SAN DIEGO—The Armenian Relief Society San Diego Roubina Chapter and the Armenian Students Association of the University of California, San Diego co-hosted a town hall meeting on Friday, November 30 at the Forum Hall in the Price Center of the university.
The meeting was moderated by Berge Minasian and he opened with brief comments about what he saw as the state of our societal evolution in San Diego. He said that if the present leaders do not take steps to locate and engage 2nd and 3rd generation Armenian-Americans, there won’t be anyone around to receive the “torch” when it is passed in the next five to ten years.
The original post genocide wave of Armenian immigrants successfully integrated into their new communities and simultaneously instilled a passion for Armenian culture and heritage in their progeny. This new generation of Armenian-Americans was a powerful influence on the successful evolution of our communities. They very competently oversaw the construction of schools, churches and the social/political infrastructure which sustains our communities even to this date.
However, that generation is in the twilight of their lives and many of them no longer enjoy the health or stamina to continue on in the leadership roles they once held in their community. If San Diego Armenians are to successfully continue their proud tradition, they must find ways to engage the missing 2nd and 3rd generations into the community.
The first panelist to address the questions at hand was Nare Kupelian. Kupelian is a graduate of UCSD and she is presently a Ph.D. Candidate of Armenian History at UCLA. She spoke eloquently about the importance of making sure that high school and college students feel validated in their Armenian communities. Their opinions must be included during community planning phases regarding projects which are ostensibly made to facilitate their ethnic evolution. Too often their opinions are not sought and consequently a powerful resource is left untapped.
The next panelist to speak was John Ohanian, a graduate of USD with post degree training in the Harvard Business School Executive Education Program. Ohanian was chosen to speak from his point of view regarding best practices to promote success in community outreach programs.
He also spoke passionately about the importance of including our younger children in the Sunday School and Armenian language classes. He referenced his own family experience. His seventeen year old daughter made lifetime friends in the Armenian summer camps. His younger son firmly identifies with his ethnic heritage as well because of his involvement in various Armenian venues available here in San Diego.
He was very committed to the importance of getting our children involved early on and felt confident that the preservation of our community is absolutely strengthened by instilling a passion for our Armenian culture and heritage in the very young.
Next, the audience was invited to split into groups to further discuss what was presented and to offer their personal insights as well. The pre-selected group leaders were instructed to focus the discussion on the following questions:
What would a thriving San Diego Armenian community look like from your perspective?
Are you personally engaged in your Armenian community?
What do you believe are the pressing reasons why the missing 2nd and 3rd generations are missing from active engagement in our community?
The groups were invited to discuss these questions for twenty minutes. But when the time was up, they were still too immersed in their quest to find workable solutions to our challenges. The passionate discussion in these groups was inspiring to say the least and the participants were genuinely committed to finding answers to the larger concerns of the day. They were granted another fifteen minutes to continue their discussions before the recorders were invited to present summations for their groups.
The summary reports made by the UCSD student recorders in each group were truly inspiring. They were poised and extremely competent in their presentations. If we didn’t learn anything else at this Town Hall event, we absolutely learned that our students are very proud of their heritage and ready to be included as full members of our community.
If anyone needed evidence about the urgency for this town hall meeting they surely got it from the enthusiastic participation of the group members. The discussions were heartfelt and above all else, they were very positive in their comments and constructive in their suggestions. Overall, they agreed with the theme of the evening but were unable to offer definitive suggestions for how the community was to move forward.
The one suggestion which stood out among the rest was that strong leadership was needed if indeed the San Diego Armenian community was to grow and thrive. The Armenian community in Glendale was mentioned as a strong model. However, in San Diego there is not the benefit of a huge population pool of recent immigrants and their inspired 1st generation children.
In summary then, it is a given that the Armenian presence will continue to exist in San Diego. The infrastructure has been put into place. What remains is to find venues which would attract and engage those who are at this time lingering around on the fringe of our community life. We must find avenues through which this important generation can become motivated and willing to pick up the torch which will inevitably be passed on to them.