100 Percent American, 100 Percent Armenian

I pull up next to a car on Glenoaks. I see two beautiful Armenian girls. Sounds typical right? Here’s the catch. My car is not a Mercedes or a BMW. In fact it’s a big blue Toyota FJ Truck. While these girls looked like models from Europe, I was wearing my AC/DC t-shirt, while sporting a Mohawk. However there was something very familiar to Glenoaks popping off from the sound system. Yes, you guessed it; it was Armenian music more common to a wedding or a bazaar than to a rock band. The girls almost had this shocked look on their face. I thought it was because I was not attractive enough to them. Obviously that was not the case. They rolled down their window and asked “ARE YOU ARMENIAN!?!?!?”  I replied in Armenian, exchanging some compliments. That day was a success for me. Yes, I got their numbers. No, I will not give you their identities. It demonstrated how I am really American, and really Armenian at the same time.

I was born in California. I live in a place that encourages community diversity and places their pride on cultural blending. Some may argue this is what makes California unique from other places in the United States. A heterogeneous culture allows you to interact with and foster tolerance for many other races that live around you. However, I live in Glendale, California. This part of the world is specifically known for its proud ethnic tradition geared towards being Armenian.

Armenian-Americans are known for their love of the United States, all of its institutions, and have flourished in this great nation on tried-and-tested Armenian values. Family, hard work, civic activity and a sense of community have helped Armenians reach great heights in the United States. For me, this is a matter of great pride. I famously keep a copy of the US constitution in my back pocket, and at the same time hang the Armenian cross around my neck, with the blue eye to keep the evil spirits away.

At the same time, people ask me sometimes, “Why don’t you act more American?” Act? I didn’t know being American was a role in a movie. For me being American isn’t acting American. The same is true with my Armenian friends telling me to act less American and more Armenian. The point is that being one or the other is not mutually exclusive. You do not switch from the American hat to the Armenian hat when the time is right. It is a matter of being both at the same time.

My teacher at Pilibos, Baron Garbis, told me a long time ago. He said, “Son, you have to be 100% American and 100% Armenian.” This taught me how to stay civically engaged in the American arena, while keeping my Armenian spirit alive in my very American way of life. Now I know this might seem like the usual Armenian-American spiel, but I am a living testament to this. So if you see me at an Armenian wedding head-banging to Slayer in the parking lot, while wearing a suit, it is completely normal behavior.

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