Aava Khajavi, PAAIA’s 2016 recepient of the Akhbar Ghahary Capitol Hill Internship Program (CHIP), graduated from American University this May with a B.A. in Psychology. She is passionate about educational equity and alleviating the social stigma tied to mental health issues. Growing up in Los Angeles, a city with an enormous Iranian American population, Khajavi witnessed first-hand how little Iranian Americans’ interests are represented in the political arena. This reality is what inspired her to pursue a career in politics and encourage her community to have a larger voice in government.
June 20, 2016,Washington, D.C. — This past spring semester, I had the privilege of working in Congressman Michael Honda’s (D-CA17) office on Capitol Hill. PAAIA connected me with Congressman Honda’s office and supported me throughout my time there as a legislative intern. Without PAAIA’s guidance and the Akbar Ghahary Capitol Hill Internship Program (CHIP), I would not have been able to fully appreciate and explore my interests in public policy while attending university full-time. My experience working in Congressman Honda’s office was especially meaningful given that my family and I are his constituents in California’s 17th district.
My main interests before this internship were educational equity and human rights. However, Rep. Honda and his staff focus on a myriad of policy issues while prioritizing issues such as technology, campaign finance reform, and LGBTQ rights. Although I had limited background knowledge on many of the policy areas I was asked to work on, my coworkers and staff from other offices were quick to share their expertise and help me learn more about them. I am now proud to say that I am well equipped with knowledge on many topics. The support I received from staff, whether or not they worked in our office, is a great representation of how crucial it is for all members of society to get involved and work together. Without the support and involvement of all constituents in the policy-making process, our growth towards a more inclusive, just, and free society will be hindered. This was evident through the day-to-day activities in Congress. The more effectively and readily constituents voice their opinions, the better our representatives are able to fight for us. This is why it is essential for minorities, such as Iranian Americans, to become involved in the current political arena as the United States is further exploring and broadening our relations with Iran.
From drafting constituent letters to attending congressional hearings, I learned the ins and outs of policy-making. Not only did I witness first-hand the complex process by which a piece of legislation becomes a part of our policies, I also helped research and write memorandums for the legislative staff. The active role I played helped to clarify my understanding of how the Democratic and Republican parties work together to make policies. The most important lesson I learned as an intern for a member of Congress is how our representatives take into account and balance different ideas, perspectives, and concerns when drafting and voting on legislation. The diversity in opinions and perspectives only made me more proud to be an Iranian American working on Capitol Hill.
In this role, I also had the honor of working with PAAIA to create a Nowruz reception for members of Congress and their staff. Creating a space for people with similar interests and goals to get together and learn more about the Iranian culture and Iranian Americans was the highlight of my internship. PAAIA also provided opportunities for me to personally learn more about and meet with Iranian Americans working on Capitol Hill. These experiences have deepened my pride in being an Iranian American while solidifying my belief that we do have a voice in today’s politics.