Growing up, the complexities of my ethnic and cultural identity made it difficult to connect to my Armenianness. I grew up in a multicultural Rastafarian family. Both of my parents are Armenian from Iran, my stepdad is Jamaican Chinese, and the village that raised me was a sisterhood of women from all walks of life. My life experiences made me feel as if I was not Armenian enough, yet I also wasn’t American enough, nor did I fit in with the black communities I had grown up in. For a long time, I had been in identity limbo. It wasn’t until I came to Armenia that I realized the parts of me that had been missing all my life.
Connecting with myself and Exploring my Armenian roots
Coming to Armenia with Birthright Armenia has truly been the biggest blessing, and an experience I never knew I needed. I came with my sister, which has been the best decision I could have ever made because it led to growth both individually and within our relationship. It has been wonderful to see how she has blossomed through this experience. Birthright allowed us to travel, explore, connect with, immerse into, and fall in love with ourselves and Armenia. Being in Armenia has allowed me to connect with deeper parts of myself, explore my cultural roots, and learn the history of my people. I met blood relatives here that I never knew existed but have now become permanent fixtures in my life. Birthright facilitates a space where you can connect with diasporan Armenians from all over the world. It has been a profound experience witnessing the span of the Armenian diaspora—we are everywhere!
"It was not all sunshine and rainbows, Armenia has its quirks, but the pros definitely outweigh the cons."
I have met some of the most amazing people here, most of whom I can confidently say I will be friends with for life. This is a big deal to me because I found it extremely difficult to connect with LA Armenians. I want to give a quick shoutout to my new friends at Birthright Armenia for welcoming me with open arms and supporting me through my highs and lows! I have been in the country for five and a half months now, and in this time, I have come completely undone and am beginning to relearn and discover new beautiful parts of who I am. This conglomeration of self-knowledge has led to a feeling of self-love I have never experienced before.
"Sorry… I understand, but I don’t speak well,"
I can not say that this experience has been easy because there are real challenges to living outside your comfort zone in “a real country with real people". This sentiment was what I lived by during my first few weeks in Armenia. But the difficult experiences added to my growth and honestly strengthened my character. For example, I came to Armenia as me, and I’m a little quirky, but I knew that when I decided to come here. One day I was on the marshrutka (public minibus), and a tatik (grandma) approached me and called me out on my appearance. I was not surprised, but I was shocked nonetheless. This was a learning lesson on certain ways of being that are important to Armenians. I found job sites I loved, working for Nor Luyce, Varem Marem, and making cheese with the most hospitable village family. Definitely, certain aspects of host family living took some adjustment, but in the end, you love them like blood relatives. Or the fact that I came to Armenia with little to no language skills; I could understand the language but was embarrassed to speak. I was afraid of judgment, but I was met with the exact opposite. Almost everyone I met was kind and encouraging. The staff, the volunteers, my amazing Armenian teacher Rosa, and the random people I met in everyday situations supported me. My excuse was, “sorry… I understand, but I don’t speak well,” but once I stopped saying that and I started believing that I could speak, the words started flowing regardless of the mistakes!
It was not all sunshine and rainbows, Armenia has its quirks, but the pros definitely outweigh the cons. Being in Armenia has changed my life, and I am beyond grateful to Birthright Armenia for all their work in bringing the diaspora home. I have heard many locals speak of the future of Armenia, and although there are many opposing opinions on the current state of affairs, there is a consensus on one thing. Armenians have seen dark days, but we still exist, and that alone should be a testament to the resiliency and power of our people!