Hard questions

Questioning our own belief system is a positive way of evaluating ourselves.  We need to do that.
Why our Iranian culture is in need of a “community” center?

We keep saying it.  However we are not sure what a real community center is about, as much as we have not learned about having a communal life.  It is not our fault, that is for sure.
How do we deal with our family problems and our individual inferiority?
What is our view on cultural barriers in dealing with the hard topics in life?
How are we doing as a group of people who are in constant move?

Today, an estimated 4 million people from Iran are spread around the world (Farsi net, 1996).
Canada is after the united state the home for second-largest Iranian immigrant community in the world (Cooper, S. 2006).  Statistic Canada estimates a number of 88,220 people with Iranian heritage living in Canada including a number of 21,910 for British Columbia (Census 2001).

Considering the statistic being five years old and knowing that there is an increasing number of Iranian still moving to B.C, we have an estimated number of 40,000 people with Iranian origin residing in Greater Vancouver.  A recent statistic must show even greater number for 2006, as Iranian is the biggest number of new immigrants landing in British Columbia.

We constantly have new families in need of resources and settlement. Where do these new immigrants go?  Mostly they are being send to Multicultural society on North Shore and some few other organizations who do settlement work around the Greater Vancouver.  However, the services are being provided are not even close to the real need of this growing community. Funders and service providers have to be willing to evaluate what is being offered and who is doing what, because there are many talk about lack of support in form of  lack of competence of some individuals as front line workers.  Many new families face the frustration when they find services in level of helping with resume and some phone calls.

Counselling by professionals with proper education is absolutely a needed service for Iranian women and men who are coming to Canada after they have left Iran with all the issues around immigration.
Service providers on the North Shore are either not really sensitive to the problems or not understanding the gravity of this subject; being new immigrant.  It is this writer’s experience and knowledge that there is misconception caused by our community about what are our needs. We ignore the anxiety and pain of losing the resources back home while struggling to make a new life here.
Leaving Iran to reside anywhere else for a better life is a common shared reason for choosing to come to Canada and other western countries.  Families and individuals search for success and happiness that was not found in the place of origin.  Iranians are losing hope for a secular change in their home country.
There are numerous studies about how tragedies caused by terrorism, hurricane, and extra ordinary events threaten the underlying assumption of a safe and meaningful world (Doka, K .J . 2003).  But what do we know about the level of trauma in each one of us due to the circumstances that are beyond conceptualization for all of us.  Where is that discussion about what our needs to heal are and how we even want to find a healing? 

We as a community are traumatized.  On individual basis, tragedies come to the light when we are away from the source of trauma; our home country.  It is hard to make a general theory about how Iranians in general would define and share experiences of suffering.  This writer challenge all professional in the field of research to challenge their believes about why Iranian are here and how they make their lives in silent and in pain.
Iranians leave Iran because there is not much hope left that a peaceful life would be possible. Families are tired of all the promises and talks.  People depart from Iran and come to Canada because the Canadian Government encourages immigration.  This part is positive, however, people mostly do not have any concrete idea what immigration is about and how to deal with the loss and the challenges of becoming what they become when they arrive here.

The decision to leave Iran is equal to leave behind or “fleeing” from the trauma inflicted by the system on individuals and families, the loss of a meaningful life and general anxiety also caused by the system in Iran.  What little we know that what we flee from will not leave us until and unless we deal with it in a proper way.  It is a shame that families and individuals all have to go through immigration just because the socio-cultural and political life in Iran does not provide any safety and security.   People should be able to live in their own environment safe and sound.  Although immigration to Canada cost a fortune and families mange to handle this flow of cash to the Canadian Government, still, the reason for leaving Iran is under question and inflicting pain on many families.

As there is not real discussion about immigration and no forum to talk about the reasons behind such mass immigration, many families are left out to deal with their own issues as they had to do the same back home.  Here, we have managed to think about the need for a “community”, yet we have no idea what this “community building” means as we do not have proper education and experience of being a group.  We have always been forced to take care of our own issues and “mind our own business” because every system governing life in Iran has discouraged group work and labeled people as this and that.
Becoming an immigrant means losing jobs, losing homes, falling apart as individuals and groups. Upward and downward mobility are both sides of the same coins.  Meaning some people are able to access services, utilize opportunities, and finding success, while some other people go down and never find their “dreamed job” again.

