Immigrant Issues Explored at ARS, Pacific Clinics Community Forum

The panelists with moderator at the ARS forum

GLENDALE—“Issues of Immigrants,” the third community forum organized jointly by the Armenian Relief Society of Western US and Pacific Clinics community behavioral health center, drew attention to how immigrants can retain their identity while acculturating to a new society.

More than 50 people attended the panel that featured Dr. Levon Jernazian, a licensed clinical psychologist, and Ardashes Kassakhian, Glendale City Clerk on Wednesday, December 12 at the Glendale Youth Center. (The series of community forums continues with a panel discussion on “Divorce and Child Custody” on Thursday, December 19.)

ARS Regional Executive chairperson Lena Bozoyan delivered the opening remarks to the audience, which included City of Burbank Vice-Mayor Emily Gabel-Luddy, Burbank City Clerk Zizette Mullins, as well as Paula Devine, former chairperson of the Glendale Commission on the Status of Women. On behalf of the board of Pacific Clinics, Zaven Kazazian addressed the audience and expressed pride in partnering with the ARS in this capacity.

The forum commenced with moderator Tamar Tufenkdjian, a Rose & Alex Pilibos Armenian School teacher, providing an introduction on the topic, which would address acculturation, adaptation, and generation conflict issues. Tufenkdjian cited the fact that the United States is a country made up of immigrants and gave mention to the importance of finding solutions to ensure that the identities of immigrants do not suffer when acculturating to a new society.

Dr. Levon Jernazian offered a psychological perspective on the topic, noting it would not be culture-specific. He outlined individual factors that play a role in whether or not a person would adjust well to a new environment, including emotional maturity, educational level, and any presence of emotional issues prior to immigrating. Moreover, he explained various experiences that one may encounter as a result of immigrating, such as adjustment problems, post-traumatic stress disorder, and generational conflicts where some family members may be more resilient in adapting to a new culture. The latter, he noted, could result in disharmony between members of a family. Often times, the male gender may be more rigid and less likely to adapt as quickly as women or children may, he explained.

Jernazian said the issues that immigrants face between three and five years of immigrating differ from their experiences five years after arrival. After five years, an immigrant individual or family usually “selects one of three alternatives in terms of adjustment, as follows: 1) Absolute rigidity; 2) Complete assimilation; or 3) Preserving their cultural core while at the same time adopting the main values of the host culture.” Dr. Jernazian stressed that the third alternative represents the healthiest one psychologically.

Ardashes Kassakhian mainly drew on subjective experiences to present on this topic. He explained that acculturation and adaptation are not issues unique only to Armenians. Kassakhian went on to pose a rhetorical question of “What would an Armenian community such as Glendale look like after 50 years” and cited Watertown, MA and Fresno, CA as models to look at.

He provided a personal observation that communities with smaller Armenian populations integrate well within the larger community, whereas communities with larger Armenian populations remain more introverted. The fact, however, that Armenian populations can be found thriving around the world serves as a testament, he noted, that Armenians can easily adapt. Kassakhian said more programs that allow people to acculturate more easily are needed.

Both Jernazian and Kassakhian stressed the importance of immigrants identifying the qualities in their identities that they want to preserve. The audience was given the opportunity to pose questions and received additional information from the panel on gender issues and acculturation; where art plays a role; accents; and behavioral issues among students.

The final community forum in this series, “Divorce and Child Custody,” will take place on Wednesday, December 19 from 6 to 8 p.m. at the Glendale Youth Center (211 W. Chestnut St., Glendale, CA). The forum will feature panelists Rev. Ghevond Kirazian, Maral Babian, PhD, PsyD; Mariam Vanounts, MFT Moderator: Suzanne Douzmanian, Chairperson, Armenian Advisory Board, Pacific Clinics

For additional information on the community forum series, visit facebook.com/arswusa or contact the ARS Regional Headquarters at (818) 500-1343.

The ARS of Western USA, established in 1984 and with regional headquarters in Glendale, CA, has 27 chapters and more than 1,500 members in five western states. The ARS-WUSA operates a Social Services Division, a Child, Youth, and Family Guidance Center, and funds numerous youth programs, scholarships and relief efforts.

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