc consists of the United States, Britain, France, Germany, Russia and China.

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A Notion Based on False Pretenses

A Notion Based on False Pretenses

While flipping through channels the other night, I see a plug for Bravo’s latest reality show, Shah’s of Sunset season two! I was not a big fan of the show when it first aired and like many other Persians, I believed that it was a travesty against who we were as a community. I felt that we had worked hard to create a certain image for ourselves as Persian Americans and did not wish to see that image shattered. Yet, little did I know however, that in many ways, the show was in fact our story.

After the revolution occurred in 1979 a number of Persian families left Iran and moved to either Los Angeles or New York to start a new life.

With the promise of a new home beyond the horizon, and a slim chance of turning back, Shah’s of Sunset offers an inside look at the Persian community and how it has evolved within the past 30 years. Eager to share their sense of identity, a handful of Persians began to buy large quantities of real estate once they arrived in the states and set up numerous shops brandishing their lavish culture and lifestyle. From exotic rug galleries, to the finest Persian restaurants, one can’t drive up Beverly Hills today without bumping into one.

Like many other relaity shows, Shah’s of Sunset depicts five young professionals actively trying to balance their social lives while tending to traditional Iranian expectations. Described as materialistic and ego-centric these individuals are the cream of the crop when it comes to LA’s Real Estate scene and pride themselves on becoming affluent entrepreneurs. Take for example MJ’s character who is a real estate agent selling multi-million dollar homes in Beverly Hills. As a young professional, she devotes herself to her career and seldom has time to date. Well over the age of 30 and already considered a spinster within the community, she struggles to support herself, find a husband, and meet traditional Persian expectations. With no desire to settle down anytime soon and adamant about her career goals MJ is stuck between two worlds. On the one hand she relishes her American values and on the other she feels bound by her family’s cultural expectations.

The anxiety and stress of getting married is one thing, getting into a top university is another and when it comes to the latter, the competition is fierce. Persians pride themselves on getting into top Universities and believe that obtaining a degree is a one way ticket towards wealth.  Success is the main driving point for most Persians and how they reach that goal will determine how they are deemed within the community.

Yet what is most interesting about the show itself is not so much the characters themselves, but the people they encounter on a day-to-day basis. As the season progress, we see flashbacks between each individual’s life both before and after the revolution, and how it has affected their lives. For some this meant a chance to reinvent themselves, while for others it was a means to pick up where they left off. From prominent doctors and lawyers, to high earning engineers at NASA, Persians within LA and across the U.S. have reached a level of success they could only dream to attain in Iran.

Thus, although the Persian community has adopted a new sense of American optimism, they remain steadfast on holding on to their cultural values and perhaps proving that my perception of the show may have been based on a notion of false presences.

Growing Up Persian and… Jewish – A Persian Jewish Perspective on Living in Atlanta

When the revolution occurred in Iran in 1979 my parents decided to do one of two things; to either risk persecution or join my mom’s family within America. The country was already heading towards a non-secular government, and for many Iranians this meant a new change in government. Demonstrations soon spread throughout the country advocating for an end to the Shah’s reign and the 54 year old monarchy.

Before the revolution, many Jewish communities were seldom ostracized  and able to peacefully co-exist with their Muslim neighbors. Although they were considered the minority, Jews in Iran still composed a large part of the country’s population and benefited from the Shah’s modernizing reforms. Religious schools were built within major cities and many Jews were able to hold governmental positions. Once the royal regime collapsed however, many Jewish Persians took this as a sign of what was to come and decided to escape.

During the days of the revolution nothing could escape the watchful eyes of the government and anyone who was caught fleeing the country was quickly placed under extreme scrutiny. Once I was born however, both my parents decided that the best gift they could offer their only daughter was to live in a country free from tyranny.

In order to raise money for our own departure, my mom began to sell everything she possessed. She sold her wedding dress, her jewelry, her paintings, and even wedding gifts she had used to decorate her house with as a newly married couple. Meanwhile, my father worked endlessly to get our papers in order so we would not endure any setbacks.  After days of waiting and waves of questions as to why we were leaving the country, my family and I were finally ready to embark on our journey.  With the last of their belongings packed, and only enough clothes to fill two suitcases, my parents fled the country they once called home.

Once my parents came to America life did not become any easier as each immediately set off to find work. My father was an accountant in Iran and when he wasn’t busy crunching numbers, you could easily find him delving into pages and pages of history books. To this day whenever anyone in my family has an accounting or history question, he is the first person they go to. In the states, my father had to start from square one. There were no freebees, no handouts and no networking opportunities. He began to work a number of remedial jobs and slowly worked his way up the corporate ladder. Despite the circumstance he was presented with however, my father always placed his family first and made sure we were well provided for.

