Flag raising celebrations open dialogue with Santa Clara, San Jose officials

The Assyrian Journal | April 2018 | Photos Contributed | By Joe Snell

Santa Clara County, CAEver since Rochelle Yousefian became President of the Assyrian American Association of San Jose in 2014, she made it a priority to grow the organization’s relations with city and county officials.

Her efforts culminated in 2015 with the city and county’s first flag raising ceremony in over two decades. Three years later, the ceremony has added elements including a board resolution, art exhibits, and plans for further expansion. The event, Yousefian says, is a way to deepen the Assyrian community’s ties with public officials and promote policy change.

“We’ve established great recognition for the Assyrian community and the Assyrian New Year,” Yousefian said. “It brings more awareness to non-Assyrians about who the Assyrians are and their life struggles. All of these things have given us the opportunity to build a relationship with officials.”

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This year’s two events, one for the city of San Jose and another for Santa Clara County, were collaborative efforts between the Assyrian Church of the East (ACOE) Mar Yosip Parish of San Jose, the Assyrian American Association of San Jose, and city and county officials.

Santa Clara County’s celebration took place on March 25 and was sponsored by county Supervisor Dave Cortese. The afternoon included a special lecture by Dr. Ninwe Maraha, editor-in-chief of Nineveh Magazine.

“A set of Assyrian traditions continues to march forward, especially here in America, even though Assyrians have been persecuted time and time again,” Supervisor Cortese said.

San Jose’s event was held on March 21 and sponsored by city council member Johnny Khamis. Guests were invited to Zoorna Dawoola, Assyrian dance, and an art exhibit.

Government representatives attended both celebrations.

A board resolution, or proclamation, accompanied each opening ceremony. Board resolutions are official government acts voted on by the city and county that get recorded on the government website for public access. The resolution also goes into the historical government archives.

Although the resolution has been part of Santa Clara County’s celebration since 2015, this is the first year that it has been awarded by the city of San Jose.

“One hundred years from now, if there are no Assyrians living on the surface of the earth, in the city records and in the county records it is noted that the Assyrians celebrated their Assyrian New Year by raising their flag in the county of Santa Clara and the city of San Jose,” Yousefian said.

The city and county ceremonies began in 2015 during Yousefian’s first year as President of the San Jose Association. She was approached by the Supervisor’s office in late 2014 about resurrecting an old Assyrian flag raising tradition that took place in the 1980s.

“These ceremonies are important because they raise a pride of nationalism in our people,” she said. “It gives us hope and a feeling of belonging and an appreciation for the city that we live in.”

A number of ethnic communities hold flag raising ceremonies including the Greeks and Vietnamese communities. Flags that are raised typically stay up for two weeks.

Around 100 people attended each event and hundreds more joined online. ANB Satellite also aired the event.

“We see people from the Assyrian-American community representing all walks of life,” Supervisor Cortese said. “We have nurses and doctors and lawyers and working people… we really have a microcosm of our community here which means that the people are contributing economically as well as in the public sector.”

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The event has opened the door for the Association to host additional civic activities. A number of art exhibits and Assyrian dances complimented the ceremonies, including a 30-foot long wall of artwork that connects the East and West Wings of the Santa Clara County government building. The exhibit opened April 15 and will remain up for a month.

Efforts are also underway to coordinate events across California, including hosting similar ceremonies in other cities and installing billboards across state freeways.

The Association has large expansion goals for next year. They are planning to host an Assyrian New Year festival and parade in San Jose, which will be the first ever Assyrian New Year’s parade in the city. For the initiative, the Association will collaborate with Assyrian organizations across the county and will start collecting volunteer applications and begin the permit process next month.

Increased Assyrian awareness in the community has already led to major changes, including Santa Clara County formally recognizing the Assyrian language. The Association has also recently acquired a public property within the city limits to use for the community’s needs.

All of these coordinated efforts, Yousefian says, are possible when the Assyrian community attends these events and shows city and county officials they are serious about representation.

“More people attending these events means we have more power with both the city and county,” Yousefian said. “People bring us power, and by gaining that power, we get more rights and more recognition for our community.”

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Check out the Assyrian American of Association of San Jose Facebook page.

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