30 June 2013

Getting Along with Ourselves

This week, our In His Shoes homeless outreach prepared our monthly dinner for the residents of Ascencia, Glendale's homeless shelter. We are in our 6th year serving the homeless on Skid Row and we recently partnered with Ascencia and will be providing a homecooked meal to the residents there on a monthly basis.  There are families that live there,including young children.  We operate solely on donations, and our crew gets to work in the kitchen and we just have a great time, cooking, visiting and feeding the people.  There's something so fulfilling about feeding people, isn't there?  Especially when those people are truly hungry.  It's a blessing for all of us  to be part of this ministry.  All those that live there are always  so grateful.  They are sweet to us.  And there are also people that are not residents who stop by for services as well.   This time around, one of those people was a young mother with 6 children who was talking to the director.   While she was talking to him,  her children were playing in the play area at the shelter, completely comfortable with their surroundings. You could tell they were familiar with the shelter.  I asked if they'd like to stay for dinner, to which the kids all nodded an excited YES!  But mom said they needed to go, but would take it with them if possible.  We packed up food for the family, poured juice for the kids and off they  went.  And this got me to thinking about this young family.  What was their homelife like?  Did they have a home? How will their childhood impact their lives?  Will they view people's kindness toward them in a positive way? or will they grow up with poverty in their being feeling like charity cases.   Lots of questions.  And so that's kind of what my pomegranate seed is about today:  Things that impact our lives,  Bullying.  Ethnic identity.  Entitlement.   Wow...how did I get here from there?  Well, here it is:

Children can be cruel, and so where does that come from?  I know we're not born with it.  And I'm not even sure that it comes from the home, because although that is a factor, there are also outside influences like friends (and their parents), TV, social media, etc.

We've heard a lot about bullying these past several years as YouTube videos have popped up telling the world the stories of  its victims.  Bullying isn't something new though.  It was around back when I was a kid too.  And I'm pretty sure it hurt just as much back then as it does today.  The difference is that we didn't think of doing anything about it, other than going to our parents who would calm us down with the "Don't pay attention to them.  They're just jealous," speech, right?  You know the one.  (Do you use that on your kids??  I know you do, right?)  : )

Kids are usually picked on for being different.  Fat, skinny, nerdy, gay, short, tall, smart, not so smart, it doesn't matter at all.  It's these little differences that make a HUGE difference not only in the child's day-to-day, but in their lives as well.   All the bully needs is a following - people who want to get in with them so they can avoid being the brunt of the bullying - and a subject.

My two nieces - proud hyes!
But how about when you're picked on for being the same?  Or at least trying to be the same?  not one ethnicity against the other, but against our own ethnic group - Armenians. Here's what I'm getting at:  I have a nine-year-old niece who wants more than anything to embrace her Armenian culture.  She is sensitive and sweet, cute, smart, funny, you get the idea. (Can you tell I love her to bits?)  Her problem?  She doesn't look Armenian, and she doesn't have an IAN on the end of her name. My brother-in-law is not Armenian.  Blonde hair, blue eyes and freckles, my niece is every bit as Armenian as her tormentors.  Despite the fact that she tells them she is Armenian, offers up proof by throwing out what Armenian words or facts she knows, this group of Armenian girls denies her her ethnicity.  They refuse to acknowledge her.  She has asked my sister to go to her school and tell the kids that she is Armenian!  And my sister has spoken to them all, yet just to be mean, they continue.  I've asked my niece, why not play with the other kids?  I'm sure there are others in your class who aren't Armenian?  Well, that's true, she could...but it's important to her to be a part of the Armenian group because this is what is identifies with.

My daughter had a similar experience when she was in high school.  She didn't have the requisite IAN or YAN attached to her name either.  Yet she too is proud of her Armenianness.  She actually knew more about our people than her bullies who were all immigrants to this country from the homeland.  She knew about our Orthodox Christian faith and our history, whereas her bullies were Armenian by name, clothing, cars and cologne only. They would tell her she wasn't Armenian because her father wasn't.  (Excuse me?  What about her mama!?)