Life for my mother on the other hand meant a fresh start and a new chance to reinevent herself.   Gone were the listless days now of living under the government’s suppressive regime and gone were the days of having to wear a chador. In Iran my mother was a nurse and considered herself a very independent woman.Upon completion of college, my mom made it her sole mission to ensure that both my brother and I attended college as well and refused to let anything get in our way. A few years later and plenty of money spent on tuition I happy to say both my brother and I graduated with honors and as the first generation within my family.

Growing up Persian has really been a treat for me and between the music, the food and dancing I still don’t know which one I love more. I grew up listening to Persian music and cannot remember a time when it didn’t fill our house. Whether it’s a sappy love song or the latest Pop there is something about its melody that always draws me in. After the revolution occurred in Iran, a number of Persian artists began to sing a new genre of songs that were infused with political messages. These songs were the first in a series of songs which would later be hailed as some the greatest works of all time.

Listening to Persian music is one thing, but dancing to it is quite another. I seldom miss an opportunity to attend a Persian wedding and almost always find myself on the dance floor when I do. Persian Jewish weddings can be very lavish in style and are very extravagant in décor, food and music. I have attended dozens of family weddings from New York to LA, and each one always out does the one before it. From Eiffel tower Chuppah’s to elegantly designed reception halls, it never seizes to amaze me how spendthrift Persian Jews are. Persians love flowers and anything with bling; combine the two together and you now have your own 4 foot centerpiece adorned with crystals and flowers. And if that doesn’t take your breath way, you can always divert your eyes to the Chuppa as you remain awestruck at every detail. But what I enjoy most about these events is the fact that I know all the dance moves and songs by heart. Since I grew up learning how to speak Farsi, I can relate to the music and lyrics instantly. Soon it’s time for dinner, and as guests slowly make their way to their tables, you can smell the kabobs roasting from a mile away.

I am sure anyone one who has ever tried Persian food would agree with me that it is the most exquisite food they have ever had. Each dish has its own unique recipe and uses a generous amount of fresh green herbs. The stews are usually seasoned with an array of fruits such as plums, quince and apricots, and are served with intricate dishes of rice. Over the years I have spent countless hours watching my parents prepare these very dishes for Shabbat dinners.

Growing up I don’t remember eating a great deal of traditional Jewish foods such as Gelta fish or kuggle, however I do remember how my parents stressed the importance of our religion and made sure that my brother and I had every opportunity to learn our Jewish heritage alongside our Persian. Every year to this day when we are about to fast for Kippur my Dad prepares Persian dishes but when we are at our synagogue our prayers are just the same as everyone else’s. When my parents left Iran they knew that they wanted to live in a country which would allow them to practice their religion freely and yet still allow them to maintain their heritage.

Today, when I attend various networking events within Atlanta I would like to share both my cultures and do not feel that I need to substitute one over the other. I love my Persian culture and my Jewish identity just the same, and am always amazed by how receptive people are to both. Although Atlanta’s Jewish Persian community is not as big when compared to that of New York or L.A., it is a rapidly growing. Yet, regardless of what part of the country you find yourself in, the line of questing always remains the same.

A Generation of Change

So what does it mean to be an American living in America today? Does it mean a big fancy house and a new car, or a degree from an elite university? Whatever the reason, I can’t help but think that Generation Y has in some way, shape, or form changed this very mantra.

Born in the early 1980’s, Generation Y is mostly composed of individuals, who are highly familiar with the latest digital technologies and vastly oriented with the social media. They are a generation which is conscious about their social environment and take on a liberal approach when it comes to politics and the economy. Yet, what is most remarkable about this generation is their innate sense of resilience and relentless pursuit towards success.

The global financial crisis of 2007-2012 hit Generation Y the hardest and with historically high levels of unemployment and college debt, many found themselves socially and economically defeated. Many college graduates were forced to move back home and were often met with bleaker if not worse circumstances. Anxious to make their voice heard however, Generation Y began to use the knowledge they already possessed and their tech savvy skills to take matters into their own hands. Soon after the 2008 elections, numerous non-profit organizations, think tanks, and blogs began to appear across the country, vying for social change. Whether it was through various online forums or self-created websites, Generation Y’s expectations for the next four years was slowly but surely making its way up on the president’s agenda.

Achievement oriented, family centric, and tech savvy are all characteristics which describe Generation Y, however not one image could have portrayed this group more accurately than Shelia Pree Bright’s exhibit Young American’s. Launched in 2008, the collection portrays a series of photographs which capture the essence of what it means to be American as Generation Y. Each portrait is unique in that it depicts a young American between the ages of 18-25 posing with the United States flag followed by a brief excerpt of what America symbolizes for that individual. As an artist, Ms. Bright explores not only young American’s perception of what America means to them but also how they perceive themselves against its ever-changing landscape.

