Notes From Hairenik
May 17, 2010
Having visited the Boston area for the last two weeks, I realized how important being immersed in cultural diversity was for me.

Boston one of the most ethnically diverse cities on the US East Coast, arguably second to New York. There is a mélange of cultures—Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Irish, Indian, Italian, French, Mexican, Brazilian, Vietnamese and Venezuelan all immediately come to mind. There are various reasons for that mix—mainly work related but also because Boston as an educational hub attracts people from all over the world wishing to attend one of the dozens of top-notch colleges and universities that Massachusetts has to offer. From Africa to Armenia, people immigrate to Boston to tap into that knowledge trove and culture base. Boston is also home to some of the most renowned museums in the world. It hosts several music conservatories and art schools, so the city is a Mecca for arts and music. And the multicultural influence is taken for granted because it is hardly noticed anymore—it’s everywhere you go.

In Armenia, as I have hinted at previously on this blog, ethnic diversity is confined primarily to the city’s center and is rather downplayed. World cultures are represented as caricatures rather than defined, conclusive examples. Indian culture is perhaps the most obvious since the Armenian ties, mostly economic, with India are strong. Each year at least one trade fair is hosted and thousands of Armenians go to buy various Indian goods like clothing, jewelry and even furniture. Russian-dubbed Indian films shown on TV have always been popular. There are also hundreds of Indian students attending Yerevan State University. Iranian presence is also noticeable with Farsi spoken on sidewalks and phrases written on some shop windows meant to entice Iranian customers. So you do have a multi-ethnic presence, although it is subdued.

As for general cultural diversity, there’s a lot more work to be done. Armenians are mostly Russian influenced via the media. They buy their cars and consumer goods from Dubai or Europe and their clothes are produced in Turkish sweat shops. And most of them strive for a homogenous, uniform style that is rarely deviated from. Most men for instance still look like they just walked out of portal from an episode of the TV sitcom Happy Days. Yet when Armenian citizens demonstrate diversity in thought or expression, it can be perceived that they are anti-establishment or even anti-Armenian.

You can argue that Armenian society is perhaps becoming more tolerant of diversity, but there’s still an infinite amount of work to do in that realm. Armenia can’t rely on restaurants to showcase world cultures; there should be more acceptance of global individualism and identity.

This time around it was more difficult for me to return to Armenia. But now that I am here I am not experiencing the “culture shock” that I anticipated—I was convinced that I would. Boston’s still on my mind and I am still in a sort of Boston mode as I write this, 14 hours after my return. Seems that time travel is getting more difficult for me as I get older.

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