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Periodontist Mahnaz Rashti: “Think for yourself”

Think for yourself. Achieving the American Dream means reaching your personal success in society. Rather than letting those around you define your goals, create your own. Everyone’s story is unique, so it’s okay to be different. Take risks. It is important to push yourself to the limit and take calculated risks. Without risk, there is […]

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Think for yourself.

Achieving the American Dream means reaching your personal success in society. Rather than letting those around you define your goals, create your own. Everyone’s story is unique, so it’s okay to be different.

Take risks.

It is important to push yourself to the limit and take calculated risks. Without risk, there is no growth. You may fail at times, but that makes the achievements even sweeter.


Is the American Dream still alive? If you speak to many of the immigrants we spoke to, who came to this country with nothing but grit, resilience, and a dream, they will tell you that it certainly is still alive.

As a part of our series about immigrant success stories, I had the pleasure of interviewing Mahnaz Rashti.

Born in Tehran, Iran, Mahnaz Rashti, DDS, is now a successful periodontist in Beverly Hills, but the journey to achieve her goals reads like an adventure novel. She was among the many Jews living in her native country before the government started persecuting them. At the time, it was common for drug smugglers to demand large fees from parents to smuggle their children over the border from Iran to Pakistan. Her parents arranged just that not knowing how dangerous it would be. She was secreted from one location to the next before finally finding her way to Pakistan. This was a particularly tense time given that the flight and boarding were completely illegal and unauthorized. She spent nearly a year going through the process of gaining religious asylum before finally boarding a flight to New York City. She is grateful to the U.S. government for helping her as she learned the language, went to college and landed a job. Without food stamps, Medi-Cal and other forms of assistance, she would have never achieved autonomy and, ultimately, success as “dentist for the stars.” Her extraordinary work in literally putting smiles on patients’ faces has been profiled in numerous media outlets. Now she gives back to others who can’t afford dental work through her nonprofit, Beverly Hills Smiles Foundation.


Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Can you tell us the story of how you grew up?

I was born in Tehran, Iran to parents who lived through World War II, an era where many in our country were denied access to education. They were extremely poor and forced to work in factories to support the family. In fact, they started working when they were just five years old and, since they never went to school, were illiterate. When my parents met and started having children (eventually seven of us), their top priority was making sure we had an education. They were extremely strict when it came to our lessons and made sure that we always appreciated and understood the value of knowledge. As the youngest of my siblings, I grew up watching my older brothers and sisters achieve the kind of education my parents sought. Each of them eventually became a doctor so I guess it was inevitable that I, too, would follow them into the field.

Was there a particular trigger point that made you emigrate to the US? Can you tell us the story?

The Iranian Revolution took place in 1979, at which time the government started persecuting Jewish people including our family. Part of the fallout was that they put the brakes on my education. This was a deal breaker for me and my parents. Escaping the country was our only option.

Can you tell us the story of how you came to the USA? What was that experience like?

Escaping the country was not an easy, nor an inexpensive, process. At the time, it was common for drug smugglers to demand large fees from parents to smuggle their children over the border from Iran to Pakistan. The smugglers would then drop us off at the Red Cross headquarters in Quetta, where we would be left on our own with no ID, no money, etc. After the Red Cross issued us our IDs, we were then secreted in a safe space until the coast was clear. We then boarded a flight to Karachi in Pakistan, which was a particularly tense time given that the flight and boarding were completely illegal and unauthorized. When we arrived in Karachi, we had to stay hidden in a small room for nearly 6 months until the Red Cross issued us temporary passports called Lesse Pasees.

Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped make the move more manageable? Can you share a story?

I owe the most gratitude to my parents and my host family who took care of me once I came to the U.S. Despite their disadvantages in terms of wealth and education, my parents nonetheless pushed for me and my siblings to make education our top priority as it opens doors that are closed to the uneducated. Once I first arrived in New York, my host family, Dr. and Mrs. Richard Cofsky, welcomed me with open arms and treated me like one of their own.

So how are things going today?

Fast forward to today, I run a successful periodontal and full-mouth reconstruction practice in Beverly Hills, California. I take pride in helping my patients regain their health and confidence. I am blessed to make my patients smile again. They often tell me I make the impossible possible again.

