Hey, Where’s MY Tehrangeles?

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Nazanin of Iranian Truth just wrote a post pointing to a PostGlobal article by Amar Bakshi about Iranian-Americans and how they feel about U.S.-Iran relations. The PostGlobal project counts Hossein Derakhshan and Ali Ettefagh as its two Iran-expert bloggers, and Bakshi’s series, “How the World Sees America,” looked at Iranians in Los Angeles recently. His post about the politics of so-called “Tehrangelinos” includes a short video clip of Reza Aslan, who says, “The Los Angeles Iranian community came here with their Swiss bank accounts and, you know, with their suitcases full of cash, and they created a pretty good life for themselves here in Los Angeles”:


I have nothing but respect for Aslan, our community’s most visible and prolific political wunderkind, but I want to challenge what I think are some gross misrepresentations of Tehrangeles in this statement (though it’s important to note that it’s a very short clip which may just be lacking some context, and I think Bakshi actually did a pretty good job getting a fairly representative slice of Tehrangeles life, even if many of its players are already so recognized that Iranians in L.A. might not get much new info). I won’t deny for a second that, yes, many Iranian-Americans in Los Angeles are indeed “established” – it’s just a way to say that lots of them live on the Westside as doctors/lawyers/engineers who drive expensive cars. Yes, many of them were very wealthy in Iran and got out immediately after the revolution, many were very pro-Shah, many have ridiculous or ill-informed political views.

But I am getting more than a little annoyed at the poor picture that the rest of the country – and the global Iranian community – has and keeps getting of us “Tehrangelinos” as clueless rich people living in a nostalgic bubble in Westwood, because that’s only part of the picture. Why is it okay to boil down all of Tehrangeles to this stereotype?

The truth is that Tehrangeles is home to a really diverse if disjointed Iranian community. And Iranians continue to immigrate to Los Angeles long after the revolution, but for some reason, the more recent transplants are nearly invisible in most mainstream reports about the community.So my question is: why don’t we recognize the Iranians in Los Angeles who work in supermarkets, who drive old cars? Who are poor, on welfare and food stamps, or homeless? What do they think about Iran and the U.S.? There’s a sizable community of Iranian Christians, who are largely ignored in most reportage, which always touches on Muslim and Jewish Iranians. Where are they in stories about us, or stories by us? There are Iranian “day care” centers in Los Angeles, full of senior citizens that have seen a lot of history and might have some interesting things to say about Iran; does anyone care about them?

Nazanin’s post tells Iranian-Americans to wake up. I’m inclined to agree, but I’d flip that around to ask anyone that writes about Tehrangeles to wake up, too. Perhaps drive over the hill and into the Valley, look beyond what’s deemed the “established” community, and give Iranians in Los Angeles a little respect and a little credit. I’m so tired of smug Iranian San Franciscans or Torontonians, among others, talking smack about my city. Tehrangeles is not as narrow as the vision of the people who disdain it.