And on a different level, I too have experience this as well.  I used to teach English at a private Armenian school.  I've taught kindergarteners up to 8th graders (and dealt with all their parents).  I speak Armenian and I DO have the requisite IAN.   On more than one occasion, I've been asked if I'm from Bierut because of my dialect.
"No," I say.  "I'm born here."
"Here is where?" they ask.
"Here.  America."
"Oh, well.  You're not really Armenian then, " they joke...but you can tell what's behind that little joke.  Seriously!  So hello?  If I were from Beirut, would THAT suddenly verify that I'm Armenian?  Wouldn't that make me Lebanese?  Get a clue people!  Armenianness is not in the name, it's in the heart and the soul.

So why are we like this?  And where did this all come from?  As an ethnic group, we are so small as it is, shouldn't we be embracing one another and holding on to what we have rather than excluding, bullying, and trying to categorize one another?  Does it matter if you're an America-hye, Barska-hye, Bolsa-hye, Iraqa-hye, Beirutahye?  Shouldn't a hye be a hye?
I know the deep-lying factor is the genocide, right?   But what makes us think that we are any better than anyone else? Or that rules apply to everyone else except us.  Is it the bully thing -  trying to pump oneself up by bringing someone else down?  I'm not so sure. And forgive me -- I happen to live in an area with an abundance of Armenians so understand where I'm coming from.  I'm not trying to generalize but making an observation of what's it's like in my area.    And i do love my people.  But why can't we see that we're all part of a bigger picture?  Well, it did happen, the other night, we had an opportunity to ALL be together. All kinds of hyes and odars together in one place just enjoying the evening and having a great time.  Believe it?.  The plot thickens!  Here's what happened;

Have you all heard of the movie, "Lost and Found in Armenia" directed by Gor Kirakosian?  We live not far from Glendale, and when this movie first came out, my husband and I went to see it at the theater.  Not a small theater, mind you.  The regular feature film theater.  It's a funny film starring Jamie Kennedy and a whole wonderful cast of characters.  A cute story and very funny.  And one of the best parts?  Watching the credits roll at the end of the movie, seeing all the Armenian names.  My husband and I play a game during the credits called Serbs vs. Armenians.  I look for the IAN/YAN endings, and he looks for the IC's.  We try to see which one of our peeps have the most representation in the film.  He didn't stand a chance on this film! (which I loved!) Well anyway... I liked the movie so much I thought it would be great to bring my mom to see it.  After two attempts of sold out tickets, we finally got seats.  With school out my sister and nieces came along too and we had a girls night out.  The lines to go into that movie were long!  Over 100 feet.  Even though it was a Monday night, the theater was packed.  I don't know what it was about that evening but it was great.  We were among other Armenians that we didn't know...and they weren't staring us down in that way that only they can do!  Everyone was so excited, and happy...We were all there to support this film. It didn't matter whether the director was from Armenia, Beirut or Iraq.  The film was by an Armenian and we were proud.  One non-Armenian woman came up to me while I was in line asking what the line up was for.  I told her about the movie, which is an independent film.  She asked, "And THIS line is for that movie???"  I told her we were proud, and most all of us in the line were there to support the film.  I told her she should get a ticket and see it too.

My nieces were in the moment as well, feeling like part of the crowd.  We got into the theater, got situated, the movie started and there we were, all together, in the dark, one people.  Laughing.  Having fun.  I loved hearing my neices' laughter t as they got the jokes, as they saw the quirky nature of their people on the screen.  The Armenian scenery was beautiful.  There in the dark the whole audience was one.  United by this fun movie and a pride in belonging to one another.  The movie ended, the lights went up.  As we left the theater we passed the new line up of people waiting to see the next showing. And I think that too lead to the pride of the evening.  Seeing that a movie by one of our own was a success.  Young and old, new to this country and not so new..they were all lined up.  I think the feeling of the evening had to do with that success.  That night, as a people, WE were a success!   As we do all too often, as a people, we come together when things aren't going well...to protest, or to commemorate the genocide.  Victims.  But maybe the act of gathering together to claim a part of this film as our own changed something inside us...and for one evening, we were all one.  And it was so good!!  I think that's what we need more of.  To celebrate our Armenianness...our oneness with one another through our SUCCESSES!

So what are your thoughts on this?  I'd love to hear from you.  Please leave your comments here on the blog.

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