“Are you an Indian girl?” You look like and Indian!” said the two nine-year-old boys to me in the elementary school lunch line. I didn’t know what to say because nobody had ever asked me that question before and they obviously weren’t inquiring because they were actually interested if I was an Indian. These statements had an intention of teasing me. At nine years I had not figured out how to interact with these boys without feeling just plain hurt. Their laughing at me could have made me feel very self-conscience, but little did I know that this very moment would turn out to be one of my life’s defining moments, thanks in part to an amazing rescue by my best friend Ashley.
The defense I didn’t know how to articulate came instead from Ashley who, with hands on her hips and in a very justified and prideful tone told those two boys “She is not an Indian stupid, Stephie is an Armenian!” Her confident stance created a seismic shift within my heart, and for the first time in my life I felt special because of my family heritage and ethnic background. Ever since that time I have carefully paid attention to the stories and information that make my Armenian heritage unique and special in the melting pot of this world’s diverse cultures.
Grandma's 80th Birthday Party
The majority of my memories that make up my personal ethnic background are centered on family gatherings and the food that we served at potlucks and summer grill- outs when we were together. All of my experience with these delicious and flavorful Armenian dishes are directly the result of my Grandma and maybe even more so from my own mother who always incorporated the traditional elements of Armenian cuisine in our family dinners. My Grandma Rose is 100% Armenian, my own mother 50%, making me a strong 25%. The other nationalities and ethnic make-up I am aware of do not seem to carry the weight of my Armenian counterparts. I also look the part of an Armenian with my darker traits: Brown eyes, brunette hair, olive skin tone.
Me and my Sister Jen with Grandma during a visit
Some of the foods I ate while growing up included Rice Pilaf, Shish Kabobs, stuffed grape leaves, baba ganoush, hummus and Baklava, just to name a few of my favorites. When plans were made to have Grandma stay for a visit, or we were taking a trip downstate to see my mother’s family, rice pilaf was a staple within ever meal. The pilaf that my family makes is rather simple and only contains salt and pepper as a seasoning, but this lends the pilaf dish an opportunity to be a foundation within a meal. It tastes amazing with searing hot grilled shish kebob veggies lay over top. As kids we loved to eat rice pilaf with corn on the cob, the combination was always delicious.
Stuffed Grape Leaves- Yum!!
Grandma would always talk to us about her favorite places to get Greek type food where she lives in Warren downstate Michigan. She always related it to Armenian cuisine. This is probably because the Greeks and Armenians have historical influences on one another, and from what I have learned Armenian cuisine is rich in featuring Middle Eastern and Mediterranean practices too.
Me and my mom working in the kitchen
I have had many conversations with my mom and grandma about our Armenian influences and even more recently about the cuisine. I have a daughter now too and I hope to pass these same Armenian traditions on to her, especially since she inherited the appearance that outwardly sets us apart as Armenians. She hasn’t told me about ever being teased like I experienced in third grade, but she is already aware that her Great Grandma Rose is very special based on where she comes from. We all realize that now is the time to ask the questions and learn as much as we can from Grandma about where we come from. Both of my children will tell you that rice pilaf is among their favorites when it comes to dinnertime and they are very aware of its special origins. Apparently my Mom’s pilaf is still a little better than mine though, but she has 20 years more experience on me in that category, so that is OK.