Community Commentary: Taking A Long Look At Shortsighted Column

Talar Malakin

Glendale News Press
April 27 2009

As a young adult who participates in Armenian and non-Armenian
organizations including the Commission on the Status of Women and
events hosted by the Armenian Youth Federation, I feel compelled to
respond to Dan Kimber’s recent column. ("Greet melting pot with open
arms," April 17)

Merriam Webster defines assimilating as the absorption (of one) into
the culture or mores of a population or group; to make similar. In
common usage, the general perception of the term within the Armenian
community is that it is the giving up of one’s own identity in order
to assume another’s, a loss of cultural richness in a zero-sum
system. The community even uses a common term for that concept:
"white" genocide. It is bloodless, but destructive nonetheless.

It is ironic and perhaps welcomingly timely that Kimber’s commentary
comes on the cusp of the annual commemoration of the Armenian
Genocide. The concept of preserving one’s culture — especially when
faced with annihilation in the past as well as discrimination in the
present — should not be difficult to understand or appreciate.

However, Kimber presumes that the protection against assimilation
also means the sequestering of oneself or the community from the
greater whole. There is a huge gap in the line of such reasoning,
as any debate coach would be able to point out. The preservation
and valuing of one culture does not necessarily come at the expense
closing ourselves off to other cultures.

Once again we turn to Merriam Webster, which defines acculturation
as a cultural modification of an individual, group, or people by
adapting to or borrowing traits from another culture and a merging
of cultures as a result of prolonged contact. While the Armenian
community rightfully has strong concerns regarding assimilation,
it is a wonderful example of acculturation! In fact, Kimber’s own
anecdotal evidence shows exactly that.

While Kimber expresses concern for his fellow teacher’s remarks
regarding the type of person he would prefer her to marry, let us
look at that exact moment. Unless Kimber understands Armenian, he
was hearing this point of view being expressed in English.

While the teacher may wish to preserve one cultural item (in this
case marriage), he certainly was adopting other aspects of the
community-at-large culture. In all likelihood Kimber has seen ethnic
Armenian community members speaking English, eating non-Armenian food,
enjoying non-Armenian culture from movies and television to arts
and clothing, as well as participating in non-Armenian events and
organizations. While particular individuals may draw different lines
in the sand as to what they feel is a particularly important aspect
of culture to preserve, Kimber is awash in evidence, not anecdotes,
of the Armenian community’s acculturation.

I would be remiss not to address the charge of "un-American"-ism that
Kimber levied in his article. I feel a particular sense of closeness
to and responsibility for other communities that have been victims of
genocide. The many European colonists that flocked to the Americas more
than three centuries ago were not shining examples of the assimilation
Kimber prescribes for today’s Armenian community. Rather than
adopting the culture of the indigenous population of this continent,
the Europeans forged their own segregated communities and societies
almost entirely based on imported culture from the other side of the
Atlantic Ocean . Furthermore, this was done almost completely at the
expense and destruction the native American population.

The Armenian Youth Federation is an organization with both Armenian
and non-Armenian members who help lead the community effort to educate
about and preserve the rich, multi-millennium-long Armenian culture. It
also instills core values of civic pride and civic engagement. It has
given thousands of its members to public service and military service
over the past century and to this day throughout the United States. It
beautifies our communities through projects such as its annual street
clean-up in Hollywood to tutoring programs and participation in local
charitable efforts such as this past January’s ANCA Cans for the Cause
food drive to support local food banks in this time of economic crisis.

As a history teacher at a local high school, I would expect that
Kimber would understand and further use history as a source in
distinguishing the true implications of the statement made in the
ethnic scholarship application form that launched his shortsighted
allegations. Furthermore, as a history teacher, perhaps we would
all be better off if he would share with us more about the great
contributions the Armenian community has made and continues to make
to this great city and nation, as well as the similar challenges they
face as other immigrant communities have, whether they are German,
Irish, Italian, Latino, Korean, or any of the other wonderful groups
that enrich our community as a whole. If he is not familiar with that,
perhaps he should contact the Armenian Youth Federation.

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