Rancho Santa Fe residents help organize ‘Passing the Torch of Success’ event

By Joe Tash

A group of successful, prominent Iranian-Americans took to the stage of UCSD’s Mandeville Auditorium Jan. 29 in an event designed to motivate youth and showcase the accomplishments of the Iranian-American immigrant community.

“Every good thing you do makes all of us look good, there’s nothing too small,” said Firoozah Dumas, a humorist and author of “Funny in Farsi,” urging the young people in the audience to be involved in community service.

“You have to invest in excellence. You have to work hard,” said Vali Nasr, a professor of international politics at Tufts University, author and former senior advisor to the Obama Administration on issues related to Afghanistan and Pakistan.

The event, called “Passing the Torch of Success,” was organized by the Public Affairs Alliance of Iranian Americans,” or PAAIA, and has been held in cities around the country in recent years. Sunday’s sold-out event, which drew an audience of about 800 people, marked its debut in San Diego.

Jamile Palizban of Rancho Santa Fe, an event organizer, said one goal of the forum was “to empower our young Iranian kids and to teach them a little about our community.”

Maryam Famourzadeh, also of Rancho Santa Fe, and co-chair of PAAIA’s San Diego chapter, said she has two teen-age daughters. “I want to make sure they grow up proud Iranian-Americans.”

Another goal of the event — and of PAAIA — is to show the general public in the United States what the Iranian-American community is about, said Palizban.

“We are not all terrorists. It breaks our heart, the actions of the Iranian government. We don’t like it, we don’t support it. That’s why we came here,” she said.

More than 90 percent of the Iranians in the United States came after the Iran’s Islamic revolution of 1979, and their children have been born and raised here, she said.

La Jolla resident Ali Mojdehi, a member of PAAIA’s national board of directors, said the event was designed to do three things: “educate, inspire and empower.”

That sentiment was echoed by Aref Tehranian of La Jolla, president of the Iranian Student Association at UCSD.

The speakers, said Tehranian, would share “the inspirational and motivational ideas that brought them here, and pass them on to the younger generation.”

Actor and comedian Maz Jobrani, a founding member of the “Axis of Evil Comedy Tour,” and Fox 5 Morning News anchor Shally Zomorodi served as hosts and interviewers for event. The featured guests included a business executive, authors, musicians, a philanthropist, and a local physician, Shahram Daneshmand, who started a program called “Miracle Babies” to assist families with infants in the neonatal intensive care unit.

San Diego State University student Ehsan Lari said he wanted to attend because he had read about previous Passing the Torch events, and friends had attended a similar event at UC Berkeley. However, because Sunday’s event was a sellout, he was not sure if he would be able to get a ticket.

“I want to get inspired by their experiences,” he said of the speakers. “I just want to get the feel of what this is all about.”

Among the challenges facing Iranian-Americans is the tension between the United States and Iran, the speakers acknowledged Sunday. With the United States imposing economic sanctions on Iran over its nuclear program, and some political leaders even talking about possible military action to prevent Iran from developing a nuclear weapon, Iranian-Americans feel the pressure in their daily lives.

“It’s a very trying time for the Iranian community,” said Nasr, the Tufts professor and author of the New York Times bestseller “Forces of Fortune.”

But in spite of those hurdles, he said, Iranian-Americans have much to offer their adopted country, from serving as cultural ambassadors, to careers in government service.

“Ultimately if we’re going to be responsible citizens of America, we have to give back and participate in political life,” he said.