Nowruz shared with the public at the Children’s Discovery Museum, San Jose, allowing the audience to learn about our festival and cultures.

It is Saturday evening, and a dozen young children in the Religious Education (REC) classes at the Santa Clara Jamatkhana are huddled together in dyads and triads under the watchful eye of REC teacher Aneela Ali, while they practice their lines for their upcoming performance. “Mo ba hamai sumo Navruzi muborakro tamanno dorem,” recite four-year-old Zaynedin Bhanwadia, six-year-old Ruhaan Bhatt, and four-year-old Azair Solis, rehearsing their lines in unison.

The children were practicing for their performance at the event, “Nowruz Around the World,” hosted by The Children’s Discovery Museum in San Jose, on  March 12, 2023.  The Museum is known for hosting cultural events, from El Día de los Muertos to Juneteenth, but this is the first year of a 3-year pilot program to develop an exhibition and annual cultural event celebrating Nowruz, the Persian New Year, which Ismailis celebrate on March 21st.

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Ms. Marilee Jennings, Museum Executive Director, Children’s Discovery Museum, San Jose.
Ms. Marilee Jennings, Museum Executive Director, Children’s Discovery Museum, San Jose.

The Museum Executive Director, Ms. Marilee Jennings, spoke about the Museum’s commitment to creating cultural events that reflect the people of their community. She noted Nowruz is celebrated in over 20 countries worldwide. At the performance, 28 Ismaili children represented Afghanistan, Bangladesh, East Africa (Kenya & Tanzania), India (Gujarat and Punjab), Iran, Pakistan, Syria, and Tajikistan.

During the performance, there was a smile on the face of every proud parent as their child took the microphone, steadied their breath, and carefully articulated the words they had practiced diligently. Ms. Jennings explained that the philosophy of the museum is to “feature children in very high-profile roles” because children “need to see their peers practicing performing arts.”

The museum attendance swelled to over 1600 people during the afternoon session. Museum-goer Heather Rastovac and daughter Ava aged four and a half were two of those in attendance. Ava loved the Haft-Sin table the Ismaili Council created. Heather, a PhD scholar-artist focusing on Iranian immigrant and diasporic Iranian performance artists, loved the vast representation of languages in our children’s presentation, especially from Tajikistan, She remarked: “One can find many Iranian American events in the Bay Area that celebrate Nowruz, but considering that the holiday is also celebrated by others in Central Asia and around the world, I appreciate seeing all of these communities represented here in this event.”

As a museum member, active parent, and Ismaili Muslim, I felt pride that my son was able to see how we celebrate Navroz/Nowruz reflected in a public space and participated in by Bay Area families. As religious minorities, it felt affirming that we were not just included; we were celebrated. It is with these feelings of pride, joy, and affirmation that my family and I are welcoming in the New Year.

The excitement of the day hasn’t worn off. Participant Azair Solis requested to recite his Tajik lines saying “Happy New Year” again! This time at the beginning of Devotional Night. We might have just started a new tradition.