Many women coming here testify not having the pressure of the hard life back in Iran what concerns the personal choices and personal life, however, here these women have hard time to let go of the internalized oppression to find their “real self.” it is also to be addressed that the type of life here in Canada is very different from the life in Europe for many Iranian.  Why, mainly because, back in 1980 and 90’s many Iranian fled to Europe and also North America and settled down as “refugees”, however, here in Canada, mostly families come with landed paper in hand and they can travel back and forth between Iran and Canada. For the first group as refugees, the idea of one day going back to Iran was just a dream in those two black decades after the Iranian Diaspora.  Now, with the prevalence of technology and the impact of Internet on our way of learning, communications are much easier and that feeling of nostalgia for many families and individuals can be helped by “being on line.”
People have more choices, many Iranian residing in Canada and also elsewhere in the world, are constantly visiting their home land and the transfer of services and knowledge has made a huge impact on the quality of life as new immigrants here in Canada.  However, these factors are all not even some of the multifaceted factors why life as new immigrant has its own challenges on some individuals compare to some other people.
There was a very interesting article in Vancouver Sun last year: (just remembering) that it was talking about 51 percent of Iranian starting their own business here in Canada and B.C.
All the success stories have to be shared with others who are new comers and find it hard to know where to go and how to start even looking for jobs.

Iranian shares a common characteristic; everyone likes to find a safe place to live, to find good education for their children and to fulfill their dreams.  Immigration becomes the new challenge that families and especially many women have to deal with in order to fit in.  Although many families have proper financial resources, however, many families are isolated and find it hard to integrate.  There is a second generation Canadian-Iranians who are being in-between the two cultures.

Being a new comer in this country and province, arriving with all those dreams, hopes and desires to “find a better life” and facing the real life here is definitely causing problems for many families who are not able to adjust to the challenges.  Many families are dealing with anxiety, depression, and adjustment issues which are more and less a result of the new life struggles and challenges.  Having mental health problem is extremely stigmatized and having problems in general creates other form of shame, guilt and blame.
Considering many new situations families find themselves in, divorce, death of loved ones, losing financial resources, not finding “the ideal job” added with anger, resentment, and fear, all forms a circle of negativity and hopelessness.  However, as it is mentioned before, other side of this coin is a life in freedom which every one appreciate, at least we are not forced to live our lives in certain way due to this or that religion and world view.

Conflicts, tragedies and trauma inflicted by the Iranian government on families, are being passed down and carried with to the new communities these families move to.  It is writer’s experience that Iranian women who are fleeing abusive husbands or living in violence have a hard time to access services or know about the services out there.  Many families, specially women and children suffer multiple pains due to loss and separation.  These women, men, children and families are in huge need of a healthy discussion, education, and services to learn how to make the cultural integration without losing one or another.  We do not have to deal with the burden of immigration, separation and confusion individually.
There are opportunities here to get together and learn from those who are in charge and those who have experiences.  Many programs do not find funding or even support by Iranian because we are hesitant to get into groups, to learn from others and to let go of our egos.  Iranian community, if there is such thing, would afford creating own community center, in order to offer culturally sensitive services, to educated our fellow men and women, and also to take care of our youth who are in danger of not finding their own identify.

Those of us who have lived in the western culture longer, we know that seeking Counselling is much easier in western cultures compare to our culture.  Asking for Counselling does not come naturally to us.   Many men call their women as “crazy” and threaten them to be in need of “Counselling” or seeing a “mental doctor” s soon as women are complaining.  This way of approaching Counselling means; pathalogizing family problems and avoiding dealing with issues. In schools, Iranian youth who are being send to the Counsellor office, have no idea how much help they could receive.  School counselor need to be educated about the stigma and pain attached to the Iranian way of looking at Counselling.

Families make it harder by fighting school many times and avoiding the real problems.  There are many Iranian youth who are doing extremely well, and many who are challenged by the cultural and language barriers.  What do we do then when we grief, we go to see a doctor, we ask for medicine, or in best situations we see a psychologist. How do we handle our family problems? Well, we blame each others to death; we put a mask on our faces and try to avoid the real conversation.  We blame our past, we blame this and that authority figure hundred years ago or yesterday, but we avoid looking inside our own minds, our own way of thinking and acting.  We have to find the cure within ourselves, within our culture of guilt and blame, culture of hiding conflicts until it shows from somewhere else.

