Iranian-American Women: A Formidable Force in New York

My family’s love affair with America and New York in particular began in the Fall of 1927. That’s when my grandmother Helen fell in love with my grandfather Abol Ghassem Bakhtiar as he recited poetry to her on their dates to Coney Island. Helen was a nurse and Abol was a doctor at Harlem Hospital.

Helen and Abol were married on October 21 in 1927 much to the chagrin of the New York judge who felt at 22-years of age Helen was too young and impressionable to marry a 50-year old foreigner. In 1931, the two went back to Iran and helped open one of the first private hospitals.

There is something about the Empire State in all it’s imaginative and innovative ways that has inspired Iranians for over a century. And it’s in New York City where Iranian-American women, in particular, have excelled as trailblazers. Their contributions will be vividly illustrated this Sunday at the Iranian American Women’s Foundation leadership conference at New York University School of Law.

Among those present, sisters Gisue and Mojgan of Hariri & Hariri Architectural firm who are celebrated as one of the top 50 firms in the field of Interior Design and Architecture for 2015; New York fashion designer, Nellie Partow who is a 2015 finalist for the prestigious International Woolmark Prize; as well as celebrated journalists such as the Wall Street Journal’s Farnaz Fassihi, Fortune Magazine’s Susie Gharib, and one time NYT bureau chief in Tehran Nazila Fathi.

In 1986, sisters Mojgan and Gisue Hariri founded their award-winning architecture and design firm Hariri and Hariri in New York City.

“We are a formidable force in New York and our influence can be found in all sectors of the NY economy as well as the national stage,” says Jeyran Ghara, a member of the NY IAWF chapter and an advisor with Bernstein Private Wealth Management.

“As a colorful group representing many different religions with a wide range of expertise in our midst, we felt welcomed in New York.” She adds, “In a city that both appreciates and is influenced by a myriad of cultures, we effectively married the subtle and sophisticated nuances of our Persian culture with the direct, assertive and merit based culture of New York to build our individual success stories.”

Life as an immigrant demands strong survival instincts, but we were selfish too in seeking our personal and individual success. By circumstance of a revolution, we were displaced or driven out of Iran starting in 1979. Leaving families, careers and identities behind, many of us were forced to build new lives away from Iran. We kept our heads down and worked hard to prove that we were smart, sassy and sensible women. It has taken three decades for our community to become a powerhouse and now we feel it’s time to bind ourselves together and help nurture the next generation of Iranian-American professional women.

The vision and foundation for this new found unity comes from Mariam Khosravani, the Executive Director of Coastline Community College Foundation, and her transformative leadership events for Iranian-American women. Several times a year, she brings together a critical mass of engaged professional women of all ages, who offer insights into career paths and ways to maintain a balanced life in America.

Khosravani was one of millions left Iran after the 1979 revolution. By 2011, she began recognizing a community of successful women with individual success who when unified could have a powerful voice. So, she created the Iranian-American Women Foundation (IAWF). Her mission has been to provide Iranian-American women a platform to inspire, empower, and network with one another. “My vision is to offer these conferences in every state where there is a flourishing community of Iranian Americans,” Khosravani says. Ultimately though her goal is to go global to unite and inspire the next generation of female leaders of Iranian descent. Events such as the upcoming IAWF gathering in New York not only allow us to highlight our excellence but further help to expand and broaden the image of what is the Iranian woman.

Follow @IAWFoundation and #IAWFNY15 to discover more about the contributions of Iranian-American women in the United States.

Davar Ardalan is the Director of Storytelling and Engagement at SecondMuse and a former award-winning journalist at NPR News. Ardalan is also the author of two books My Name is Iran and The Persian Square. In May 2014, she was the recipient of an Ellis Island Medal of Honor, for individual achievement and for promoting cultural unity. Ardalan is the mother of four and lives with her husband along the Severn River and Annapolis, Maryland.

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