“Glendale is not what it used to be.”
I have lost count of the number of times I have seen that phrase written and spoken throughout my time growing up in and around this city. You can interpret it in a number of ways, but if you're from a family whose immigration to this country was fairly recent (or let's be honest, Armenian), you can't help but feel it's being unfairly directed at you.
That's another phrase I've often heard, and at times, I admit, have said myself. This is despite the fact that I often feel my American identity trumps all the other invisible layers of ethnic and national identity I'm carrying with me, and the one I identify with and defend most often, especially when I'm outside the country.
It probably means that sometimes, despite no hint of a foreign accent and a penchant for saying “That's not how we do it in the U.S.” when I'm abroad, I still feel like an outsider. And lamenting about how a city “is not what it used to be” comes from a similar feeling, a feeling in which your interests and way of life are now teetering on the margins.
When I think about these phrases, or the endless, unhelpful comments left on every hemisphere of the online world, from Facebook to YouTube as well as news articles, I wonder if integration has actually, successfully taken place in Glendale.
Judging from my own circles, friendships and how I approach social interaction and understanding in life, I often think it has. Just this week, I witnessed with amazement as a Korean American nurse spoke to one patient in Armenian phrases and another in Spanish.
But the question of how far integration has reached — a mutual process in which newcomers and a pre-existing community adapt to each other — still remains murky and, at times, as if it is a concept which doesn't exist in these parts.
This is a conversation that cannot be dissected and dusted in the space of a column, but one that must go beyond commentary spread throughout our new, virtual realities of “likes” and “retweets.”
Much of the misunderstanding and judgment is bred out of fear of the unknown, which both newcomers and old-timers are guilty of harboring.
The former has a responsibility to respect and honor the country and city which is now labeled as “home.” Doing so does not mean completely replacing one identity with another, or losing ethnic pride — it means making room for more interesting, rich layers that can coexist within one person.
The latter also has a responsibility — to communicate, to extend help and reserve judgment.
Glendale is not what it used to be. It's actually better. But if we are to acknowledge and confront some of the real and severe problems faced within its borders, we have to, you know, actually talk instead of competing with one other.
In this game, we are not opponents, but teammates, with hopes of synchronizing to achieve something greater. In our rowboat, however, there just happens to be dolma and kebab along with the hamburgers and fries.
LIANA AGHAJANIAN is a Los Angeles-based journalist whose work has appeared in L.A. Weekly, Paste magazine, New America Media, Eurasianet and The Atlantic. She may be reached at email@example.com.