Persian book festival coming to Irvine

When Bahareh Hedayat wanted to find immersion classes in Persian language and culture for her young children, she couldn’t find any close to home.

So the Irvine resident created her own language immersion and cultural center.

The non-profit, Bahar Kids, now is gearing to host its second annual Persian Children’s Book Festival on Feb. 24.

  • Children reading “I spy with my little eyes” — in Persian — during a language immersion class at Bahar Kids in Irvine. (Courtesy of Bahar Kids)

  • Persian authors were on hand to sign their own books last year during a Persian Children’s Book Festival. Many will return again this year for the second annual event, scheduled for Feb. 24 at UC Irvine. (Courtesy of Ebrahim Safi)

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  • Kasra Zareh, 4, wears a traditional Persian outfit at last year’s first annual Persian Children’s Book Festival. Another book festival is scheduled for Feb. 24. It is hosted by Bahar Kids, an Irvine-based cultural and educational center, in collaboration with the UC Irvine Jordan Studies for Persian Studies and Culture Center. (Courtesy of Ebrahim Safi)

  • Children perform Persian songs during a Persian Children’s Book Festival last year. Bahar Kids, a Persian cultural and language immersion program, will host its second annual book festival Feb. 24 at UC Irvine. (Courtesy of Ebrahim Safi)

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“It’s really important to keep the connection between our culture, heritage and language for our children,” said Hedayat, who founded the center in 2015.

The free book festival will feature Persian authors and illustrators and include children’s performances, art and other activities.  It is scheduled from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Feb. 24 at  UC Irvine, in collaboration with the Samuel Jordan Center for Persian Studies and Culture.

Bahar, which means spring in the Persian language, offers classes for parents with youngsters as little as 6 months old to language and dance classes for children 3 and older.

Bahar Kids, which also participates in a weekly Persian storytime at an Irvine library, focuses on offering an immersive experience through storytelling, theater, music, reading, writing and other activities, Hedayat said.

There are more than 128,000 Iranians in Los Angeles, Orange County, Riverside and San Bernardino counties, according to the latest U.S. Census figures. The largest number is in L.A. County, where Beverly Hills has the highest concentration; almost one-quarter of that small city’s population has Iranian ancestry. Other Southern California cities with relatively high shares of Iranian-Americans include Irvine and Calabasas.

Several schools in Southern California offer language classes for school-age children, including the Ferdowsi Farsi School in Newport Beach, where founder Mandana Pourmand says teachers not only focus on the language but also the culture.

Meanwhile, the Khayam Persian School Foundation has been teaching young Iranian-Americans since 1982. Dara Ghahremani said his mother started the foundation as a way of keeping the youngest in the community connected to their cultural heritage through language classes.

“There’s a need for this kind of education. It may not always happen in the household,” said Ghahremani, a UCLA associate research professor of psychiatry.  And even when parents speak their native language at home, children often switch back to English as they grow older. “Invariably, parents then switch to English,” he said.

Hedayat, an electrical engineer, said she didn’t want her own children and others to wait until they’re older to become immersed in the language and culture of their heritage.

Once that sense of culture – and pride in one’s culture – is “deep inside you,” she said, it never goes away.

SCNG staff writer Ian Wheeler contributed to this report.

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