As we celebrate America’s independence in July, let us highlight the significant contributions of immigrants who have woven the fabric of the United States since its founding. They have played a vital role in building our country, working in all sectors of the economy from agriculture to technology.
Iranian Americans serve as a powerful testament to the positive impact that immigrants can have on our country. The Iranian diaspora in the United States is a vibrant and successful community, estimated to be around 1 million individuals. To Americans, they serve as a window into Iran, while for Iranians residing in the country, they represent successful examples of their compatriots in the United States.
From Silicon Valley to UCLA, Stanford University and Princeton University, Iranian Americans contribute to the economy of our country by leading major technology firms, holding positions in prestigious universities and owning small businesses.
Successful Iranian American businessmen in Utah have made remarkable contributions to our state. Khosrow Semnani founded the Maliheh Free Clinic, which provides high-quality, same-day urgent medical care to those in the greatest need. Hamid Adib supports hundreds of children through the Heal Child Skin Disease Foundation. And Mehdi Heravi, an alumnus of Utah State University, made generous donations to establish the Heravi Peace Institute at the university.
These individuals are a part of the national picture of successful Iranian Americans who have enriched our country and contributed to the positive perception of Iranian Americans in the United States.
A 2008 report by the Small Business Administration found that Iranian Americans had a business ownership rate of 21.5%, significantly higher than the national average of 18.3%. The report also revealed that Iranian Americans earned a total of $2.56 billion in net business income.
It is likely that these numbers are even higher today, as the Iranian American population has grown significantly since 2008.
Although the entrepreneurial spirit has always existed among Iranians, their ascent to the corporate ranks is a phenomenon that occurred after the 1979 revolution.
Dara Khosrowshahi’s appointment as Uber’s CEO put Iranians and Iranian Americans in the spotlight. His story of fleeing the Iranian Revolution at the age of 9 with his family helped to bring his story to the forefront. His brother, Kaveh Khosrowshahi, manages Allen & Co. as a managing director. His cousin, Amir Khosrowshahi, co-founded the AI company Nervana, which Intel acquired for over $400 million in 2016. Dara is also related to Hadi and Ali Partovi, twin founders and technology investors.
Other prominent Iranian American corporate leaders have brought attention, such as Hamid Moghadam, who is the co-founder, chairman, and CEO of Prologis, along with eBay founder Pierre Omidyar and former Google Chief Business Officer Omid Kordestani.
These individuals have a combined net worth of over $11 billion.
In addition to their success in corporate leadership, Iranians have also made significant contributions to the fields of space exploration, literature, art and film. Anousheh Ansari, an Iranian American engineer and co-founder and chairwoman of Prodea Systems, was the first female space tourist. Jasmin Moghbeli is a NASA astronaut candidate and a member of the U.S. Marine Corps. The late Firouz Naderi was a NASA scientist who played a key role in the Voyager and Mars Pathfinder missions.
In literature and art, Reza Aslan is an acclaimed author, with a New York Times bestselling book. Shirin Neshat is an Iranian artist whose work has been exhibited in major museums around the world. And Nazanin Boniadi is an actress and producer who has starred in films and television shows such as “Homeland” and “The Leftovers.”
Charity and philanthropy are significant components of successful enterprises and corporations in the United States.
Prominent Iranians such as Hamid and Christina Moghadam, Sharmin and Bijan Mossavar-Rahmani, the Farzaneh family and Fariborz Maseeh have made generous endowments to prestigious universities such as Princeton, Stanford and the Universities of Oklahoma and California at Irvine. These endowments have provided thousands of American students with opportunities to study Iranian history and culture.
In addition to their economic impact, Iranian Americans have made significant strides in civic engagement in recent years. Rep. Stephanie Bice, R-Okla., became the first Iranian American elected to Congress, and Amir Farokhi and Liliana Bakhtiari became the first two Iranian Americans to serve on the Atlanta City Council.
The Iranian regime’s human rights violations, suppression of dissent and protests have a significant impact on the politics of the Iranian American community. Some members of the community prefer to engage through humanitarian assistance and avoid political involvement while others want the United States government to delegitimize the Iranian regime and assist in establishing democracy within the nation. Others promote civic engagement and “build(ing) an influential voice for the Iranian American community.”
Iranian Americans have learned to overcome challenges by blending the finest aspects of their culture and heritage with the best of American values inherent in American citizenship. Despite their disagreements, they are united in their love for their homeland and their desire to see it liberated from dictatorship and oppression. Their diverse views are an asset that enhances their influence in America, reflecting the multifaceted nature of their community.
As an Iranian American scholar put it, “We become better Iranians by becoming Americans. America gives us that.”
Bahman Baktiari is the executive director of the Baskerville Institute in Salt Lake City.