Nowruz at UCLA

By Orly Minazad

Tehrangeles is aflutter with the advent of the Persian New Year — Nowruz — on March 21st. Eager celebrants might have watched truckloads of potted Hyacinths dressed in colorful wrapping being unloaded for Jordan Market on Westwood Boulevard. Up and down the street store displays are decked out with the Iranian flag, painted eggs and figurines of our very own Santa Clause, Haji Firuz. It’s the most wonderful time of the year in LA’s Persian Square, and everyone’s invited to the party.

Farhang Foundation, LA’s leading non-profit organization for Iranian-American cultural programs and festivals, kicked off the holiday with its 9th annual Nowruz celebration on March 12, and it was epic. UCLA’s Royce Hall was packed with thousands of people of all backgrounds enjoying activities, music, food and the always-popular people-watching. The diverse crowed reflected the very inclusive spirit of Nowruz which is celebrated by Iranians of all religions and ethnic descents.

The kids were the real stars of the show, some clad in old world Persian outfits with what seemed like endless layers of colors and jewels on every part of their body. The Daneshvar Children’s Ensemble totally nailed their performance, being both adorable and a comfort that the generation born here is taking active interest in their people’s rich history.

A highlight of the celebration was a performance by “the Bob Dylan of Iran,” Mohsen Namjoo and Ensemble, bringing the old world sounds of the traditional Persian lute (setar) coupled with modern electric guitar and vocals, a beautiful rendering of nostalgia and new fusion.

At the center of all this was a majestic haft sin spread straight out of a fairy tale with a grand mirror bordered with an elaborate gold frame surrounded by bouquets of spring flowers. Haft sin is the traditional display of items symbolizing rebirth, love, health, beauty, patience, prosperity and peace. Everyone’s haft sin varies with their own personal touch but all include spring flowers, lush green wheat sprouts, goldfish, apples, vinegar, wheat germ pudding, sumac berries and dried fruit of the oleaster tree.

Okay, so the display doesn’t sound very appetizing, but the good news is it’s not meant to be eaten, but to be admired for the 13 days Nowruz is observed as a visual expression of good wishes for the upcoming year. In light of recent events, we can use all the invocations we can muster.

This Nowruz is especially meaningful. While the fate of Iranians and other minorities is threatened by an uprising of suspicion and hate, we have an obligation to encourage friendship through culturally relevant experiences and celebrations like this. And in that spirit, Farhang Foundation has commissioned The Freedom Sculpture — Freedom, a Shared Dream, inspired and designed after the Cyrus Cylinder, the first declaration of human rights by the Persian King Cyrus the Great. Freedom, a Shared Dream will be gifted to Los Angeles on behalf of its Iranian neighbors.

There is no better time than now to commemorate the an ancient doctrine laying out the humanitarian values by the very people who have been victims of the lack of such humanitarian regard by the new administration’s ban on individuals traveling from Iran and a number of other Middle Eastern countries.

For Iranians, who are obsessed with hospitality — just try saying no to a Persian mother offering you food — this gift is the ultimate salutation thanking the city to whom we owe everything. In that same spirit of love, gratitude and togetherness, here’s to a huge and fantastic 1396.

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