Daily Bulletin - April 12, 2005

Dreams of better life draw immigrant to U.S.

Vania Parvasi, 38, plays an accordion in his home. (Therese Tran/Staff Photographer)

by Brenda Gazzar, Staff Writer

Vania Parvasi’s life changed suddenly when he won a green-card lottery and left his native Iran for the United States. For this Inland Valley immigrant, circumstance and luck have played at least some role in his journey to the U.S. Fortune first smiled on Parvasi when his father encouraged him to learn a new art. He decided to take classes from a master carpet weaver in Iran. It was his skill in that trade, along with several other artistic talents, that later would convince U.S. embassy officials that he could find work in the United States.

His second stroke of luck came when his father used his political connections to get him to get out of Iranian military service. Deaths in the military were all too common; one of Parvasi’s best friends in Tehran was killed on the front lines of the Iraq-Iran war while rushing to help an injured comrade. But the 38-year-old’s most significant break came in when he won a green-card drawing he hadn’t even entered. Unbeknownst to Parvasi, one of his weaving students submitted his teacher’s name for the drawing along with his own.

Parvasi’s student was not selected in the United States lottery, which offers 55,000 green cards each year to potential immigrants around the world who would not otherwise qualify for one of the roughly 1 million employment or family visas granted each year. "I never heard about the lottery," Parvasi said from his rug and art gallery on West Bonita Avenue in Claremont. "I said, ‘Why did they choose me?’ In Iran at that time, everyone was thinking about leaving the country, but it was so tough to leave."

Parvasi working at his Gallery in Claremont. (Marc Campos/Staff Photographer)

Parvasi was only 13 when the Islamic Revolution turned the country upside down. As a teenager, his arms were spray-painted by the “religion police" for wearing short sleeves. He was arrested a few times, and his accordion was confiscated after he played music with friends at home. He also was detained while walking in the streets with his girlfriend, whom he unsuccessfully tried to pass off as his sister.

"I was so angry about why I cannot be free in my own country," he said. In 1991, thanks to that green card, Parvasi was able to come to he United States with $1,800, three suitcases filled with his most important possessions and no English skills. He found a job at a rug repair shop on La Cienega Boulevard in Los Angeles and worked for two straight months with no pay.

He was so discouraged that he considered returning to Iran. Then he met a Persian man and his American wife. The couple welcomed Parvasi, a stranger, into their home and helped him get a driver’s license, a Social Security card and a new job. Soon afterward, he opened his own rug repair shop. He later began importing and exporting rugs and today not only does he own his own art and carpet gallery in Claremont, but he is also opening an ethnic restaurant in Pasadena.

It was only after Parvasi had spent some time in the United States that he realized how difficult it was for his countrymen to come legally. He heard stories from people who paid to be smuggled out of Iran through Turkey, then crossed into the U.S. illegally over the Canadian or Mexican borders. "When I came here, I understood how lucky I was," said Parvasi, who earned his citizenship seven years ago.

Teaching judo at Goltz Judo Club in Claremont. (Marc Campos/Staff Photographer)

Parvasi, who also is an acrylic and watercolor painter and 3rd degree black belt in judo, is trying to bring his mother, two brothers and two sisters to the United States. He applied more than five years ago to bring over one sister, but has not heard back on the application. He knows it will take much longer to bring his brothers in the post-Sept. 11 era as they are men from a troubled country.

"Life is much easier here," Parvasi said. "The government gives you a lot of opportunity. Anything you want to do in a good way, you can do."

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Parvasi being congratulated at his new restaurant by his Sensei Gary Goltz.  (Marc Campos/Staff Photographer)

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