How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?

I started a nonprofit, “Smiling Veterans,” that provides free dental work to those who have served our country. I recently expanded the mission to include others who cannot afford reconstructive surgery.

You have first hand experience with the US immigration system. If you had the power, which three things would you suggest to improve the system?

Coming from a repressive country, the US feels like a dream for me and many other foreigners. I am forever grateful that the US granted me an opportunity to reach for the sky. This would not have been possible without government assistance in the form of food stamps, financial aid and medical insurance. Now, as a tax-paying citizen, I am contributing to the same system that helped me so. I’m an advocate of those who have been in my shoes — refugees and immigrants — to pay it forward by becoming big brothers and sisters to newcomers. The journey is a lonely and scary one, but having someone who has gone through it offering you advice can be comforting. Because of the culture shock that any newcomer feels when entering the US for the first time, it would be beneficial if there were classes available to help immigrants immerse into their new lives. Also, immigrants should take English classes to master the language and better assimilate into the culture. Not being able to speak English was a huge hurdle when I first arrived, but somehow, I managed to learn the language while attending dental school and even managed to graduate with honors.

Can you share “5 keys to achieving the American dream” that others can learn from you? Please share a story or example for each.

1. No matter what, never give up.

Many immigrants come to the US with little to no knowledge about the culture, language, etc. and it is impossible to learn everything overnight. Unfortunately, it can get overwhelming and many will simply give up. I am here to encourage them to stick with it as the rewards for your efforts are great.

When I first came to the US, I was working at a podiatrist’s office. I had some experience in this area given the medical expertise of my siblings. Many of our patients were Holocaust survivors. Some of them felt uncomfortable around me because I was a foreigner who did not look “American” and it was hard to communicate as I was still learning the language. Little did they know that our stories — theirs and mine — were similar. We all had to escape life-threatening circumstances to find a better life. With time, I was able to share my story with them and we eventually were able to forge friendships.

I specifically remember this gentleman who always refused for me to change his wound dressing. He hated to be greeted by me and I always felt so sad that I was not being accepted as a foreigner. Little did I know that he related my foreign look to his pain. One day, to my surprise, he told me that he wanted me to change his bandages. He quickly opened up and told me that he did not know that we had a lot in common. He lost his entire family in the a concentration camp right in front of his eyes. This showed me that I should not give up so quickly. Just because he was having a harder time warming up to me does not mean I should have jumped to a conclusion. Time fixes everything, just be patient.

2. Think for yourself.

Achieving the American Dream means reaching your personal success in society. Rather than letting those around you define your goals, create your own. Everyone’s story is unique, so it’s okay to be different.

3. Take risks.

It is important to push yourself to the limit and take calculated risks. Without risk, there is no growth. You may fail at times, but that makes the achievements even sweeter.

4. Educate yourself.

Success comes with knowledge.

5. Make mini-goals leading up to your ultimate purpose.

Take small strides as your move toward your goals. Don’t try to overcome every challenge at once. As you succeed step by step, you confidence level, too, will build bit by bit.

We know that the US needs improvement. But are there 3 things that make you optimistic about the US’s future?

1. The US is much more tolerant and open-minded towards those of different religions, races, genders, sexualities and beliefs. If we can continue to recognize that we are all different and celebrate diversity, we will continue to remain the greatest country in the world.

2. Younger folks seem to be more involved in what’s going on in this country than I’ve seen in other more conservative nations. I’m also seeing more participation in the process from peoples from diverse socio-economic backgrounds, races, genders, etc. This exchange of ideas is healthy for our democracy.

3. The US has a long, storied history of welcoming immigrants and helping them achieve their dreams. No other country on earth comes close to this land of opportunity. This tradition must continue as it benefits every citizen and fortifies our greatness.

We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂

I would love to meet Vice President Kamala Harris whose story is inspiring and relatable. She is a role model for all women and people of color. For the first time in history, young children and adults and able to witness a female rise to one of the highest offices in the land. I thought this would never happen in my lifetime and it makes me even prouder to be an American.

What is the best way our readers can further follow your work online?

www.drrashti.com

IG: @drrashti

This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!


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