A Douchebag from Glendale

By Missak Artinian

I have come to learn that being Armenian in a small suburb of Virginia (where I was born and raised) and being Armenian in Glendale, California (where I recently moved) is a vastly different experience. Here’s what I mean. Back home, when someone asked me about my ancestry and I said Armenian, I was automatically associated with mystery and intrigue. Here in Glendale, when someone asks me about my ancestry and I say Armenian, I am automatically associated with car insurance fraud.

Being Armenian in a small town had some advantages because it gave me the opportunity to set a precedent. How a stranger would perceive Armenians as a whole rested on the content of my character, for better or for worse. As the only Armenian within at least a 30-mile radius, I had a responsibility to make good first impressions with strangers because, unfortunately, in a world where people so easily make broad generalizations of any given race, ethnicity, or religion based on the actions of a few individuals, it’s especially important for those of us who belong in an ethnic minority to project a positive image.

For some residents of Glendale, however, the damage may already be done.

Take Diana, for example, an attractive Israeli girl who sells lotion at one of those kiosks in Glendale Galleria. A few weeks ago, she approached me as I was walking back to work, and asked if I had a girlfriend. Misinterpreting her icebreaker sales tactic for romantic interest (she must see something she likes, I reasoned), I was drawn into her net as an unwary sailor is lured unto rocks by a siren’s song.

She proceeded to sensually caress my wrist and compliment my complexion, which, according to her, would look even more radiant if only I were to purchase a four hundred dollar beauty package. Upon hearing this price, the expression on my face probably suggested, How reasonable! But in my mind, I was really thinking, where can I get me some of your crack?

Before I could come up with an excuse to escape her web, she gripped my shoulders, leaned forward, peered deeply into my eyes, and whispered, “But for you, I will sell for three hundred.” Moments like these don’t happen often, but when they do, I can’t help but think, Missak, you still got it.

Flattered as I was by Diana’s generous discount, I had to pass, as I was unable to convince myself that magic exfoliating potions and serums were a better value proposition than, say, a ton of cheese from Trader Joe’s. So predictably, the chemistry between us fizzled, but to repay her for boosting my self-esteem, I offered to buy the cheapest product she had (a bar of mud soap, twenty dollars). When I handed her my credit card, she noticed my last name, and said, “Oh.”

“What?” I said.

“You are Armenian.”

“That’s very perceptive.”

“Your people, you need to open your mind,” she exclaimed, as she tapped my forehead with her index finger. “Open.”

“Open my mind, or open my wallet?” I snapped back, grinning.

She laughed, and we made a connection then and there that was pure and genuine, though admittedly, I tend to embellish my memories as delusional people do, so maybe not.

What struck me the most about the transaction was the look on her face when she saw the –ian at the end of my last name. In her defense, I am ethnically ambiguous, which can be advantageous during job interviews and an inconvenience during TSA screenings. Nonetheless, it was that look on Diana’s face that left a lasting impression, a look that suggested; if only you were wearing a gold chain, I wouldn’t have wasted my time. Not that I blame the poor girl. Her job is to sell snake oil in a mall heavily patronized by Armenians – a group of people, mind you, who have mastered the art of selling snake oil!

A few weeks later, I met a young professional by the name of Thomas at Broadway Bar in Downtown, Los Angeles. We spoke for a few minutes, and during our conversation, I mentioned that I had recently moved to Glendale from the D.C. metro area.

“Why Glendale?” he asked.

“Close to my new job, mainly.”

“Careful, man. Lots of douchebags there.”

“Really? What do you mean?” I asked, though I had an idea of where this conversation was heading. Keep in mind that I introduced myself as Mike (my nickname), so as far as he was concerned, he was talking to some white guy.

“Armenians. Armenians everywhere.”

“That’s what I heard.”

“They drive Benzes and Bimmers like they got money, right? But actually, what they do is they pretend their kids are retarded so they get extra money out the government.”

“No way. That’s terrible.”

“Yeah, man. They’re just milking the system.”

By the end of Thomas’ tirade, I was sad. I was sad because I knew there was truth in what he was saying, that in this world, there are bad Armenians who do bad things. But more than sadness, I felt disappointment. Mainly in Thomas, whose apparent intelligence could not save him from falling prey to the trappings of prejudice. Before saying farewell, I offered him another round on me, and though he may never realize it, he unwittingly clinked glasses with a douchebag from Glendale.

On the drive back home (after sobering up, to be clear), I wondered why I didn’t school Thomas? Surely any self-respecting Armenian would’ve opted for a more confrontational approach, perhaps with a few obscenities mixed in for good measure. But that I said nothing and did nothing was concerning to me. Why did I conceal my identity? Why did I fail to defend my people? And most perplexingly, why did I buy him a drink?

“Because you’re a self-hating Armenian,” my shoulder devil whispered into my ear.

“That’s not true,” my shoulder angel jumped in, defending me. “Missak may hate himself, but not because he’s Armenian.

My shoulder angel had a point. I genuinely do believe that being Armenian has its positives. Let me count the ways:

1.

1

2.

2

3.

