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Intersections: Reminders of the old country in the new

April 23, 2012|By Liana Aghajanian

In the early morning hours last Wednesday, I set off on a more than 800-mile road trip across California and into Oregon to finally quench the years-long thirst I felt for Portland, a city that has often given me an inkling that it could feel just like home, even from far away.

After soaking in a landscape bursting with creativity, natural beauty, awe-inspiring art and zines — as well as more cyclists than I've seen in any other city I've visited — Portland, or “Stumptown” as it is so affectionately called, was as comforting as I had imagined. But the journey to get there left just as big an impression on me as my destination.

The drive up the state that I've called home for more than 20 years felt familiar, like I had been there before, like I was inching by and toward a place I left sometime ago, but that still lived within me despite the incredible distance. It’s a place that I always found my mind coming back to no matter how far away I got, a place that I haven't been able to escape.

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The further I got away from Los Angeles, the more I was reminded of Armenia, that small, insignificant country often confused with Romania, whose biggest export — at least to Glendale residents — seems to be its diaspora. So insignificant that the Wall Street Journal recently called it “Overlooked Armenia” in a piece touting it as the forgotten holy land, home to “some of the world's greatest religious shrines.”

As I crawled up California, I passed through the San Joaquin Valley, where a part of the Armenian diaspora’s first waves of immigration in the form of agricultural workers to the U.S. can be traced. Then past Mount Shasta, a West Coast version of the biblical Mount Ararat — a national treasure so prominently displayed in Armenian homes, that it really should be taken into consideration for the next census.

The rest of Siskiyou County, from the beautiful Cascade range to the Klamath National Forest, evoked more scenes from that overlooked country, that like the countries surrounding it, is a victim of neatly packaged stereotypes. But this overlooked country is more than a large ethnic group that over the decades has found a permanent home in California and changed the demographic landscape of Glendale.

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