PAAIA proudly congratulates Board Member Pouria Abbassi on being selected to receive an Ellis Island Medal of Honor!
The Ellis Island Medal of Honor, first awarded by the Ellis Island Honor Society in 1986, was established to recognize individuals who have committed themselves to bettering their community professionally, culturally, or civically. Pouria Abbassi is the Executive Director of Associated Students of UCLA, a non-profit organization that provides retail and student union services to the University of California. He is being awarded the medal of honor in recognition of his contributions towards the betterment of all the communities he has served, including the Iranian American community, throughout his distinguished career.
“It is truly a blessing to join my fellow honorees in representing our community on a stage that particularly speaks to the value of immigrant communities.” said Pouria Abbassi.
We spoke with Pouria Abbassi about the work he has done for the Los Angeles community and what it means to be an Ellis Island Medal of Honor recipient:
PAAIA: First, congratulations on receiving this prestigious award! What has made you so passionate about serving the Los Angeles community?
Pouria Abbassi: Many immigrant communities have their largest diaspora in Los Angeles. For instance, it is truly remarkable that for quite a long time, the City of Los Angeles was the largest employer of those of Iranian heritage outside of Iran. That can only happen in a place where the promise of a brighter future is constantly augmented and reinforced with tolerance and respect for diversity.
Los Angeles has endeared herself to all of us, as we have been able to make it our home and become Angelinos from the instant we arrive. Where else, regardless of one’s abilities, can a 33-year-old immigrant become the chief executive of one of the most prominent convention centers in the world just two years after becoming a U.S. citizen in that very same convention center?
In my view, it is the responsibility of all of us who have been fortunate to derive our success from this city’s consciousness to be aware and mindful of all communities that have embraced us. We need to do our part to make Los Angeles an even more inviting environment for those who are yearning to call this place home, just as I did. It has been my honor to continue serving this city in any capacity that I have had. I truly believe there is no place on the globe like Los Angeles.
PAAIA: Many Iranian Americans have been recognized in the past as recipients of the Ellis Island Medal of Honor. How does it feel to be included in this esteemed group?
Pouria Abbassi: It is truly a blessing to join my fellow honorees in representing our community on a stage that particularly speaks to the value of immigrant communities.
Those of us blessed with this recognition understand that ultimately, the Medal of Honor is much more than an appreciation of individual accomplishments. To me, the award serves as a reminder of the collective contributions of Iranian Americans in elevating the concept and the truth of what immigration brings to America and how it has continued to advance our nation.
PAAIA: Can you tell us about a couple of the Iranian American related community projects you have worked on over the years that you have felt especially proud of?
Pouria: Being part of the group that brought official recognition and celebration of Norooz to the City of Los Angeles was a defining moment in my life. It made me so proud to be of Iranian descent, and it reinforced the benevolent core of our heritage in building bridges and conveying messages of love, hope and friendship.
Additionally, working on bringing and installing the magnificent Freedom Sculpture in Los Angeles through the tireless efforts of Farhang Foundation and on behalf of the Iranian American community, and then helping to put together one of the most unprecedented events in Los Angeles – hosting over 70,000 people for a public unveiling of the art piece – was the experience of a lifetime.
Outside of these projects, what keeps me energized is participating in the great work of PAAIA, collaborating with so many committed individuals to raise the positive profile of our community nationwide.
PAAIA: Do you have any advice for young people who want to make an impact in their communities?
Pouria: Always be mindful that we stand on the shoulders of so many that came before us, who withstood much more adversity than we can even imagine and persevered so that we can have a better experience.
We find our meaning and value when we allow and encourage others to stand on our shoulders to further their pursuit of the American Dream. On this journey, we should also be cognizant of who we are and the unbelievable wealth of positive human experience and contributions that our heritage equips us with. The best way to elevate our community is to elevate all communities.