By Octavio Serrano
Lawdan Shojaee grew up in Los Angeles, where her Persian culture is vibrant and present. She misses it, so she’s bringing it to the Valley, where she lives now, with the second annual Persian New Year Festival.
“Growing up, I was very close to it and I could have access to it,” says Shojaee, the founder of the Scottsdale software company Axosoft. “When I moved to Arizona 20 years ago, I started missing having that proximity.”
The event is from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Friday, March 7, at the Scottsdale Waterfront. The event is free, but RSVPs are encouraged. Last year, 6,000 people attended.
“I started noticing that we don’t have enough Persian culture here in the Valley, so I thought why not take a stab at putting together a festival,” Shojaee says. “I really enjoy going to other festivals in town and I thought, ‘What if we had the opportunity to introduce my culture?’”
It started as a simple event with cultural food, but now she’s showcasing her favorite thing about the Persian culture—hospitality.
“The entertainment we bring on stage is absolutely top notch,” Shojaee says. “We have a dance studio who brings their top dancer to dance on our stage with some of the most amazing costumes.”
Fashion designer Masha Page is organizing a show set to music that will display the clothing of Iran.
“What will surprise people is that Iran is very different than the rest of the Middle Eastern countries in that fashion is very important to them,” Shojaee says.
She is increasing the festival’s size to accommodate more than 40 vendors, who will display items like sculptures, paintings, jewelry, pottery and calligraphy.
The tea house is the largest attraction, says Shojaee, whose volunteers will hand out free tea with a ticket obtained from the festival’s website. Tea is vital to her culture, Shojaee says, and one that is at the center of many social gatherings.
“You walk into any (Persian) family, they will offer you the tea in the exact way that these ladies offer the tea at the tea house,” Shojaee says.
The festival is also an opportunity for Shojaee and her team to give back to the community, specifically the Ivy Brain Tumor Center at the Barrow Neurological Institute. The center offers a bold approach to identify effective new experimental therapies for malignant brain tumors, including glioblastoma. Patients receive individualized care in a fraction of the time and cost associated with traditional research and development.
“We’ve partnered with them to make sure that we donate to their cause,” she says. “We wanted to show our philanthropic arm as a culture and every year we choose a different local nonprofit to donate to.”
Shojaee says she feels the festival has developed into an authentic experience.
“The joy that we have in putting this together really resonates in the festival,” Shojaee says. “It’s absolutely beautiful. The colors, the sounds, the smells, it just adds to the beauty of the day.”
Persian New Year Festival, Scottsdale Waterfront, 7135 E. Camelback Road, Suite 155, Scottsdale, persiannewyearfestival.com, 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Friday, March 7, free.