By: Darya Minovi
Tell me a little about yourself.
Hi! My name is Beeta Baghoolizadeh, and I was born and raised in the Iranian diaspora capital of the world, the famous (or infamous!) Tehrangeles. I graduated from UCLA with a double major in Iranian Studies and International Development Studies, earned a Master’s degree in Middle Eastern Studies at the University of Texas in Austin, and am now a History Ph.D. Candidate at the University of Pennsylvania. I study slavery and race in recent Iranian history, with a special focus on the 19th and 20th centuries.
I’m also an editor-in-chief at the Ajam Media Collective (www.ajammc.com), where we edit and publish articles, photo essays, and interviews on social/cultural topics related to Iran, its neighbors, and their diasporas. In doing so, we make an effort to provide more nuanced articles on the region than what you find in the general media.
What first brought you to becoming involved with IAAB? Did IAAB influence your connection with the Iranian community?
Growing up in Los Angeles, the Iranian community is practically everywhere. From as far back as I remember, we’ve always had Iranian family friends, local Iranian supermarkets, kabab restaurants, regular Iranian holiday events, and even touring concerts and plays. As I grew older, I became more involved in local organizations that tried to foster a space for celebrating Iranian culture. This was especially true for me in college, where I took on leadership roles in UCLA’s Iranian Student Group.
At UCLA, I got to know other Iranian organizations that operated on a regional, national, and international scale, and that’s how I got to know IAAB. I learned about the different programs, and applied to be a camp counselor. It was one of the greatest decisions I had made.
Up until then, I only knew the Southern California Iranian community, but through IAAB, I made friends with Iranian Americans from all across the US. There are so many stereotypes about the Iranian-American community, but IAABers shatter them all. Getting to know others in IAAB challenged my own understanding of what the Iranian-American community looked like and what we are capable of.
In what ways did IAAB influence your professional life and decisions you have made as a leader?
Participating in IAAB, in a lot of ways, made me a more introspective person. Through serving as an Ayandeh counselor and participating in Student Summit, I was able to see firsthand what the ideal space for the Iranian community looks like. IAAB promotes a kind of environment that not only celebrates our shared culture, but also challenges us to self-reflect on our individual and collective weaknesses.
Before I joined IAAB, I was frustrated with a lot of Iranian organizations that seemed to promote the motto “Iranians Are The Best And Everyone Should Know.” It’s a nice sentiment–who doesn’t want to be called the best?–but I didn’t feel like it allowed for difficult conversations to be had in our community. For example, how could we talk about issues of mental health, drug abuse, or racism, if we were the best? Claiming to be the best only silenced these problems, but it didn’t solve them.
IAAB’s programs create that space–a special, inclusive place for us to bond over funny Iranian tarof phrases, while also allowing us to identify and tackle problems we see in our community.
What advice would you lend to other Iranian-American youth who hope to take on a leadership role in their communities?
Try not to think in generalizations. The success of an organization is not in its ability to include the majority–that part is easy. The difficulty is being able to welcome everyone. How do you account for the diversity in your community? How do you include individuals who may have felt otherwise ostracized by the majority? And how do you build relationships with people you wouldn’t have thought you’d work with previously? These are the kinds of questions that will make you the leader of a healthy and productive environment.
Another suggestion: work in baby steps. Don’t try to do everything at once–you will burn yourself out! It’s more important that you’re able to execute a few well-designed and well-organized events or projects rather than a hundred half-baked ones!! As you develop your skills, you’ll be better prepared to take on more complicated programs in the future.
Where would you like to see the Iranian community in 10 years?
I would love to see the Iranian community continue its growth. The activism in our community is beautiful–I hope we don’t lose sight of working towards bettering ourselves from the within.
What is your favorite tradition in Iranian culture and why?
Gah! There are so many! Eating pomegranate on Shabe Yalda (and every other day of my life)? Playing backgammon and drinking tea?? Or maybe the ridiculous tarof that prevent everyone from serving themselves food because no one wants to be first????
I can’t pick. But I do have a special place in my heart for everything associated with Nowruz, from the setting of the sofreh to the sound of the sorna. And, of course, the scent of hyacinths!