3

But growing up Armenian in a town where I felt like the only Missak in the world sucked. Because there’s no way you can ever be cool in school when your name alludes to male genitalia. That just doesn’t happen, not in a world teeming with Brians, Davids, and Matts. I sometimes wonder where some of my classmates are today, the creative geniuses who came up with increasingly clever ways to make fun of me by calling me names like Meat-sack and No-sack. I can imagine them working at some shady ad agency, coining product names like:

4

and

5

Like many first-generation Americans, I struggled with the same issues that are common in immigrant stories. Toula’s struggle to fit in with her American classmates in My Big Fat Greek Wedding comes to mind; or Woody Allen’s existential crisis when he attempts to give Catholicism a try in Hannah and her Sisters, shaming his proud Jewish parents. Even stories about Chinese moms and their assimilated daughters (see everything ever written by Amy Tan) were oddly relatable, even though I have no ovaries and I’m about as Asian as Frank Underwood is kind.

Like many of these characters, I spent most of my formative years being pulled in two directions, with my Armenian identity on one side and my American identity on the other. No matter how hard I tried to find the right balance between appeasing the expectations of my traditional Armenian family and assimilating to the culture of the country in which I was born, I always felt like I was stuck between two worlds.

And now that I live in Glendale, do I feel less like an outsider? Nope. And you know what? That’s okay. To be an outsider is to experience the world as a critic and an admirer. Glendale has its issues (I’m looking at you, you aggressive drivers), but it also has a lot of beauty. And whether people like Thomas agree with me or not, a lot of that beauty is due to the city’s decidedly Armenian identity.

The tri-colored Armenian flag is as ubiquitous here as rain is in Seattle. The Armenian alphabet is displayed practically on every deli, grocery store, and small business. The music is audible on the street, inside my car, from my balcony. The language is spoken in the unlikeliest of places, like the Wholefoods where a group of older Armenian women congregate outside during lunchtime and speak of politics in boisterous shrills. Hell, the view outside my office window features a large building with letters that read USArmenia, which serves as a daily reminder that I’m far from the small town whose identity was as uncertain as mine.

It is this celebration of identity, I think, that unites the Armenians of Glendale, and indeed, Armenians all around the world. They are a people who will show their friends the tiny country of Armenia on a map, will educate random strangers that Armenia was the first nation to adopt Christianity as a state religion, will speak out in class when their history books gloss over or skip the Armenian Genocide, and will protest Turkey’s ongoing denial of the systematic attempt to eradicate the Armenian culture, religion, and people from the face of the Earth.

Armenians are a people whose voices cannot be silenced, because for a small ethnic group that so narrowly escaped complete annihilation, to be silent is to dishonor the survivors, their enduring spirits, without whom, these very words would cease to exist.

91 thoughts on “A Douchebag from Glendale

  1. Dear BRO (get it? Bro?),
    You sense of humour entwined with reality genuinely brightened my day.
    Thank you and please keep them coming, Bro…(Oh, God, I just kill myself).

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  2. lol I would have spilled my drink in Thomas’s face and walked off as opposed to buying him a drink. I would never allow anyone to down talk my ethnicity in my presence as you did , and I’m female. I’m glad the fact that you said and did nothing is concerning to you, because it’s concerning to me as well. I’m bewildered by all the praise you’re receiving for this article ,as if you are some quasi Armenian folk hero from VA. I’m sure school was tough for you and it’s unfortunate that your name was ridiculed but you don’t know about tough until you’re one of the four Armenian kids in elementary school(in Glendale circa 1994) filled with mean spirited American kids who are not only familiar with your ethnicity but also who posess anti Armenian sentiments as a result of racist parents. My brother who is 5 years older than me had it even worse, and so we had to learn to be defensive or as you say “confrontational.” Armenians were not always the majority in Glendale and this city was definitely NOT Armenian friendly back then as it is now. The perks of Armenian-ness that you get to enjoy is the result of years and years of enduring constant racism and being looked down upon as second class citizens….but you wouldn’t know that would you? Consider yourself lucky that you moved to Glendale at the ideal time and be grateful that you weren’t here throughout the slow and painful transition from an American dominated to primarily Armenian immigrant community. Your second piece, although more pathetic , is not AS offensive. I could write a better and more humorous article on life in Glendale on my very worst day . Get it together Missak.

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    • We’re always seeking guest submissions. I’d love to read your humorous take on Glendale life. Please write on your best day and exceed my high expectations.

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  3. I’m so glad that I read this. Very good points made in this. I have so much respect and admiration for different ethnic groups living in a new environment. It takes courage to set the tone and example for your culture. This was beautifully written. I agree that the Armenian culture has added beauty to Glendale.

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  4. This is fantastic! Everything from the title to the choice vocabulary is completely entertaining. I cannot necessarily relate, being that I am completely American and have never had to deal with any sort of identity crisis such as this, but I still found this entry to be both enlightening and accurate to what I’ve witnessed in other people. Side note (and pardon my ignorance), what is that food in the 3rd photo? My grandmother is Greek so I make Baklava every year at Christmas, and that looks very similar. Is it simply the Armenian equivalent? Or is there some amazing Armenian food that I am missing out on and need to make immediately?

