Iranian society eases transition for new immigrants to Canada


Iranian society eases transition for new immigrants to Canada
Cultural group celebrates New Year even as young people embrace Canadian culture
By LOIS LEGGE Staff Reporter
Mon. Apr 5 – 4:53 AM
Community Herald Halifax

HALIFAX — It’s a chilly March evening and New Year’s celebrations are just getting underway at a Halifax church hall.

Musicians tinker with instruments, food trays find counters and ice tinkles in buckets for the welcoming of 2010.

More than three months late, some may say.

But Iranian-Nova Scotians are just getting the party started.

Nine-year-old Kiana Famili, pretty fuchsia top shining, side curls coiling, is looking forward to tonight’s dancing.

And her mother, Ginoos Famili, will soon be warming up for the singing that will help celebrate the occasion.

For centuries, Iranians have marked the New Year on the first day of spring, says Famili, a board member of Nova Scotia’s Iranian Cultural Society.

That fell on March 20 this year.

And association members have hosted or participated in a number of events surrounding that milestone, everything from this March 26 party to the ancient Iranian tradition of fire jumping, thought to wash away all the bad from the previous year and usher in good health and beauty to the new.

Some will have picnics on the 13th day of the Iranian New Year to ward off any evil implications of the number.

It’s all a way of keeping Iranian culture alive in a new place while also trying to blend the customs of both.

Later on this night, for instance, Irish dancers were to kick up their heels as a nod to other cultures.

And the society itself tries to smooth the way for recent immigrants, helping them merge into their new surroundings while keeping their own traditions close.

“Iran is run by a Muslim government so for the last 30 years the culture has implied sort of a closed-ness, especially in young people’s activity. Music is not openly played, relationships between two genders is not acceptable without some kind of contract,” says Famili, who doesn’t want to discuss the current situation in Iran and who stresses the society is not political.

But when Iranians immigrate, she says, they often face a big culture shock.

“Their first reaction is, ‘I want to run away back to where there is a bigger Iranian community, where I don’t have to merge into society, where my children don’t have to merge,’ ” she says, as volunteers bustle around in the kitchen of the Greek Orthodox Church of St. George.

“I think the role we play . . . is to soften that blow and explain things to them a little better, show them that we have lived in this society. There’s nothing to be feared. You don’t go wrong because your children go dance at the club. It’s not the end of the world. It’s the merging of the two cultures.”

And lately there’s been more merging than ever before. Longtime Nova Scotia residents like Famili, who’s been here for 17 years, have watched the number of Iranians in the Halifax region grow from about 300 eight or nine years ago to about 2,000 today.

She says the society hosts events like the New Year’s party so newcomers won’t feel as isolated, although this isn’t the kind of event that would normally have been held in Iran. Iranians traditionally mark the beginning of a new year by visiting family, elders first, she says.

But she sees the event as another way of blending cultures, something musician Saeed Foroughi, who’s been in Nova Scotia for 32 years, says is crucial to overcoming stereotypes.

“The majority of people who are coming from Iran, they want to emphasize and concentrate on the culture again, like the music, any kind of arts” says the harpist and flute player. “And through that they think you could establish unity . . . (and show) the Iranian country is not just the religious fanaticism.”

Or, as Famili puts it, that Iranians aren’t continually mistaken for their government.

“Government is government and even people of the same country don’t always agree with their governments,” she says

“People are people and they’re all different — different political views, different lifestyles. . . . We’re not scary.”

( llegge@herald.ca)

’You don’t go wrong because your children go dance at the club. It’s not the end of the world. It’s the merging of the two cultures.’
GINOOS FAMILIIranian Cultural Society

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