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Intersections: Breaking bread with two identities

January 04, 2012|By Liana Aghajanian

Every Saturday morning for most of my life, it has been the sweet, lingering smell of fresh-baked bread, rather than an alarm clock, that has lulled me out of a drowsy haze and brought me gently back to reality.

In a ritual initiated by my dad, the piping-hot baked dough wrapped in a simple paper bag and delicately decorated with sesame seeds found a way home with him before ending up on the kitchen table, where its aroma swirled around the house until it found and awakened me.

It was devoured almost immediately, while the loaf of toast routinely used during the week for peanut butter and jelly sandwiches that ended up in lunch boxes remained untouched. It wasn't just any kind of bread. It was barbari, an Iranian flatbread whose origins began many hundreds of years ago in a part of the world that I was born in, but that couldn't be any more different than the one I grew up in.

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The marriage of my multilayered identity, including our beloved barbari tradition, is perhaps most evident during this time of year. On Saturday, a mad dash to the bakery, followed by a feeding frenzy, took place. Soon after, gingerbread men were made, Ralphie and his Red Ryder BB gun was watched on a loop in “A Christmas Story,” and presents were wrapped. And a few days after 2012 was ushered in by the Rose Parade in neighboring Pasadena, the holidays will start all over again for many families like mine as we celebrate Armenian Christmas on January 6, better known around the world as “Epiphany.”

Growing up as a child of immigrants is a harrowing experience, littered with pangs of insecurity and identity issues that stay with you. Pulled between two worlds, you find yourself not really fitting in anywhere, trudging through life with cultural issues that make that already awkward phase of adolescence and being a teenager all the more — well, awkward.

Caught between the Verdugo Hills and the Caucasus Mountains, barbari and toast, Christmas and Epiphany, your dual identities wage internal war with each other. Your sense of now and here competes with your parents' sense of then and there.

It happens that the weight of making peace with a multilayered identity is sometimes overwhelming. You feel an ultimatum must be made, a decision must take place; and embracing one surely means losing the other layers. But there doesn't have to be a sense of loss.

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