On June 14, citizens of the Islamic Republic of Iran will vote in a national election. Though they won’t have a chance to cast a ballot, members of the Lower Mainland’s Persian community will watch the process keenly. For many, the election will be a reminder of the democratic gulf that exists between their adopted and original homelands.
Anahita Matloubi was 13 when she moved to Canada with her parents. She represents a younger generation of Persian-Canadians who are proud to have cast their vote in the recent B.C. provincial election. According to Matloubi, her parents uprooted their lives in Iran to move somewhere where she could experience more political freedom.
“The whole point of us emigrating was to come to a country with a democratic system,” she says.
The current Iranian political system can trace its roots back to 1979, the year the Shah of Iran was overthrown in a revolutionary uprising. In the decades that followed, civil liberties were curbed and many Iranians emigrated. Canada continues to be one of the most popular landing grounds for individuals and families with the means to seek a new home. Metro Vancouver has an established, though sometimes overlooked, Persian community.
Fred Farhad Soofi first arrived in Canada as a student in 1972. A longtime Metro Vancouver resident, Soofi was narrowly defeated in his bid to join the Coquitlam City Council in 2011. He describes the local Persian community as large and diverse.
“Most settled immigrants are well educated and many are interested in starting their own businesses,” says Soofi.
He admits, however, that the generally rosy picture is not without short-term challenges. In many cases, newly arrived citizens are excited to join the community but experience bouts of disappointment. Their expectations of building a new life rarely align with the realities.
Poran Poregbal, now founder and executive director of Iranian Educators for Families, a local nonprofit, experienced nostalgia for Iran before making a new home in Vancouver. She left Iran in 1987 and spent a decade in Sweden before settling on the North Shore in 1998.
“When we first arrived, nobody unpacked their luggage. We were like tourists waiting to go back,” says Poregbal.
As a counselling therapist whose clients are mainly from the Persian community, she believes that tighter lines of connection with their shared homeland have actually helped both her and some of her clients to truly settle in their adopted home.
“With the rise of the internet, better access to communication enabled us to better keep in touch with people back home,” says Poregbal.
A growing political community
Across Canada and in the Lower Mainland, the Persian-Canadian community continues to grow. As numbers increase, Soofi hopes that Persian-Canadians will start to deepen their roots further with forays into the local politics.
“[In Canada] members of the same household can belong to different parties, but it doesn’t mean that you are enemies,” says Soofi.
Although Soofi, Poregbal and Matloubi are all proud to be active in Canada’s political process, they long for representative democracy in Iran. Poregbal would consider a return to her country of birth, but only if Iran is able to build a free and functioning democracy, she says.
To many Persian-Canadians, that day feels like a long way off. But with the freedoms of their adopted country, a model for optimism is already in place.