I spent the first part of my life believing that 50 percent was not enough. So what does it mean to be half Armenian? For people like me, it goes beyond just being Armenian. You have to ask yourself what you, as a diasporan, can do for your country. As part of the diaspora, you feel a sense of responsibility to put your life on the line for people across the world.
When I was little, I didn’t feel the need to ask myself this question because if I’m being honest, I wasn’t entirely sure how to answer it. I would hear my medzmom speak Armenian from time to time but could never put in the effort to learn it. I am grateful to have gained a deep interest in the topic at just 13 years old because I never received a formal Armenian education. I know there are many adults who feel it is too late for them.
Over the past several years, I have dedicated myself to reaching an increased understanding of what it means for me to be Armenian. I am just finishing my second year on the executive in my AYF chapter and hope to be granted a third year. I have now been learning Armenian for a little over a year and am getting a grasp on the language. I finally know the story of my family: the details of my great grandmother’s journey to America at just seven years old; my paternal great grandmother’s orphanage in Sudan; how my great grandfather made a living as a barber, and my other great grandfather, a tailor in Cuba. My grandfather, an Armenian immigrant from Cuba, went on to attend MIT and worked with NASA. My grandmother and my role model was the first woman in her family to attend college.
Through this enlightening experience, I have learned that as part of the diaspora, we all share a responsibility to work together to make a change. I recall a protest I attended this year at the State House. I brought a flag and met with some friends. It was inspiring to see all of us together. Almost all of us are kids, but we understand why we need to be there because we have all had that moment where you felt useless and that the problem was out of our hands. My participation during those few hours lends to some contentment that we’re one step closer to the ultimate goal.
There is always something you can do. It is our job to lift each other up to a new plane of understanding and love for our home country. We all feel that connection in our heartbeat one way or another; we just need some help embracing it every once in a while.
Being Armenian means being born into a community full of people ready to welcome you with open arms. Our bond is extremely rare; it is strange how you will subconsciously trust someone because they’re Armenian. After attending Camp Haiastan for a couple years, I built a string of friendships with all of my cabin mates. My parents felt comfortable sending me to their houses even though they had never met. This could most likely be because they share a mutual love for Armenian culture and have similar values. In a world so full of cruelty and danger, we seek each other out every now and then. After all, we need each other.
My greatest fear as an Armenian is losing our tradition. As the diaspora grows, we lose a part of our country and ourselves. It is important that we teach our children and that they teach their children so that they may be as metaphorically close to Armenia as we are. Up until very recently, I was never able to answer that lingering question. What does it mean to only be half Armenian? As I have grown and discovered more about myself, I have come to the conclusion that it doesn’t have a meaning. A percentage is just a number. It’s about what’s in your heart, and if you are willing to go more than just halfway for your country.