My Big, Fat, Armenian Family

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            I’ve always hated My Big Fat Greek Wedding.  It’s not particularly bad, but the point of watching movies is to escape reality, not relive it. For those who are unfamiliar, the movie is about a Greek girl named Toula who falls in love with a non-Greek man, much to her family’s dismay. Family and culture mean everything to these people, and Windex is a cure-all. I may not be Greek, but my Armenian family seems to have a lot of the same ideals, such as always having a surplus of food, family, homemade remedies, and extreme disapproval of the Turks. My Big Fat Greek Wedding brings up some repressed memories of family reunions I would care to forget.


            I’ve never understood this pride that my dad’s family had for their country. They make it a point to teach the kids the language, go to Armenian churches, eat Armenian food, and hang out with other Armenians. Armenia hasn’t done anything spectacular, and it didn’t gain its independence until 1991, making me older than my family’s beloved country.


            I spent a lot of time at my Nana’s house when I was younger, and I also spent a lot of time being sick. While Toula’s father used Windex, my nana had her own remedies, most of which had nothing to do with being Armenian and more to do with being a little crazy. Her magical cure? Vick’s Vapor Rub. No matter what sickness, be it the flu, the common cold, or scarlet fever, it was nothing that some Vick’s couldn’t cure.


            Grade school was when I first began to try and learn about my family’s culture. We had to write a report on our different ethnicities and read them in class. I explained to my class that I was German, French Canadian, Croatian, and Armenian. My teacher stopped me to ask if I had meant “Romanian,” stating that Armenia wasn’t a real country. I blushed and said “Romania” was what I meant. This was the first time I began to question my family’s pride in their heritage. How could they be so proud of a country people have never even heard of?


            As I got older, I made it a point to learn more about my ancestry. I didn’t trust the information given me, since my family believes that Armenia invented just about everything. “Did you know?” my Aunt Sarah will ask anyone who listens, “Armenia invented astrology?” “Did you know Armenia was the first country to declare Christianity a language?” “Did you know Noah’s ark landed in Armenia?” Or my personal favorite, “Did you know Armenia has the best apricots in the world?”


            While I can’t attest to the apricots, there are a few fun facts that pop culture and observing my family has taught me. First, if you want to be a famous Armenian, your last name better be “Kardashian” or “Kevorkian”. If an Armenian is ever portrayed on television, they are either a drug dealer, a hairy woman, or a loud-mouthed drunk. I can neither confirm nor deny these stereotypes. The rock band System of a Down uses Armenian folk music as inspiration for some of their music, making them a perfectly acceptable music choice at any family gathering. Lastly, if you have any percentage of Armenian blood in you, it is your obligation to make sure you flaunt your Armenian heritage. This would include ranting about the Armenian genocide, adopting Armenian children, and drinking lots of wine. My family has perfected the latter.


            Wine plays a pivotal role in any gathering in my family. Holidays, birthdays, and post-sermon church luncheons all contain a surplus of food and wine. My family has a gift of making alcoholism sound acceptable. “Did you know Armenians perfected the art of wine-making? Winston Churchill used to order hundreds of bottles a year,” Aunt Sarah will chime after a few glasses. The last time she declared this at thanksgiving, she followed up her statement by walking straight through our back screen door and tripping down the stairs – all without spilling her wine glass.


            The last big family reunion we had was after my Nana’s funeral. In Armenian tradition, we get together to honor the deceased on the day of the funeral, the day after the funeral, the 40th day after the funeral, and the anniversary of the death. The one year anniversary is generally the biggest gathering my family has.


            My Nana’s anniversary was the first one of these gatherings I attended. Since the entire family came, my mom did her best to inform me of my unknown family members.  “That’s your cousin Scott. We haven’t seen him since he was a baby. And the two kids over there are Armen and Elina. You remember them right?” The information was overwhelming. My mom continued, “That’s your Uncle Sarkis and cousins Louie and Nina. Oh and that’s Helen. Everyone calls her Aunt Helen. Do you remember her?” I saw Nina talking to Aunt Helen. Nina had divorced a distant relative of mine and was no longer actually related, though she never failed to show up to any family party.


            “Oh hello Nina, so nice to see you again,” Aunt Helen started.


            “Oh my God, Auntie Helen, I’ve missed you so much. I’m sorry I’m late but I just could not find my skirt. Do you like it?”


            Aunt Helen smiled for a moment, “Well Nina, you have got to be just the prettiest porrnik I’ve ever seen.” Nina gave her a hug then wandered to mingle with the rest of her former family.


            I found by cousin Louie standing nearby. “Hey Louie. What does ‘porrnik’ mean?”


            He smirked. “I believe it loosely translates to ‘prostitute.’”            Aunt Helen was growing on me.


            After everyone finished eating, my Aunts brought out the sheet cakes. “They’re Armenian cakes from your Nana’s favorite bakery,” my aunt told me.


            They looked like regular, store-bought, sheet cakes to me. “What makes them Armenian cakes?” I asked.


            “Well, Kimanoush, an Armenian made them,” was the best answer I could get. My aunts would call McDonald’s Armenian if they knew an Armenian had cooked their food.


             At any reunion, I usually try to leave just after the cake. If I stay too long, I get to hear the “Turks are evil” speech all over again. The Armenian Genocide was one of the darkest times in Armenian history, and it’s why my great-grandparents came to America. It’s also probably the reason why more Armenians now live in America than live in Armenia. More than a million Armenians were killed while being forcefully deported from their country by Turkish authorities. My family generally isn’t one to hold grudges, but a few years ago there were some particularly bad things said about the Turks when my uncle found an article that quoted officials of Turkey, which essentially stated that they didn’t think a genocide ever occurred, but if it did, they were sorry.  My grandmother in turn, ranted for 3 hours about “those damn Turks” before any of us were allowed to leave.


            I spent my entire life complaining about my family. I hated that they were obnoxious, loud, and often drunk. I couldn’t stand them shoving food and culture down my throat all the time. Their music irritated me. Their prejudice towards Turks disgusted me. I dreaded going to reunions and eating their “Armenian chicken” and “Armenian sheet cakes.”


            It wasn’t until college that I realized all the things I hated about my family were the same reasons I depend on them. They eat and drink so much because their culture says that in order to share joy, they need to first share their food and drinks. They have their own set of ideals and traditions, but their hospitality is what they’re best known for. They’ve always accepted everyone, regardless of what race (even some Turks), and take care of their families, neighbors, and friends. They irritate me, and God knows they’re stubborn, but at the end of the day it’s nice to know I have hundreds of aunts, uncles, grandparents, and cousins who always have my back.


            I have learned to accept my family, and in turn decided that maybe I always hated My Big Fat Greek Wedding because I could never appreciate it. I figured I should give it another try. My mom sat next to me on the couch as I began the movie, then proceeded to stand up and turn it off. “Sorry, I can’t watch that movie right now,” she sighed. “It reminds me too much of when I married your dad.”

Created: Jan 24, 2012

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