Monday, September 22, 2008

Diasporan Youth part 1, and a censored article by one of them

As a blog on Armenian diaspora issues, I find one of the most interesting subjects to be the youth. As the cliche goes the youth are tomorrow's future and the state of the Armenian youth can say a lot about the diaspora's future. My opinion on diasporan youth is mixed. I am pessimistic about youth in general even though I am one of them. I have found the way the outside world has more and more ways of creeping into homes via the internet and television has caused them to grow up faster and faster, not least of because of the messages they get from it which corrupts them at much younger ages (I am no Puritan but it is impossible to not notice the maturity- or lack there of- levels between eighth graders now and just a decade ago when I was one). The Armenian-American diasporan youth (the Armenian ghetto of Southern California aside) is most often a typical suburban kid with some level of ethnic flair, and while it's hard to stereotype such a huge group like east coast Armenians they tend to be upper middle class more often than not. When it comes to youth younger than me, as I feel about typical American children I am not overly pleased. Hopefully this is partly because of their age and is something they can grow out of, but the self-importance, gangster or harlot mentality, etc. is not uncommon amongst them. Most seem to be spoiled to some degree or just attitudy in most unattractive ways. There are many positives as well, especially when they are a little bit older because I also know many Armenian youth more my age have a love of Armenia and are very dedicated to Armenian causes for which they work tirelessly. Even though they are many generations removed the genocide is still an important issue to many of them which I find to be something good because the typical American youth today is completely ignorant of history and their past. The average Armenian-American youth is a hard worker and at least ok organizer, keeping afloat their organizations despite hardships and general nationwide downturn in fraternal organizations due to hundreds of other activities, sports, and responsibilities.

Not that this is anything new, but the typical Armenian-American youth just like so many of their peers across all ethnicities like to have a good time, drinking and partying is a hallmark of almost every community event. This is much to my distaste, though at the same time I know I can't expect otherwise and am cognizant that they are probably no better than their parent's generation- well I still think thanks to media influences they are probably more than a little worse but anyway... The two biggest of these community events each year cap the summer, the ACYOA Sports Weekend at the beginning and AYF Olympics at the end. I have attended both and as I mentioned they are seen mostly as a time to reunite with friends.. and an excuse to party overly hard. The two main diasporan youth groups are different and have their own sets of pros and cons, something I'd like to go into in another entry, but this one is about a certain issue related to one of them in particular.

When it comes to AYF it is more or less expected, but in recent years the Sports Weekend event has gained more popularity and has been growing. What is awkward for ACYOA is that while its party scene is not much different these days than AYF Olympics', it is a church-affiliated event and therefore much of the activities at it are hardly becoming of a church organization. I didn't attend Sports Weekend 2007, but apparently it was becoming clear that something needed to be done to curb this behavior (though according to my sources it wasn't as bad as it was at Sports Weekend 2006 which I did attend and just didn't notice because I am not with that scene). The ACYOA Central Council decided on some rules to make attending Sports Weekend harder, the main one being making everyone who attends get their application signed by their parish priest or board member. This would preclude the various people who are not affiliated with the church or are not overly serious about it, because while divisions are still tight in the diaspora there are of course many equal opportunist who doesn't care what party you are affiliated as long as there's a good party to be had. This decision was very controversial and met with a lot of resistance, all knew there was a problem but unsure of what the best approach was. I often feel that the Armenian Church hierarchy tends to ignore the voice of the youth, in part certainly because I mentioned many are not at the age at which they can make "serious" contributions and are often more interested in partying- so I almost can't blame them for being ignored. There are many youth in the church whoever have strong opinions which sadly are not heard. Almost paradoxically, I also feel they place too much significance on the importance of their young men, desprately needed to hopefully fill their shrinking ranks in the future- while ignoring and denying just as engaged if not more so young women even simple responsibilities they very much desire to have to say nothing about actual positions within the church.

