A storytelling performance at the 2016 Nowruz Persian New Year celebration at the Sackler Gallery in Washington. The Persian New Year officially began March 20 and is the first subject of the #LiveTogether Facebook challenge. (Stanley Staniski)

A new effort to highlight America’s inclusiveness, rather than its divisions, comes in the form of a Facebook challenge: #LiveTogether.

This month people are posting live on Facebook with an Iranian friend teaching them in Farsi to wish Persians a happy new year.

Each month the challenge will celebrate a different culture. In April, it will be with a Jewish friend for Passover. Then in May, with a Mexican friend for Cinco de Mayo. And in June, with a lesbian, gay or transgender friend for LGBT pride month. Like other viral social media challenges before it, the idea is for each person to tag three friends with the hashtag #LiveTogether in the hope it will spread.

“Live” in this case can be pronounced either way. People are posting “live” videos, but the goal is to show how different cultures “live” harmoniously in the United States.

The challenge is the brainchild of Ali Partovi, an angel investor in Silicon Valley and the founder of Code.org, a nonprofit that teaches computer science to kids, who came to the United States in 1984 when he was 11 years old — as so many Iranians did after the 1979 revolution. After the Trump administration announced its travel ban, which includes people coming from Iran, Partovi said people in his professional and personal network — many whose politics lean conservative, particularly on fiscal issues — were searching for ways to affirm that they did not agree with discrimination based on national heritage.

“I was thinking about my own ethnicity. It’s so unfamiliar to be suddenly targeted in my own country,” Partovi said. “I’ve always loved the ideals of what makes this country great, but the idea of being treated with distrust or as an outsider is something I had never experienced before. I thought it would be a lot harder to demonize a category when you realize everyone has friends in that category.”

The Persian New Year officially began Monday with the first day of spring, a time of celebrations and family gatherings and the promise of new beginnings and optimism. For some Iranian Americans, the Nowruz festivities are tempered by the U.S. travel restrictions. Family in Iran couldn’t get visas to come for the holiday. And those already in the United States are fearful of traveling back to Iran and not being able to return.

By shifting the focus to friendship and bridge building, Partovi is hopeful this challenge can break through some of the negativity and cynicism that has permeated the collective national consciousness. It’s capturing “a brief moment of endearing vulnerability of trying to learn a foreign language live” in the interest of wanting to celebrate other cultures, he said.

So far, several high-profile individuals have participated. Iranian American comedian Maz Jobrani did it with Stephen Colbert on “The Late Show.” Firouz Naderi, the NASA scientist who helped direct the Mars mission, taught a friend, while actor Kurt Russell learned to say “nowruz pirouz.” Instagram founder Kevin Systrom, challenged by LinkedIn chairman Reid Hoffman, posted a longer video learning about the Persian New Year from venture capitalist Pejman Nozad. The challenge has also been picked up in London and Rome. 

“I feel like there’s a very fertile ground for a campaign like this to take root, a way to affirm that we do stand for equality and freedom and they’re not okay with xenophobia or targeting people based on national heritage,” Partovi said. “They haven’t been sure how to express that in a positive way, a fun way, in a way that’s not political.”

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