East Meets West in 'Tehrangeles'
Matthew Wells, BBC News:
One face of the Iranian community in Los Angeles has been more visible than any other for motorists cruising up and down Santa Monica Boulevard in recent weeks. To mark the Persian New Year, the impassive image of the last Shah of Iran clad in full military dress, has been staring out above the traffic.
There are an estimated 1.65 million people of Iranian descent living in the US, and everyone under the age of 25 was not born when the Shah died in exile in Egypt.
Around half of the Iranian diaspora lives in California, primarily "Tehrangeles" as it is jokingly referred to, and Orange County. READ MORE
Most of the families here came to escape the destruction of their way of life following the Islamic Revolution, which sets them apart from most immigrant groups, with the notable exception of the Florida Cubans.
For Iranian monarchists, and those who look fondly on the Shah's billboard, the ayatollahs who have ruled since 1979 are as hated as Fidel Castro in Miami's "Little Havana".
But the community does not speak with one voice - especially the younger, Americanised generations, who never experienced life under the Shah.
"I don't think they experienced losing their wealth. They left the country with it," said Mozhan Marno, a young Iranian-American actress who finds the politics of many LA Persian emigres, anachronistic.
She cannot relate to their prevailing values, after spending time training and working on the east coast:
"There's a preoccupation with prestige, money, and BMWs here," she said, in an exasperated voice.
In truth, it is a criticism that could be levelled against the whole of Los Angeles, and a sign perhaps that Iranians have assimilated successfully, while maintaining a strong - if romanticised - sense of their deep culture.
Westwood Boulevard in West LA, is home to all things Persian, with a confident atmosphere of sophisticated middle-class prosperity.
At the Attari sandwich shop, an elegant fountain gurgles away on the patio beneath the loud conversation, which takes place mainly in Farsi.
"When I pick up the phone and I speak Farsi to a friend of mine, it's like a breath of fresh air," said Neda Bolourchi, a law student who describes her hybrid language as "Finglish" - a fusion of Farsi and English.
She has more reason than most to be heavily engaged in the crisis-politics of Iran right now. Her mother was a passenger on one of the planes which struck the World Trade Center, nearly five years ago:
"We were known for our civilisation; and all of a sudden, we've turned into a bunch of terrorists."
"Peoples' spirit doesn't change, we've retained our civilised society," she said. "Unfortunately now we're being ruled by a theocracy. What you can do here (in the US) is change people's perspective, one person at a time."
She studies hard, and values Farsi poetry highly, just like April Heidarian, a 23-year-old lunching with friends nearby, dressed in the latest Beverly Hills chic.
"I think my parents are more worried about that, but I'm kind of into my own world right now," she said, when I asked if she was following news of Iran's nuclear brinkmanship.
She feels she has the best of both worlds - Iranian and Californian: "I balance them both out pretty well, I follow every tradition. I guess I'm more Americanised in a sense that my parents aren't as strict as other parents."
Her friend Iman Hunter touched on another sensitive issue. Being mistaken for Arabs infuriates Persians, but being labelled Iranian, is also too political for some:
"I love the fact people call us Persian, because that's what we are," he said. "I don't like it when people call us Iranian. It's not the Olympics."
He is not keen to visit his ancestral homeland, in case he gets forced into military service, but April said her cousin had just visited Los Angeles, and told her life was just fine in Tehran - for those with money.
The sense of keeping Iran's politics at arms-length, is something that troubles Peter Shahriari, a lawyer in his late 20s who is also a dedicated stand-up comedian.
Talking over drinks after a quick performance at the Comedy Store club on Sunset Boulevard, he said the incoherence of young Iranians towards their homeland was unacceptable:
"Look at the Armenians that have been here for a while, they've produced real artistic and business icons," he said.
"We've been here with far greater intellectual and financial resources. So far what we've produced is a legacy of materialism and self-concern."
Veering between back-slapping jokes and serious political conjecture in a booming voice, he has not given up hope.
He is convinced that Iranian-Americans will help to steer the White House towards a successful entente with fundamentalist Iran.
Concern is mounting on Westwood Boulevard that the US Congress is determined to force Iran out of the football World Cup, as part of the diplomatic manoeuvres.
When Iran beat the USA in the tournament eight years ago, there was a huge party on the street outside, according to Bijan Khalili, owner and founder of the Ketab Corporation - reputed to be the biggest seller of Persian books outside Iran.
He sees no conflict in that demonstration of intense national pride by youngsters, many of whom have never set foot inside Iran.
"This government is anti-everything. Anti-science, anti-human being, anti-human rights," he said with a sad chuckle.
"Most of the Iranians are against this regime, but still they love their home."