Asbarez welcomes Elise Kalfayan and Catherine Yesayan as authors of a new column called “Community Links.” We welcome their perspective, insight and views to our pages and our Web site.
BY ELISE KALFAYAN
Catherine Yesayan and I had met before, but only briefly at large gatherings. We finally got the chance to talk when both of us attended a September 2010 event at Glendale’s Woodrow Wilson Middle School featuring the former president’s great-great grandson. As often happens among our people, we discovered many common links to the local community and common concerns for the Armenian Diaspora.
Yesayan has been a dedicated booster at the middle school for years. She has seen three children through Glendale schools while keeping involved in civic and cultural activities. Over the years since her family’s flight from Tehran in the 1970s, she composed memories of her childhood and early adult life in pre-revolutionary Iran, and reflections on her life in the U.S. When we met, she was about to launch a blog, Beyond the Blue Domes, to complement her civic and cultural outreach.
I am a parent involved in the Glendale school system, although in a different part of the city. Born and raised in Fullerton, California which was (and still is) a quiet suburb in Orange County, I settled in Glendale in the late 1980s with my husband, also an Armenian-American born in Southern California. Raised to be engaged in civic and charitable causes, I served on my Armenian Evangelical church board as well on boards of local community groups. My primary contact with the Glendale Armenian community was through the school system. When I met Yesayan, I had been publishing my own community news blog, Sunroom Desk, for two years.
We arrived at the middle school lobby to greet Donald Wilson Bush, who was visiting Southern California to celebrate the launch of the Woodrow Wilson Legacy Foundation and to formalize plans for a tribute space for his famous ancestor on the middle school campus. Glendale school board member Greg Krikorian was on hand; he had met Bush at a Western Armenia borders conference the year before and had initiated discussions with Bush on the school tribute space which would be a focal point for the community. The object: to help Armenian-American students and families better understand their history and appreciate the role of Woodrow Wilson in reaching out to assist Armenians who survived the genocide.
Yesayan and I were drawn to the event to hear more about this noble goal. Bush was eloquent in his defense of his great-great-grandfather’s legacy and the meaning it has for the Armenian Diaspora. Before and after his talk with the school children, I was comparing notes with my fellow aspiring blogger other about her writing, the importance of preserving memories, contributing to cultural and historical understanding, and the hope that Armenian-American teenagers could better understand their people’s history and heritage.
We decided on the spot to try and collaborate. Yesayan, with years of community/cultural experience, has a well-developed voice reflecting her appreciation for the life she had in pre-revolutionary Iran and the new start she and her husband were able to make in the United States. She wanted a collaborator whose first language was English. I’m a first/second generation Armenian-American who grew up commuting from Orange County to attend the United Armenian Congregational Church in Hollywood and visit family members who had settled in the LA area. I had developed lessons for children on Armenian Christian history, served as editor of the quarterly Armenian Evangelical Forum journal, and made attempts as a child and an adult to learn the Armenian language.
We saw each other as links in a long chain strung together around the world, a chain that coils round and round several times over in Glendale. We share concerns for the next generation of Armenian Americans, concerns for the forces of history and how they impact Armenians in the Middle East and around the world, and concerns for the civic life and future prosperity and safety of the host country to which they are dedicated.
As we launch a new column alternating between us and featuring our reflections on cultural and community links, we wish all the readers of Asbarez a Happy Independence Day. May all future generations of Armenian-Americans and the Armenian Diaspora everywhere benefit from the cultural, religious, and civic independence and interdependence in this society. We look forward to celebrating our heritage and sharing our thoughts in Asbarez.
Elise Kalfayan is a Glendale resident, a native Southern Californian, and a combined first/second generation Armenian-American. She has produced or edited print and online pieces on topics ranging from urban development to Armenian Church history. She is the publisher of SunroomDesk, a Glendale community news blog, and works as a contract writer, editor, and publishing consultant for clients including businesses, entrepreneurs, nonprofits, and memoirists.