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    • It is, indeed, the Armenian equivalent of baklava. I’ve tried Greek baklava before, and though it’s delicious, tastes different from Armenian baklava. Maybe you can find a recipe online and try it one year.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Thanks for sharing your story! I may not have the identifiable last name, but I’m an Armenian from Glendale’s sister Hye city, Fresno. Now I live in the Bay Area where very few could probably locate Armenia on a map.

    On one hand, I’m fiercely proud of my heritage, as most Hyes are, being bonded by tragedy. On the other hand, I’m not naive about our stereotypes. I mean, the most famous Hyes are the Kardashians! A PR fiasco, if I ever heard one.

    To combat this, we have to lead by example. Share our stories (and our food!) so that people’s opinions aren’t colored by the douchebags. You’re doing a great job with this post! And congrats on being Freshly Pressed!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Sadly being a white girl, I can actually relate to this feeling of an outsider. I moved to the Sacramento area from Seattle and I do not know if it is just California or me or the area, but I have never had such difficulty fitting in and making friends before. I hope you start feeling at home and proud of your heritage.

    If you ever notice a true American when asked about their heritage will toss out 5 generation ago European heritage, like somehow just being American is somehow shameful. I think this is truly where much racism is rooted. In this disconnect from who we actually are. Most Americans are a multitude of mixed heritages and people fear the end of a culture they never really had in the first place.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. it sucks to know that there are a lot of bad Armenians in the US who have made a reputation… but stupid people tend to falsely generalize all the time… like in Lebanon, Armenians have done nothing but help build a country out of nothing… and yet they are looked down as 2nd-3rd level citizens and refered to as job stealing migrants…

    The saddest part of your article is where you say “a white man” in reference to not what you are. I am Armenian and I am white as snow… so are most Armenians..

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  8. Your experiences not only have opened your mind and increased your intelligence but have made you interesting and funny! From an American point of view, most of us are ignorant. I like that many of the comments here encourage you to teach others about your culture and open the eyes of those who cannot understand because they do not share similar struggles. They need you more than they know.

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  9. Even as the image of the majority in this country, I have faced demeaning and awful stereotypical views of who I am. As much as you might scoff at this, your plight resonates with me. People tend to get in a mindset, placing others into clean little labeled boxes that verify just who they are. It makes it easier for them to deal with the differences in others that make them uncomfortable.

    Personally, I don’t think that I have ever met anyone who is Armenian and has such a rich identity tied to them. In a world where conformity is still praised, I think standing out, even under the confines of your heritage, should be applauded.

    Although it is your choice, of course, I think that Missak is much better than Mike. It holds a certain originality that is lacking in this country.

    Best of luck to you in Glendale!

    Liked by 2 people

  10. Nicely done. Being a Hungarian immigrant I can identify with most of what you had to say. Although I felt a great deal more comfortable being a Hungarian American in the USA then I am being a Hungarian Hungarian in Hungary. Poverty and socialism does nasty things to one’s character over generations. But humans are very adaptive, this too shall pass. 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

  11. Well written Missak! Your feelings are mutual regarding the view of the Armenian community in Glendale. The blame for this perspective can be attributed to 1. Primarily negative media coverage of Armenian affairs in Glendale and 2. Our self “Advertising” of fraud and otherwise. There are many other cultural populations in Los Angeles who take part in illegal financial activities, but you don’t see them flashing a brand new Benz in their section 8 funded apartment building. Regardless, I think that the best lesson we can all learn is going back to Diana and her people. The Jewish community faces many of the same challenges of prejudice as we do, but they have risen, conquered, and grown stronger. That feeling of “shame” is nonexistent. Armenians have made Glendale the amazing city it is today and whether others want to acknowledge that or not should not be our concern. We just need to make sure our current and future generations grow up more confident and can slowly turn the tide in our favor.

    Liked by 1 person

  12. I don’t think you need a PC ending to this story. People are who they are and the genocide is no excuse for being a DB. The silver lining is not in the food or the douchebag tendency to fight for his misplaced ethnic pride, but that most immigrants are “douchebags” to the host civilization (the english to the Indians, the Irish to the English, and so on). It takes a generation, or two, to grow out of your cultural and “i must survive and prosper at any cost” stresses (not an excuse for being a DB, many are not) and settle down into the calm and self-satisfied complacency of the natives, and then complain about the unwashed DB immigrants who don’t play by the rules. There is hope, however, because the history of immigrant groups says so, not because we are some very unique DBs.

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  13. Everything about this was so accurate & I’m sure many people go through similar struggles whether or not they are in your exact situation, they should start taking pride instead of being ashamed.

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  14. I remember Glendale before it became an Armenian community. We also worked at the Glendale Galleria in the 80’s. This story has brought back such a rush of memories. Over the decades it has become an Armenian town…kinda like Chinatown. And people there are very aggressive drivers. But the food is excellent and worth the trouble of going to Glendale. I don’t think you should shade your heritage especially in LA. Everybody is everything there. So screw Thomas or whatever his name was. You roll as you roll. And don’t be sorry for it.

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