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Intersections: Encounter with a familiar stranger

October 01, 2012

There's no denying that if you live in or around Glendale, you probably know more about the inner workings of Armenian culture than most people — whether you'd like to or not.

Thanks to 30 years of steady immigration, the city has become home to the second largest concentration of Armenians outside of Armenia, but lest you think that the Armenian American identity begins and ends with the Jewel City, you're mistaken. Either due to tragic circumstance or an innate nomadic nature, Armenians have been a part of the American landscape for centuries.

The earliest recorded Armenian immigrants to the U.S. arrived in the early 1600s, one of which settled in Virginia's Jamestown Colony. The 19th century saw the first wave of large arrivals of Armenians to the states, many of them who settled on the East Coast and slowly, starting with Fresno, ventured west.

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Though the Armenian American population rivals British Armenian diaspora numbers, Manchester, home of Manchester United if you're into football (that's soccer to you), has been a significant stronghold in Armenian settlement, with many Armenians arriving in the early 19th century as silk merchants.

But this isn't about Armenian-American history. It's about how where we live has perhaps more of a hand in shaping us than where our ancestors come from.

On a recent late night in Manchester, as I checked into my hotel for the night seeking comfort from the cold that shook the bones of this So-Cal-bred journalist more than the average Mancunian, I saw the deep blue eyes and bushy-tailed eyebrows of a concierge, the dead giveaway that he could have only belonged to the people of my tribe.

Armenian eyes say so much without ever speaking. In them you can find pain and joy clinging to each other so harmoniously. They carry so much weight that we even have a sappy song that you can generally hear toward the end of our marathon weddings when the emotions and liquor are overflowing.

His Armenian name confirmed the Armenian eyes, but I didn't want to say anything at the risk of sounding strange. Glendalians might disagree, but the worldwide Armenian population is so minuscule, perhaps eight to 11 million at best — compare that to around 80 million Koreans worldwide — that meeting someone of Armenian descent in an unexpected corner of the world is overwhelmingly exciting.

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