Behind the cineplex where “Fluke” and “Casper” and “Congo” were playing, the young friends of Ramtin Shaolian had gathered once again. Here where the 16-year-old Taft High School student was fatally wounded, there were flowers, candles and tears. With felt-tipped markers they wrote notes of goodby on the sidewalk.
Ramtin, Keep smiling. We love you.--Negin & Leila . . . I miss the way you used to make me laugh throughout Jr. High & High School. WHY YOU?--Rosalyn . . . I’m sorry. You were a good student and this shouldn’t have happened.-- Mr. Hoffman . . . . . . From your Bro. Remember all your friends in Persian Pride . . .R.I.P. From your homies. We love you . . . This won’t be forgotten. Or unavenged . . .
This was Monday afternoon at the Fallbrook Mall in West Hills, three days after Ramtin was shot dead and Mehda Sina-Kadiz was wounded, not seriously, in a crime of our multicultural times.
The victims were the children of Iranian immigrants--friends within a tightknit community, some of whom identify with a code they call Persian Pride. The alleged perpetrators are 19-year-old gang members who go by the nicknames “Chocolate” and “Ace Capone” and who, according to police, often cruised the West Valley looking for trouble. Also arrested were five juveniles--including four girls from affluent neighborhoods south of Ventura Boulevard who apparently thought it was way cool to hang out with the bad guys.
It started, police say, when the suspects asked Ramtin and friends whether they belonged to a gang and Ramtin replied, “Does it look like we’re gang-bangers?”
That question would linger in Monday’s heat. There was an old picture of the deceased in his baseball uniform, and friends talked about his quick smile and sense of humor. But the ritual resembled those often seen on L.A.'s gang turf. The influence of gangs on youth culture was evident in the baggy clothes and references to “homies.” At one point, a brief debate ensued when one teen-age boy tried to scratch out “Persian Pride"--until a young man told him to stop.
“They think it’s some kind of gang,” the boy explained. But when Ramin Dorrikhteh chastised him, the boy backed away.
Dorrikhteh, 22, was among the older mourners here, and he wore his pride of his Iranian roots on his shoulder--the tattoo of a lion brandishing a sword, a national symbol in the days before Khomeini. Beneath the lion was Arabic script. Dorrikhteh offered the translation: “In the name of Allah the most gracious and merciful.”
Dorrikhteh, an auto mechanic, introduced himself as a close friend of the Shaolian family. His words seemed to carry some authority with the younger Iranians here. I asked him what was meant by the words that Ramtin’s death would not go “unavenged.”
“Unavenged? God works in mysterious ways, my friend,” he said.
“No crime goes unpunished,” another voice said.
Dorrikhteh said that he felt like exacting vengeance himself, before friends calmed him down. “Yesterday, I was willing to put a cap in somebody’s head over this. It was a moment of anger,” he said.
Persian Pride, Dorrikhteh said, is misunderstood. It is, he said, an effort by young immigrants such as himself to educate still younger Iranian youth to take pride in their native culture and history, rather than assimilate and lose the language and the old ways. “If anybody wants to look at it as a gang, they’re looking at it stupidly.”
The concept of Persian Pride, he added, transcends religion. Dorrikhteh pointed out that while he is Muslim, the Shaolian family is Jewish. “Muslim, Jewish, Bahai--we didn’t care.”
An older Iranian man arrived, carrying a camera and tape recorder to report the story for the Iranian press. As when I had interviewed him, Dorrikhteh’s tone rose with a sense of outrage, only this time in a language I couldn’t understand.
Sherwin Porat, a 17-year-old Taft High student, explained it for me.
Many Iranian parents are upset by the way their children dress and wear their hair. The generation gap, he said, is huge. The traditionalists seem to think the Persian Pride crowd is a bad influence.
It may seem odd that adherents of Persian Pride would adopt so many of the ways of American urban youth. The irony seemed lost at the mall Monday.
“It’s just fashion,” Sherwin said. “All the kids wear baggy pants. We’re all just following the fashion.”
There was something else he wanted to add:
“Send our regards to his family.”
Scott Harris’ column appears Tuesdays, Thursdays and Sundays. Readers may write to Harris at the Times Valley Edition, 20000 Prairie St., Chatsworth, Calif. 91311. Please include a phone number. Address TimesLink or Prodigy e-mail to YQTU59A ( via the Internet: YQTU59A@prodigy.com).