Special to Asbarez By Teni Khachaturian Heritage–as defined by Collins English Dictionary–is "something inherited at birth–such as personal characteristics–status and possessions; anything that has been transmitted from the past or handed down by tradition." To most–heritage is the simple truth about who we are and where we come from. For Vickie Smith Foston–author of "Victoria’s Secret: A Conspiracy of Silence," her heritage is anything but a simple truth. For the first 29 years of her life–what Vickie Smith Foston knew about her past was an elaborate lie constructed generations earlier by family she did not know existed.
"Victoria’s Secret: A Conspiracy of Silence" is a non-fiction biographical account of the life–and death–of Victoria Smith–Vickie Smith Foston’s grandmother. After committing suicide on March 9th–1950–much of Victoria Smith’s life became a mystery. Her son–Jack Smith–was 10 years old when she jumped from the roof of the Security Bank building in downtown Fresno. From that day forward–not much was said about Victoria.
Smith Foston–at the age of 29–decided to learn more about her past–her father’s family–and her grandmother’s very public suicide. What began as a project for a college course became a three-year endeavor involving extensive research–interviews and investigation. Through her research–she discovered that much of what she and her father had known about their ancestry was a lie.
For 197 pages–Smith Foston captivates her readers while uncovering the elaborate lies perpetuated by her grandmother’s family. The biggest of these lies being the family’s nationality. The Levons–thought to be immigran’s of French and Italian descent–were really the Levonians from Armenia. Upon moving to the United States–Hovaness Levonian wanted so badly to "fit in" that he changed the family name and discarded his Armenian identity. "If you’re not going to speak English–then don’t speak at all," was the response to Armenian being spoken in the home. Victoria Smith–one of six children–was forced to assume an identity that was not her own and live the lie that they had created for her. She was lectured for having Armenian friends or for making any sort of attempt to be involved in the burgeoning Armenian community in Fresno–California at the time.
As the years went on–the corruption and lies of the Levon family would further take their toll on Victoria Smith. Vickie Smith Foston chronicles the events of her grandmother’s life from the first person perspective–piecing together all of the information that she gathered through her research–to tell her life story. Her grandmother became the black sheep of the family because her father disapproved of her choice in a husband. They refused to help her raise her son–Jack–because of who his father was. She writes about her difficult marriage–her husband’s nine-year absence and her inability to raise her son all by herself. She was forced to make the hardest decision a mother can make and that was to put her son in foster care while she spent her weekdays working three jobs to support the two of them.
Victoria Smith was a hardworking and dedicated woman who devoted every weekend to seeing her son and every other day working to someday give him the life that she wanted for him. Victoria Smith was a strong Armenian woman who–despite what her family said–relied on her culture and community to help her through her most difficult times. She made sure that her son was raised in an Armenian foster home–that way she was sure he would get the love and nurturing he needed when she was not there.
Vickie Smith Foston does a brilliant job of constructing the puzzle that was her grandmother’s life. Although one may never know the exact reason as to why Victoria Smith took her own life that day in Fresno–who she was and where she came from is no longer a mystery. Smith Foston not only deals with the generations of lies and corruption within her family–but also deals with a greater issue – the Armenian Genocide. She tells the story of Armenia’s like no other and captures the true essence of what it is to be Armenian. In the words of California State Assemblyman Howard Kaloogian–the book is a "journey of discovery? you will see your parents–grandparents–and their parents in a new light." The book is available at Sardarabad Bookstore in Glendale–CA and other local bookstores. You may also purchase the book online at SacramentoArmenia’s.com–Narek.com–or Amazon.com. Phone orders can be placed by calling (916) 202-2414 or fax your order to (916) 484-0663. To mail order–send check or money order to: Victoria Lazarian Heritage Foundation–P.O. Box 60715–Sacramento–CA 95860 VISA and MASTERCARD Accepted. Add $2.00 shipping and handling charges for the first book and $.50 for each book within the same order. Vickie Smith Foston lives in Northern California with her three daughters. She received a Master’s Degree in Sociology from California State University–Sacramento and wrote her Master’s thesis on Armenian Nationalism. Since beginning her research for her book "Victoria’s Secret: A Conspiracy of Silence," Vickie has learned much about her Armenian heritage and has even gone so far as to create a website for Armenia’s in Northern California–www.SacramentoArmenia’s.com.
When asked why she decided to publish her grandmother’s story–Smith Foston said "I did it for three reasons. First–I saw that the story was there. My grandmother was sending a message when she gave her life. Also–I wanted to do it in honor of the struggles she had faced. Lastly–I thought it was an important tool to educate people. It teaches people about who the Armenia’s are–both past and present."
Smith Foston not only learned about her grandmother’s life while researching this book–but she educated herself on Armenian history and culture. She said "I didn’t know anything about being Armenian. I realized that the morals that my father had been raised with–that he in turn instilled within me and that I am passing on to my children were traditional Armenian values." When asked about the Armenian foster family who raised her father–Smith Foston said "They loved him and raised him as though he were their own?That’s what it is to be Armenian–to be Christian–and to be loving."
Vickie Smith Foston dedicated the book to her dad–"her hero." When discussing her father she said "My dad is a wonderful person. He is genuinely kind and has such a wonderful perspective on life. I can’t say enough about him." When asked about her father’s reaction to her book–Smith Foston said "He just loves this. He is standing in the shadows–holding the book with a smile on his face."