Local Profile: Maryam Zar

An Exclusive Interview with Maryam Zar

How do you look back in your American life: 

These days, with immigration so much focus, I find I think back a lot on my early days as an immigrant. Things were different then—immigrants came to America with a disposition that drove them to become part of the fabric of this society that we believed functioned better than the one from which we came.

That didn’t mean that we wanted to take advantage of it; it meant we wanted to become productive parts of it. My parents never doubted that they would contribute to the East coast community we lived in; and they conveyed that intent to us, their young children eager to adopt a new homeland and feel whole again.  I remember volunteering at a church when I was 12 years old and one of the women asking me what I thought I wanted to do when I grew up. I remember telling her I wanted to be a journalist and eventually a politician.

At the time, the word politician still meant lawmaker to me. Somehow, I knew even then I wanted to have a voice in this land that had let us in without prejudice, and I knew that this democracy built on the premise of citizen participation would allow me to move in that direction. My family never shied away from our cultural heritage, but we embraced our environs effortlessly and our new community welcomed us wholeheartedly, allowing us to feel part and parcel of this melting pot we’ve embraced since. For that, I’m forever grateful.

What appeals the most to you about living in the Palisades:

Pacific Palisades is a gem of a place with thoughtful people who are never unaware of their good fortune, and never unwilling to acknowledge it by giving goodwill. I have met some of the most interesting people in this town and had hours-long conversations with people on a sidewalk or a street corner, over the richness of life’s experiences and the value of being vested in the community that offers us a corner to call home. Palisadians are vested in their neighborhoods and informed about the trends that shape our collective future.

I love being in this community because people think and talk and act with the courage of their convictions. Every corner of Pacific Palisades has been touched by the effort and intention of Palisadians – whether it’s the Village Green which is maintained by TLC of local hands, to the multi-unit development that never was because a group of Palisadians fought to keep it away from our coastal setting. This place is its people – and its people are impressive.

How do you see your next 10 years playing out as kids move on and life refocuses:

I didn’t know when we moved to Brentwood before my eldest was born, and then to the Palisades before my youngest entered first grade, that we were lucky enough to live in a district that would accord us a world-class public school system. Now, having put three kids through the public elementary, middle and high schools in the Pali Charter complex, I’m beginning to wonder how we will view our Palisadian lives without school as a focal point.

While I still have five years of local school years to go and I do not plan to be any less active than I’ve been – chairing parent boards, running talent shows, and editing newsletters as time allows – I do wonder if Europe will beckon me back.  For now, I’m seriously considering a run for State Assembly (a seat left open by Richard Bloom who is running for County Supervisor). As the race shapes up, I’ll be considering the impact of a tough campaign on my family and my generally non-combative psyche – and while I recognize that that’s a good quality for consensus building, responsive advocacy, and good policy-making in a legislative setting, it’s probably useless for the pitch battle of a contested election.

What are the issues that move you:

Fundamental fairness moves me. Equity moves me. Homelessness moves me. I volunteered to be the Founding chair of the task force on homelessness because I sensed that I could build the consensus that would allow this unique community to gauge its response to its localized homeless problem, and craft a solution. We did, but it was not without advocacy, consensus building among various organizations and people as well as a level-headed ability to hear all people and react to the concerns that seemed legitimately rooted in community.

It’s the same for any thorny issue—housing, civil equity, division of resources, economic infrastructure support, these are also hot-button issues that have a common ground that well-meaning people can find. So, I think more than issues, it’s the fundamental process of finding fairness that moves me, and that applies to every major issue of our time – including the current hot topic of housing.