This year, two of Ms. Bright’s portraits were placed on display for Living Walls, the City, Speaks;Atlanta’s annual art conference. The event gathered 26 female artists from around the world and granted them permission to use various building walls as their canvas. Each image is self-chosen by the artist herself and gives the viewer a glimpse of their unique cultural background. Absent from gallery walls, and museums the conference is indicative of how art can capture anyone’s attention regardless of where they are.

For her display, Ms. Bright chose the portrait of a young African American male staring down at the American flag while he contemplates its significance. The portrait stands 12 feet. by 15 feet tall and is plastered on the wall using wheat paste. As the individual grasps each side of the flag pondering his Americanism, one can’t help but think how the image indirectly reveals one of many challenges which continue to face Generation Y today.

Many individuals within this group are still skeptical about moving out and remain in a state of paranoia as to what the future holds for them. Most recently, some have even given up pursuing a higher degree, rationalizing that the costs may outweigh the benefits. Yet, as I glance back at Joshua Phifer’s image today, I can’t help but render these very thoughts myself as I look back at my own trials and tribulations. As another election approaches it is imperative that both parties heed to the values and demands of their newest constituents. Generation Y has come a long way within a matter of a few years who knows what feats they will accomplish within the next four. Unwavering in their attitudes towards social change and adamant about raising awareness about domestic policies Generation Y has paved the way for a new breed of voters and of what living in America means to them.

An America for Non-Americans

What does it mean to be a foreign citizen in the United States? I asked myself this very question while previously browsing through an exhibit at the High Museum of Art in Atlanta. The exhibit, titled Young Americans by Sheila Bright consists of 28 prints of young adults between the ages of eighteen and twenty-five with the American flag. Each photograph is unique and consists of a single person striking a pose with the American flag. Included under each photo is a short passage of what the American culture and society has meant to the pictured individual. The exhibit is particularly interesting because it includes young people from diverse backgrounds and socio-economic groups.

As an immigrant from Iran myself, I believe Young Americans is the perfect platform for young foreigners to express what living in America has meant to them. In today’s contemporary world, there is nothing greater than the division between what constitutes opportunity. While some are born at the ceiling of opportunity, others must build their own ladder to the top. In so far as one passage captures a young Chinese American boy’s constant struggle to achieve his goals another remains oblivious to what really constitutes freedom and chance. The Chinese American’s passage is highlighted with words of persistence and determination and inevitably paints a vivid picture of a dream lost in America. He states that his life is a constant effort in that he receives no handouts, is engulfed with a sea of obstacles and people who lack his vision. On the other hand, the exhibit also portrays a young Caucasian girl’s passage, which emphasizes her notion of what it means to be an American, and what she believes constitutes liberty. It is clear to the observer that the young girl is proud to be an American and is determined to make us believe that we are all bound for greatness.

However, as a first generation immigrant myself, let me be the first to tell you that the two passages are no more alike than they are different. Although both passages share a similarity in that they each believe in the American dream, they differ greatly when it comes to how that dream is achieved. While the young Caucasian girl is content on believing that everyone has the same opportunities she did most newly naturalized Americans believe this to be far from the truth. Many of them envision a better standard of living for themselves, however much like the young Chinese American they are also aware of the trials they must face in order to get there. Many foreign born Americans are eager to work, receive an education and attain their goals; however, in many cases this is easier said than done.

In no moment in time has there been a greater surge of first generation Americans than now and yet for many the presence of an America for Non-Americans still remains. How foreign Americans are perceived and how they fit within the American culture says a lot about America’s future. If America continues to hire individuals based on the notion of false pretences then it will never reach its full potential. Many institutions and organizations have begun to appoint people today not on account of their experience but because of their socio-economic status. As a result, the opportunity to prove oneself within any industry has become unattainable. Moreover for many foreign born Americans their goals will thus never be reached and they will never have the opportunity to present their talents. Consequently, this will not only push people to gravitate towards their own culture but ideology as well. A new plethora of minds are emerging in America everyday and with them they bring a new generation of raw talent. Subsequently, the greater the number of foreign-born Americans within the work force the greater the number of dual perspectives offered. Indifference is nothing new in America however; it is also, what keeps the nation from reaching its full potential. If America continues to oppose the foreign-born American’s ingenious ability to offer a dual-perspective then it will never have another chance to prove itself and will remain at a standstill to change. America will inevitably fail to reap from the foreign-born American’s new ideas and opportunity to connect with the rest of society.