What is the solution?  We need to talk; we need to talk about how much we need to talk.  We need to discuss family problems, youth issues, and elder anxiety in our community.  We need to talk about the strength and weaknesses of being a new comer, to help each other to succeed and to help our children to grow to a whole person.
Our Iranian culture is used to solve such problems within their “own group”, in silence!  There is a huge stigma attached to have “problems” or “disagreement” in our new born “community.” What do we know about “building community” more than having some people try to create an “Iran house.”  what would this place do for us?  How are we going to be to the service of our people with a multifaceted problems and conflict?

Let’s admit that we “Iranian” are not used to the concept of “group work” or even close to the idea of “cooperation.” such thing has never been encouraged by any government or any system in Iran.  We have learned that we are lonely species, have to live in our groups and classes, can not involve in politic because we face executions and jail, and we have to “mind our own business.”
In the dialog about Iranian women, we might want to remember that mental health is associated with healthy family life, provision for children and interpersonal relationship.  Education is the key for Iranian family; main reason for almost every single Iranian family coming to Canada. Culturally, mental illness is being considered to be a deficiency which has to be kept secret and concealed.  Sexual education for children is a hard topic for many new comers specifically and even for them who have lived here forever.

Women tend to adhere to the social norms of their culture in various ways.
Belief in faith and destiny will sometimes keep many women to seek help outside their social network.  Due to huge impact of tale-communication services, women are more aware of the basic need for community building.  Distrust to authorities and distrust to human kind seeded by the system of coercion back home, has for a long time created a sense of not-trusting anyone. Navigating through the Canadian mental health services is not easy for many families, when they are new and immigration itself has created many walls around them.  Suffering happens when many women due to language barriers, internalized guilt and shame for disclosing the problem outside home, stay silent.  We have a culture of silence thinking about the patriarchal hierarchy many women may live in, meaning living with men constructed roles. We have learned to obey rules that are male oriented.

Women have to participate to create those rules; otherwise, those rules would become enemy to democracy and friend to oppression.

The social construct of mental illness for Iranian women has same pattern as other women everywhere else.  Stressed women who want to pursue divorce, or higher education or leave the traditional role as wife and mother, will many times face the psychopathology and diagnosis of various kind.

Many times we have no idea where to take our problems.  We know where to go when our cars are broken, or when our roof is leaking, but we do not know where to go when we have the anxiety, pain, stress, pressure, feeling of guild, fear, and many other scary things that are bothering us to death.
I have met many Iranian women here in Vancouver who have gone to this and that person who were calling themselves as a counselor , but the result of that meeting was devastating.  We can not pretend being a counselor or a therapist when we just have a position of helping with information out there.  Please be genuine, help people find ways and do not give advice!
I am talking to those, a number of people in the Iranian community who call themselves “Iranian Counsellor” or pretend to be a “therapist” without having proper education.

It is time to talk about what Counselling and therapy is about. It is time to learn having ownership of our needs, in form of creating a community, if we believe we are a community.  We can not own this community if we are not contributing to its growth, we need to talk about our problems and our needs. We may need to create that forum for us.
Seeing a Counsellor or therapist is not the first or even the last idea that cross our Iranian minds when we are dealing with family problem, divorce, relationship abuse or even parenting problems.  In any case, we have to define our strength and weaknesses in dealing with our problems by using our strength and strengthening what is weak.
We have many professionals out there, who are not visible, let’s invite them to come on-board and help.   Let’s challenge everyone to show up and give their platforms of how to build a healthy, open, and collaborative community.

Whoever you are and what you do; please be real and help your community to learn, to grow, and to be part of the rest of bigger Canadian community or the global community.

Poran Poregbal, MA, RSW, RCC


Census, (2001). Statistic Canada. Topic based tabulation. Ethno cultural portrait of Canada, table; 97F0010XCB2001001.
Cooper, S. (2006).

Middle East meets north. In North Shore Outlook. December 7. Doka, K.J. (2003). What makes a public tragedy? In Marcia Lattanzi-light & Kenneth J.Doka (Eds.), Living with Grief: Coping with public Tragedy (pp.3-14). Hospice Foundations of America.
Farsi net, 1996. http://www.farsinet.com/pwo/diaspora.html

Note: This article was published by Goonagoon, a biweekly Persian newspaper in Vancouver. April 27, 07 paper, Page 56.

April 23,2007

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