BY TAMAR KEVONIAN
There’s a deceptive lightheartedness to Levon that masks his serious side. Of his three closest friends, he is the one that speaks the least Armenian and generally does not participate in the discussions taking place regarding life, community, and identity swirling around the table at lighting speed; preferring to focus his attention on his dinner. This, coupled with the fact that he makes goofy faces in every photo ever taken of him, one would think that Levon was a happy-go-lucky guy who didn’t take anything seriously.
In fact, all of the exterior mannerisms hide a much deeper and more serious side to Levon, one which does not readily show itself. But while sitting at a riverside café in the warm South American summer sun while sipping a soda, this carefully hidden part of him slowly seeps out.
Levon has a love for music that was inspired by the Ramones, a genre defining punk band from the 1970’s and 1980’s, and he embodies their spirit of freedom and defiance. Although he starting out playing guitar, at the age of eleven he and his best friend, Juan, decided to form a band and he became the drummer. “It was not about the instrument. It was about the music. I wanted to be like the Ramones. We are called Polka.”
In 2003 he decided to see the world. He traveled to Europe and the United States and came to the realization that he didn’t want to live in Argentina anymore. “If I were in L.A., I’d have more chances to live with the music. Here, I don’t know if I want to live for the music. But there you know you can do it,” he says, echoing the sentiment that has brought many before him to the entertainment capital. “It’s not about the money,” he insists. “It’s nice to listen to your own music on the radio.”
He thinks Los Angeles is incredible but it becomes clear that he is looking at it from the perspective of music. “The bands are very professional. They have good instruments. They work. Here, it has to be a hobby. And if you are lucky, maybe, it’s your job.”
With such a long standing love of music, it’s not surprising that Levon dreams of coming to Los Angeles, the place where many of rock and rolls’ legends were born. But besides the music, he genuinely expresses a love for the city that is rarely found in its own residents.
“What do you like about it?” I ask.
“Everything. Maybe I knew the people there. That was important.” In fact he already has a wide network of friends in L.A. where he has visited several time. His knowledge of Glendale and its landmarks are detailed, better than the native Glendale-tsi. But he claims it’s not because of the Armenians that he likes the city. “I don’t care about that,” he says and pauses to reflect. “It’s very quiet.” Compared to hustle of busy Buenos Aires, Los Angeles, with its sprawling suburban communities can seem like an oasis to the uninitiated.
“What do you like about Glendale?”
“Glendale Galleria. Americana,” he says listing the well known sights which he describes as “very nice.” But is it enough to prompt a young man to move to a new a new hemisphere leaving behind family and friends?
“Did you meet a girl in Glendale?”
“No,” he quickly responds. He would prefer to meet a girl in Buenos Aires. “If I have to speak English all day, I will die,” he says dramatically in perfect English but is reluctant to continue this line of dialogue.
Buenos Aires has a very large Armenian community, estimated to be close to 100,000 people. Like all established communities, only a fraction of that number remains active while the rest disperse and eventually assimilate in the general population. Levon attended the local Armenian school and his family is considered one of the active ones in the community. When asked to compare the Armenians in his community and the one in his dream city, Levon becomes hesitant to discuss his impressions. “It’s a very long chat and you get philosophical. It reminds me of being in Armenia. Everybody had to be an Armenian. If the Genocide did not happen, we would all be there. Strange that you go there and meet people, and you are like brothers. I don’t like to take advantage of being Armenian.” Meaning he doesn’t expect everyone to associate with him simply because he is Armenian; an approach he finds in every community. “Maybe you are not a good guy. I prefer good guys who are Armenian.”
He seems to have found that right combination in Juan, his best friend. “We’ve known each other since we are three years old.” It’s a unique friendship were instead of growing apart as they matured, they have become even closer developing similar interests in music, travel, girls, love of community, and much more.
Although Levon believes that all Armenian communities are similar because we all share the same background, he does think that such a large community like the one in Los Angeles, brings about its own set of problems such crime and a growing Armenian population in jails and prisons. “We are a very small Armenian community here. We know everybody. The bigger the community, the bigger the problems will be.”
The most vexing problem Levon thinks his local community faces is its fractiousness. “For example, if someone is Dashnak, they only go to Dashnak events. That happens everywhere in the world. But it’s stupid. I hate it. It’s stupid to mix politics with feelings. Being an Armenian, it’s a feeling. You have to feel it. Armenians have to be united and they are separated by what they think. You have to be united.” He doesn’t believe the goal of his people should be the Genocide but rather to introduce it to everybody in the world that is not Armenian. “It’s a good culture. I am proud of being an Armenian. I want everybody to know it. Why Jewish people have to be known and not Armenians? Why English people have to be known and not Armenians? When I was a kid, they said Armenian culture is incredible. If you believe that, then spread it.”
Now the discussion has veered dangerously close to being too serious and when asked if he can imagine what a perfect Armenian community would be like in Buenos Aires he replies that he doesn’t know. “Because it’s not the problem of Armenians, it’s the problem of the human race. It’s very theoretical.”
“And no more serious talking!” he proclaims with a laugh and reaches for the tall, glass of ice cold soda slowly melting in front of him.