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2009 International Festival

The Persian community is one of many featured at the Indiana State Fairgrounds November 19-22.

November 01, 2009
The rich culture of Persia, known to us today as Iran, will be explored through stage performances and through one-to-one outreach to the larger community at the 2009 International Festival, sponsored by AAA Hoosier Motor Club. The Festival will be held Thursday, November 19 through Sunday, November 22 at the West Pavilion, Indiana State Fairgrounds, 1200 E. 38th Street, Indianapolis. The Persian community is but one of dozens of nationalities to be spotlighted at the Festival. Families and individuals living in central Indiana who have ties to foreign lands around the world use the Festival to display their cultural heritage with on-stage time as well as food and cultural booths. The result for visitors is a virtual trip around the world, without leaving home. Two stages provide non-stop entertainment that is based in the art, culture and expression from all corners of the globe. Students and children are given special attention in one of the most concentrated cross-culture learning experiences available anywhere.

Six-year-old Donya Zandi of Indianapolis embodies the cross-cultural spirit that is the heart of the International Festival. Donya was born in the U.S. to first-generation Iranian immigrant parents living in Indianapolis. To help her appreciate where her parents are from, the family speaks mostly Farsi at home. When Donya joins her parents at get-togethers with other Persian families here in Indianapolis, she is adept at reciting from memory the beautiful poetry of the Persian poet Hafez in the language of her heritage. Her mom and dad involved her in the "Mahtab" Children's Persian Dance Group as a way for her to teach others about Iranian culture while at the same time learning it herself. Her father, Firooz Zandi was born in Iran and still has the majority of his family living there. He says, "The value is for people to learn something about Iran other than hearing about the mullahs on television every day. The value is for people to see our 3000 year-old culture, and for us to teach about that culture to our children. Iran is not what you see on television."

The Persian community is relatively small in the Indianapolis area, but the families who have moved here for work or education are putting down roots that will help keep their culture alive as generations such as Donya's become assimilated. Shayda Bradley is president of the Society for Promotion of Persian Culture (SPPC). Shayda says, "We think we have about 500 families in Indianapolis. Because this group of people is well educated, they would like to keep the Persian community alive so that they can keep their heritage and culture. They want to be more active in the community. Our plan for the future is to grow the knowledge of our heritage for our children—the second and third generations-- by creating schools. We have a small school currently at Carmel High School on Sundays to keep the language alive. Our major goal is within the next five years to build a building so that we can have a community center." She goes on to say that the efforts of the Nationalities Council of Indiana, hosts of the International Festival, have been very helpful in opening the door to greater community awareness and appreciation. She says, "We feel that performing at community events such as the International Festival is a great way for the community to get to know us. (The audiences) are very kind and very interested. Last year after our Festival appearance we couldn't keep up with the requests to perform. We are not entertainers per se, but we enjoy bringing our culture live to the community."

At the International Festival, there will be performances by three Persian dance groups, one from the Indiana Persian School along with the adult "Aftab" (sunshine) dance group and the "Mahtab" (moonlight) Children's Persian Dance Group. Parvin Holmes is manager of the Aftab and Mahtab groups. She says, "To encourage people to be interested in Persian culture, I thought dance, music and art are the best ways to reach people and get their attention. For me, the easiest was dance because I know that Iranians love dance. So I started (the Aftab group) with five ladies between 25 and 30. Each year I work to build the program and make it better." Parvin explains that bringing in the children's group (Mahtab) allows a new generation to be able to express the Persian culture while at the same time bonding with other children from Iranian homes and exploring their common ethnic heritage.

Mohammad Kaviani, a lecturer in the Department of Economics at IUPUI who was born in Iran, highlights that culture goes beyond music and dance: "When we say culture, it covers many subjects including languages, literature, politics, religion, food, and celebrations of some different occasions. I would say that the salient feature of Iranian culture is literature. It is very rich and is becoming increasingly known in the west. For example, there are the works of Rumi, Hafez, Saadi, and of course Khayyam among others. These are but a few well-known Iranian poets, philosophers that are more familiar in the west." He goes on to describe how the Persian culture (Iran is a name given to the country by and for those outside the country) goes back thousands of years.

Kaviani also says, "The difference between Iran's current religious regime and the beautiful poetry and literature of Iran's past needs to be known. The current regime is an institutionalized religion of the Shiite branch of Islam. The poetry and literature are the exact opposite. Sufism is the Islamic version of mysticism and it is very prevalent in Persian poetry and literature.

Six-year-old Donya Zandi is a young American of Persian descent who is able to recite from memory long passages of beautiful ancient Persian poetry in Farsi. It's clear that her parents, her friends in the local Persian Community, and the Indianapolis community at large are encouraging her to be a well-grounded leader of tomorrow and a living bridge between cultures. That spirit of education, cultural appreciation and diverse celebration is also what the International Festival is all about.

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