And for as long as I can remember, it has been my greatest insecurity. On more than one occasion, I have been told it is an “unattractive quality” of mine, and that I’m “not Armenian” if I don’t speak it. These words came from friends, loved ones, strangers—people with the power to point out a great flaw I could already see in myself. I may not have had the courage to say it when confronted with those words, but I’ve got it now.
No, I don’t speak Armenian, but here’s what I can do:
- I can recite the AYF-YOARF oath verbatim.
- I can cite the words of William Saroyan to create the perfect April 24th Facebook post for all of my friends—Armenian or not—to see.
- I can navigate my way to Camp Haiastan from anywhere on earth with my eyes closed.
- I can conduct an entire meeting following Robert’s Rules—well, for the most part.
- I can quiet a room of 200 campers and counselors with a stern look and two raised fingers.
- I can recall my first snowball and the butterflies it left me with.
- I can remember what you wore Saturday night at the AYF Senior Olympics in 2013.
- I can name all of the events that make up a Pentathlon.
- I can close my eyes and taste the mantee in Yerevan.
- I can comfort a homesick camper and calm her camp-sick parents.
- I can play four full games of basketball after a full year of no physical activity.
- I can dance the Pampouri, the Tamzara, the Haleh. All of it.
- I can hear the sounds of our unruly Sts. Vartanantz fans cheering after our girl’s team finally won a game in the Hackensack Middle School gym.
- I know when to sit, stand, kneel, bow and make the sign of the cross during Badarak.
- I can remember perfectly the silhouette of Ararat in the backdrop of Armenia.
- I can list every Onnik CD ever produced and distributed–not that I’m biased.
- I can match every camper from the last decade with their favorite item from Camp Store.
- I can fold boreg into neat little triangles of butter and cheese.
- I can point out on a map the villages that hold my ancestral past.
And what’s more I can live with the truth of not speaking Armenian. I’m not entirely sure what brought about this revelation. This sudden confession. Maybe I got tired of guarding a secret. Maybe I was inspired by my nephews’ newly acquired vocabulary straight from Hovnanian School. Maybe I just got sick of hearing what I can’t do from people who are blind to what I can. Or maybe I felt the need to empathize with those who are just like me—those who may not be able to speak Armenian, but who sure can stand up for the Armenian they are.