SF State's Center for Iranian Diaspora Studies Uses Cultural Responses to Overcome Political Tensions 

Tuesday, December 10, 2019
Photo of Soumyaa Behrens filming Persis Karim interview with Bella Ramazan-Nia
Soumyaa K. Behrens (left) and Persis Karim (center) interview East Bay theatre artist Bella Ramazan-Nia. Photo courtesy of Documentary Film Institute.

LAW AT THE MARGINS -- In the U.S., sanctions have created hardship for Iranians with family living in Iran. They aren’t allowed to wire money to relatives. They worry that specialized medication is scarce in Iranian hospitals. And communication systems in Iran are unstable, as major U.S. tech companies have been ordered to cease operations in the country. The impact of tension and anti-immigrant sentiment trickles down to their everyday life in the U.S. as well, according to Persis Karim, director at the Center for Iranian Diaspora Studies at San Francisco State University.

“For Iranians, some of the most profound issues are family separation and a real, general anxiety about war,” Karim says. “Iranians in the U.S. … are afraid to travel outside the U.S. out of fear they won’t be allowed back.”

Karim teaches courses on Iranian film and literature, among many personal endeavors to promote cultural exchange. With the Center for Iranian Diaspora Studies, she work to offer a counter narrative, challenging anti-Middle Eastern and Islamophobic rhetoric with research, teaching and programming about the global Iranian experience.

Karim is currently co-directing “We Are Here,” a documentary telling personal stories of how Iranians have arrived and settled in the San Francisco Bay Area for generations. The ultimate goal of the film, partially funded by the Nasiri Foundation and co-produced by San Francisco State University’s Documentary Film Institute, is to convey the community’s resilience despite the political tension that has cast a shadow over Iranian-Americans for decades.