Wearing a dark blue traditional Iranian garment, Roxanna Ameri followed the rhythm of the music as she marched with others outfitted in festive shades of red, green and purple.
Ameri, 18, was among hundreds of Iranians who flocked to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art last weekend for the sixth annual Iranian New Year celebration, hosted by the Farhang Foundation, a nonprofit that celebrates Iranian art and culture in Southern California.
March 20 commemorates both the first day of spring and the Iranian holiday Nowruz, which translates to “new day.” The holiday, which ends Sunday in the U.S. and on Tuesday in Iran, is a time for Iranians across the globe to gather with family and friends to celebrate spring and the rebirth of nature.
In Southern California, the holiday gives the Iranian community, one of the largest outside of Iran, an opportunity to celebrate together. The LACMA event included performances by traditional Iranian dancers as well as live music.
“I feel that there is a great sense of unity that comes with this holiday,” said Ameri, a Stanford University freshman. “It is not affiliated with any religion or any one race. Instead, the ancient tradition is rooted in a set of universal ideas such as purity, health and cleansing.”
Former Beverly Hills Mayor Jimmy Delshad echoed similar sentiments of camaraderie.
“To me, the holiday is very crucial because it has no religious overtones,” he said. “I see it as a connecting point. Whether you are Jewish, Baha’i, Muslim or Christian … you celebrate. It’s a common theme for all of us. We let go of any other identities because on that day we are all only Persian.”
Delshad, who emigrated from Iran, said such celebrations allow Iranians in the local community to stay connected to their homeland.
“Living so far away doesn’t mean we are also far away from our heritage and culture,” he said. “It is really even more important to celebrate here than when you are in Iran.”
For Delshad, there is an added incentive for ringing in the New Year.
“I had the honor of being born on the New Year so sometimes I joke around all the Persians are celebrating my birthday,” he said.
Bita Milanian, executive director of the Farhang Foundation, said the beauty of Nowruz is its “unifying and peaceful message.”
“With all the politics going on in the world, [Nowruz] is one common way for everyone to unite and celebrate,” she said.
In Westwood, the heart of “Tehrangeles,” a large Iranian flag was draped outside of Damoka, a rug shop on Westwood Boulevard, where thousands gathered to kick off the New Year on March 23 with dancing, music and, of course, Iranian cuisine.
Signs on storefronts read “Nowruz Pirooz,” which means “Wishing you a prosperous New Year.” A “Haft Seen Sofreh” table — which includes seven items starting with the letter S that symbolically correspond to seven divine creations —also was set up on the street for attendees to pose with and admire.
“Over half of all Iranian immigrants live in the state of California, a number greater than the Iranian populations in the next 20 states combined,” Assemblyman Adrin Nazarian (D-Sherman Oaks) said on the floor of the state Legislature last week in Sacramento.
Nazarian also highlighted the contributions the Iranian American community has made in California in the past 40 years.
“Whether it be their creation of innovative technology start-ups in Silicon Valley like EBay … or transforming downtown Los Angeles’ garment district into a multibillion-dollar industry, the contributions of the Iranian American community for California are a large part of what makes our state the envy of other states and other countries,” he said.
Many feel Nowruz has become a way in which non-Iranians can learn more about the culture, especially because all events are open to the public for free.
“It’s a wonderful, positive way to introduce our culture to the community at large and [for them to] come get acquainted with us through the music and the art,” Milanian said.