Andisheh Center's Portland Iranian Festival aims to bring diverse groups together, and build community pride

PAMPLIN MEDIA GROUP PHOTO: JILLIAN DALEY - Dance company Shahrzad Khorsandi, hailing from Richmond, Calif., kicks off the Portland Iranian Festival on Saturday. With women in brightly colored, flowing clothes dancing to traditional Iranian music, it was like visiting an idyllic Iran on Saturday in the South Park Blocks near Portland State University.

PAMPLIN MEDIA GROUP PHOTO: JILLIAN DALEY - A member of the Shahrzad Khorsandi dance company performs at the Iranian Festival.The Andisheh Center, a nonprofit that promotes and honors Iranian cultural heritage, put on the 17th-annual Portland Iranian Festival, strategically placing it next-door to a farmers market to attract attention, says Zari Santner, an active member of Andisheh Center, who previously served as the chairwoman and helped organize the festival. Free to attend, the event drew thousands of people and featured a canned food drive for the Oregon Food Bank.

“It’s about bringing the Iranian-American community together in this beautiful park,” Santner says.

That sense of community means a great deal to Manigeh Farokh and her husband Fari Farokh, who came to Beaverton from Tampa, Fla.

“I see a lot of Iranian people here,” Manigeh Farokh says. “That’s why it’s so exciting for me.”

Fari Farokh says the Iranian population in Tampa was smaller, and he was smiling at the throng moving past him.

“It’s nice to see people are enjoying themselves, very peaceful, relaxed,” he says.

PAMPLIN MEDIA GROUP PHOTO: JILLIAN DALEY - Some festival goers came wearing clothing celebrating Persian culture, including Leva Mousavi, 3.The event featured not only live performances of graceful dancers adorned in vibrant arrayments from Richmond, California-based dance company Shahrzad Khorsandi — but also vats of saffron-tinted rice and fragrant stews. Attendees also could immerse themselves in an Iran-related book fair and gape at tradition-infused displays of sweeping calligraphy, graceful instruments and finely crafted Persian carpets.

PAMPLIN MEDIA GROUP PHOTO: JILLIAN DALEY - Laleh Alavi, who is taking classes at the Beaverton-based Art Max fine arts academy, demonstrates how to play a tomback, a type of traditional Iranian drum.Laleh Alavi volunteered in the booth for Art Max, a Beaverton-based, nonprofit fine arts academy where she takes classes. Alavi helped visitors with whatever they wanted to know, including details on Farsi calligraphy quoting a fifth-century poetry book, and two instruments she’d learned to play, a “santoor” (a stringed instrument a player strikes with tiny mallets) and “tomback” (a drum). She says she doesn’t have much time to practice as she runs a tailor business called Alterations by Laleh, but after just a-year-and-a-half, she can make the santoor sing and the tomback thrum.

“The teacher is amazing,” Alavi says. “When I started, I didn’t know how to hold the instruments, and, as an adult, it’s harder to learn.”

The festival itself was an opportunity for everyone to learn about the Iranian culture, which is key to the mission of the Andisheh Center. The term “andisheh” means knowledge, Santner explains. Andisheh Center, established in late 1997, launched the festival in 1999 because the area had grown a strong population of Iranian Americans at that point, she says.

The eight-year Iran-Iraq War had ended in 1988, and many people had fled to the United States. Also, many young people come to the U.S. to study, and their families sometimes come join them, Santner says. Others discover opportunities here in science and technology.

The Andisheh Center created the festival for two reasons, Santner says. One is that there is a growing group of young Iranian Americans, so events celebrating their roots are important.PAMPLIN MEDIA GROUP PHOTO: JILLIAN DALEY - The 17th-annual Portland Iranian Festival took place in the Portland State University South Park Blocks, right next to a farmers market.

“This is a way of making them proud of their heritage and connected to both cultures,” the American one and the Iranian one, she says. “So, these young people are not disenfranchised, and do realize they have deep roots.”

The other key reason for the festival is that it humanizes a culture that may be foreign to some people, Santner says. It builds bridges among cultures.

The community gathering — with support from sponsors including Siamak’s Car Co., Reeser’s, Ziba and PSU’s Middle East Studies Center — seems to be sparking interest among many non-Iranians, at least for Pinar Korkmaz and her 4-year-old son Aurelio. They previously lived in Portland, but they were just visiting the area after relocating to Texas three years ago. Korkmaz says she is interested in the Iranian culture, though it is not totally new to her, as she is from Turkey, which shares an eastern border with Iran.

“I like the music; I’m enjoying listening to it,” Korkmaz says.

Aurelio happily played with his Spiderman balloon from the PDX Balloons artist at the festival. Meanwhile, Shannon Connolly quietly introduced 5-year-old Pearl to a whole new culture, while the young girl also enjoyed candy and her own cat-shaped balloon animal.

“His name is meow,” Pearl explains.

By Jillian Daley
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PAMPLIN MEDIA GROUP PHOTO: JILLIAN DALEY - Uri Rutzick, 2, of Portland, enjoys dancing in the grass during the festival.

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