One of those young women, Arpi Paylan, wrote a response to the Sports Weekend problem after the introduction of the solution mentioned above in the lead-up to Sports Weekend 2008. She submitted it to the Hye Hokin newsletter only to have it rejected for being too controversal and likely to avoid exposing internal ACYOA issues, though it makes one wonder whether those issues are easily exposed by merely attending said event? Whatever the case the article never saw print and so I've decided to publish it here myself. Arpi's arguement that this is a needless measure which won't be effective was proven correct at this year's Sports Weekend 2008 which may or may not have been the craziest in history. Not only was there an attendance record but also pandemonium in the halls every night. I felt truly bad for the people unlucky enough to have been stuck on one of the Armenian floors. The coup de grace however was destruction of a fire extinguisher holder and subsequent discharge of it all over one of the hallways, resulting in a 3:30am fire alarm and mass evacuation of the entire hotel onto the street below crowded with fire trucks. Who the perpetrator(s) are is still hazy, though at least one is a youth very much connected with the church while the others apparently were Bolsahyes. Immediate talk was that this event might have been the last nail in the Sports Weekend coffin, however the next day before leaving people were talking about next year so look out for another potentially crazy year and possibly even crazier rules. I do want to take a second here to point out this is not the fault of the volunteer organizers of this event, I came away with an awe at how tireless and hard-working they were, going above and beyond what anyone should be expected to do. They are models to the Armenian community and am disappointed that their trust was abused and they weren't rewarded with good behavior in return.

Without further ado here is Arpi's take on the situation before the pandemonium of Sports Weekend 2008 even broke out which was rejected for publication by the ACYOA:

It seems that we Armenian youth have overstepped some sort of threshold of inappropriate behavior and are now scrambling to reevaluate and revamp Sports Weekend, an event that has been running successfully for years. The complaints are not new—every year someone has something acerbic and scathing to say about the way some of us Armenian girls choose to dress, about the drunken and aggressive conduct of our young men and the decidedly irreligious feel of the event as a whole. Let me make clear right now that I am not blind to the truth behind these criticisms—our conduct as an organization representing the Armenian Christian faith no doubt leaves an outsider with an utterly awful and ultimately inaccurate opinion of us. Nevertheless, I can not help but take issue with making any changes to Sports Weekend. My impulse is to argue that if the event is made even incrementally more selective, it will be hindering those exceptional few who come to the event with no prior exposure to their Armenian community and leave inspired to be dedicated and powerful leaders. This is an admittedly thin argument—the aforementioned people are far and few in between and in reality, the changes being implemented would not actually prevent people of this caliber from attending.
My opposition to changing Sports Weekend then, is this—that we are attacking the manifestation of a deeper, bigger problem and not the problem itself. Rather than getting angry over the inordinate amount of underage drinking that takes place, another look should be taken at what is being done at the level of the parishes to stymie such habits. We get angry over what we see, but what we fail to realize is that all of this—the dress, the conduct, the underage drinking—is all symptomatic of a deeper problem and neglect. We act as though these people we choose to admonish—the underage drinkers, the excessively inebriated legal drinkers, the scantily clad women, the unnecessarily aggressive men—are not a part of who we, as Armenian Christians, are. I am not trying to say that we Armenian Christians are a bunch of brawling drunks; rather, I am saying that it is wrong-minded and unchristian to act as though these people are separate from those of us who choose to behave upright. We are disowning them so that we may remain an upstanding ethnic minority within this vast and aggressively homogenous American existence. Rejection, admonishment and ostracizing are no way to treat the Christian Armenians who disappoint or embarrass us as an organization. That is not Christian behavior, that speaks ill of what the ACYOA stands for. Instead, as a Christian organization, we should do our best to dig deeper and understand what kind of pain and confusion may be driving our young men and women to act in ways that dishonor their heritage and faith. Something different needs to be done at the level of the parishes—what specifically, I think is up to the priests and parish leaders. I can guarantee that any changes made to Sports Weekend will have little actual effect—they will be the changes that we can flaunt to the hotel owners and other non-Armenians whose opinions we seem to value so much. Our survival and cohesion as Christian Armenians has nothing to do with those people. It has everything to do with us loving one another, accepting one another and working together to become a truly Christian community. This of course, means reevaluating so much about the way we choose to conduct our Armenian Christian lives, but I am of the opinion that this is a far more worthwhile enterprise than punishing specific individuals or by wagging a proverbial finger at the Armenian youth. Effort should be poured into reenergizing our spirit and faith in our everyday lives—this is the true challenge and one that requires every ounce of our energy.

1 comment:

Raffi said...

Even though this post was mainly about Armenian youth in USA, we can see some of the same issues here in Lebanon.

A good article, indeed, something seldom written about these days.

I would love to read your further posts related to these issues and to the "diasporans".