Among the 135 or so candidates vying for the job of Governor of California in that state’s special recall election on October 7, at least five are immigrants. Today on New American Voices, one of them, Iranian-American Badi Badiozamani, talks about his experiences as an immigrant and how they shaped his plans to run for Governor.
Badi Badiozamani believes that being an immigrant to the United States is, in a way, an advantage in running for public office. He says it gives him an added insight.
“My appreciation for freedom and opportunity is great. American-born citizens who have lived here for generations, they kind of take it for granted. But someone like me appreciates more and cherishes the freedoms. And in order to preserve these freedoms, we have to be involved and we have to serve.”
Mr. Badiozamani adds that a recurrent theme in his life as an immigrant has been the need to get involved in public life and to serve the community.
“Immigrants can bring a huge amount of intellect, intelligence, and many other things to this country, and that is basically why this country is so great, because it is a country of immigrants. Ninety-five percent of immigrants have come to this country to have a better life, more freedom, more opportunities, but we have to be involved and contribute, otherwise we can’t keep this country as great as it is.”
Mr. Badiozamani immigrated to the United States with his wife and two small daughters in 1981. Although he had a master’s degree in Public Administration from an American university, and had worked for some years as a management analyst in Iran’s oil industry, he had difficulty at first finding a job.
“After about a year and a half an acquaintance came to me and said, ‘Look, what are you doing, you have a family to support. Why don’t you start driving my cab?’ I said, ‘What are you talking about?!’ That’s the mentality, you see. ‘Me? Master’s degree, management analyst, son of a professor, driving a cab?’ And he said, ‘Look, this country is different, you have to work, and nobody cares about your position as long as you’re a good human being.’”
Mr. Badiozamani took the job, but for years he drove his taxi always dressed in a suit and tie – to remind himself, he says, that this was only a job, and not a career, and that he was aiming at something higher. In his free time Mr. Badiozamani began translating books from English into Farsi. Eventually this turned into a full-fledged translation–interpreting service, which Mr. Badiozamani still heads. He also founded and continues to run an insurance company. With this background, Mr. Badiozamani feels that he is a man of the people, and that, as such, the voters of California will relate to him.
“I was at the mariachi festival in San Diego and I was welcomed by my Hispanic friends, and others, and they were very excited about me running, because they see someone like them, some ordinary person running. And this is another part of the beauty of democracy in the United States. Anybody can run, anybody can offer his services.”
His involvement in public service began as an involvement in the community life of Iranian-Americans in California. He started a one-hour weekly radio program, and became active in organizations working to preserve Iranian culture and language. Mr. Badiozamani was among a group of parents that organized a Saturday Persian school for their children in San Diego, in southern California.
“I remember Saturday mornings taking my kids to school and seeing a hundred, a hundred and twenty children, all of Iranian descent, playing together and singing and dancing. That was a fascinating picture, actually.”
From community affairs Mr. Badiozamani branched out to larger-scale political activity.
“We formed a group and we got into the mainstream, trying to get other immigrants to register to vote and to vote. No matter who they vote for, the point was – and still is - just to vote and be heard.”
Mr. Badiozamani believes that his education and his business experience make him uniquely qualified to help solve California's problems -- especially its financial problems. To get on the ballot as candidate for governor in California’s recall election, he had to collect 65 signatures of registered voters and pay a fee of 3,500 dollars, plus another 2,500 dollars for actually placing his name in the voting booklet. Mr. Badiozamani says that his immigrant background is not an issue in the campaign, that people don’t generally think of him as an immigrant, or pay attention to his accent, but rather listen to what he has to say on the issues, and to what programs he’s proposing. Having come this far in his life in America, Badi Badiozamani has some advice for other immigrants coming to this country.
“First of all, learn English, no matter what. Send your children to school and let them be immersed in English. At the same time, talk your mother tongue at home with them, so they grow up at least bilingual. Secondly, don’t ever think of your self as a second-class citizen. Because you are not. In the United States you get respect, you progress, when you believe in yourself, and when you provide a good service, whether it’s in public service, or the commercial section. Try to be the best you can be, and you’ll succeed.”
Badio Badiozamani’s campaign slogan is “A Governor From the People For the People”.
English Feature #7-37883 Broadcast September 29, 2003