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October 29, 2004



Yeah, that's a tough one. My mother is a very smart person -- she's a university professor now. But back when I was a kid she was a housewife, and I'm glad she was there. So I don't think that smart women are necessarily "wasted" devoting themselves to childrearing.I can also sympathize with these ethnic enclaves not wanting to lose their sense of community into the atomizing forces of American society.

Where the problem comes in, I think, is that women are generally expected to bear the burden of all that. The Amish, for instance, expect both sexes to stick to the premodern template, so neither is allowed to go off chasing an exciting career as a lawyer or something. But when men are allowed to "go modern" and women are left with the task of keeping family and community together, it's inequitable.

I can't speak to Armenian society particularly, but that's my overall observation.


I see no moral reason to be "tolerant" of other socities in the sense of pretending all are equally wonderful. They're not. You're advice to Anita was spot on.


I'm confused; you said that Anita's parents didn't want her to be a lawyer, but that they were willing to pay for her education if she attended close to home. Does that mean that they would allow her to study law if she went to UCLA or USC? Or is that off limits whether they pay or not? She is fortunate if they agree to pay regardless of her field of study, even if it means sticking close to home. Shame on them for not paying should she move to the other side of the country, as they obviously can afford to and by not doing so they are forcing Anita to apply for scholarships, some of which she may be winning away from those who can't afford to pay. See where i'm going with that? If my parents said, we found a way to pay for school, but want you to move close to us, i'd do it in a heartbeat! I'm desperate to finish school, but can't as I have to work and there aren't a whole lot (if any) scholarships for 30 something white girls. Anyway, I digress. I agree with you Hugo about wanting to mix things up, in regards to culture. The whole melting pot thing. I think the advice you gave Anita was good and that it came from the right place. Of course if Anita choses to go against her family she risks losing them altogether and that is no trifling loss. Are you going to be there to help her pick up the pieces? At the same time, from what i've observed from friends, going against one's family and one's culture and marrying outside that culture (before, during or after a career) is usually a forgivable offense once the first grandbaby arrives, that of course assuming that there is a baby. If there isn't I'd like to think that her family would still forgive her and come to accept her for who she is, even if it is a bit down the road. Of course that's just me talking and me wishing, the reality of such could be that they will never forgive her. Anita has quite a dilemma, I don't envy her (except for the part about her parents paying for school) one iota. Will you let us know what she decides? Sorry that was so completely LONG.


Her parents are happy to help her finish school, where she can meet a nice husband. She can also have a part-time career until she has children, and help make ends meet.


You can also handle this in a sneaky way. Tell her she could tell her parents that with a law degree she can snare the most eligible Armenian-heritage man and be a trophy wife like the wives of senators and presidents. Tell her to butter up the folks by learning to cook the best baklava in town. It isn't that hard, only fattening to anyone within 5 miles of the baklava. Many an East Indian woman has handled the situation this way - and married her choice , not her parents' choice. By that time, they may get used to things - "at least she's finally married". Of course, if Armenians don't view educated housewives as status symbols, this won't work.


She might also point out to them that American divorce laws do not protect women, and it would be smart for her to have a career.

I'm a big advocate of marrying and mating until everyone is a pleasing shade of brown.

We ARE all pleasing shades of brown. Some of us are just lighter than others.

I'd note that Jews dislike intermarriage because they fear destruction; not because they worry their kids will be dark.


LOL, that's funny, myth.

I have to agree with you most whole-heartedly, Hugo. I've got what is probably one of the most common "inter-racial" relationships--Hispanic and white--so people don't even notice most of the time. But when you can tell someone disapproves, it's most upsetting. What's it to them?

Col Steve

Watertown, Mass - another large Armenian area - perhaps her parents might feel better and support her going to a Boston area school if she's near/supported by a large Armenian community.

Personal experience - my brother-in-law married an Armenian gal - against her parents' wishes. Her father and brothers came the next day and literally took her "home." Negotiations ensued for months until they agreed to also hold an "Armenian" ceremony and a few other "compromises." A complicating factor, 8 years and 3 children later, she died. The grandparents sued for custody and we found out little nuances such as they didn't recognize the children's "names" and had "Armenian" names for them (talk about confusion at the funeral).

Amanda - Believe the question - "Are you going to be there to help her pick up the pieces?" is unfair. "Anita" soliticed the advice and she appears more than equipped to process, analyze, decide, and act (or not) on the information and guidance Hugo provided. Whether his advice turns out to be best or less than optimal does not obligate him to "pick up the pieces" when he's not forcing her to act on it nor being disingenuous in providing it.

Hugo - always useful to ask if the roles were changed (say "Anita" was your daughter and wanted to marry into an "Armenian-like" family/culture to become a "well-coiffed, baklava-making housewife") what your advice would be.


I have no idea why you addressed that to me. Of course the young lady can decide for herself--again, what's it to anyone else?


Well, biologically it's true; we all have melanin to some degree, and every skin shade is some level of brown. And if you go back far enough we *all* were African. So I just can't stress at the idea of my kids marrying somebody darker than themselves.

I do stress that they might not marry Jews.

Col Steve

Amanda - you're correct - error in transposing who made the comment. Please accept my apology for inattention to detail.


I would want my children to be happy -- if their partner loved and valued them, so much the better.

My father's father married a non-Jewish woman, part of a long process of assimilation. The horrors of the Holocaust are not sufficient reason for limiting the gene pool, mythago. Culture itself is fluid and changing and shifting -- I'm grateful that my Jewish ancestors, motivated neither by self-preservation nor by self-loathing, did not impose artificial limits on whom they could meet and mate with.


Um, Hugo, as I did not even mention the Holocaust, I'd prefer you did not start throwing it around in this discussion. Ditto Jewish "self-loathing." Ditto "setting limits." Please don't jump to conclusions, especially offensive ones.

It's not about limiting the gene pool; anyone at all can convert to Judaism. It doesn't depend on skin color or genetics.

La Lubu

Ok Hugo...your loyal opposition is back again!

I don't know about how your students' parents feel...I don't know them, but for most people who are concerned with "out-marrying", it's not the gene pool they're concerned about....it's the passing on of culture. And the passing on of culture tends to be "women's work." The fact the you identify as WASP and consider your Jewish heritage a historical/cultural curiosity is but one illustration.

Not knowing the family, but having seen this a lot, I tend to agree with kelly...that as long as Anita maintains cultural pride and cultural traditions, her parents will probably come around, especially if there's a grandbaby. Perhaps they fear that their future grandchildren would be "strangers" to them...that they (the grandparents) will be thought of as "weird". Maybe Anita's parents fear that Anita will abandon her culture, her religion....and them. Perhaps there is a lack of communication going on. Or, perhaps there isn't even the space for communication right now.

Like you, Hugo, my main concern with my daughter's future relationships is that she be loved, appreciated and happy. I don't care what color her future love interests are. But, in all honesty, yes...I do want her to maintain her religion and her culture. I don't want her to think of her ancestors, or me, as ugly, weird, backwards, or stupid. That is not necessarily the case with assimilation. But it can be. And the pressures this-way or that-way regarding assimilation do not fall on men and women equally.

See, here you're writing about the pressures that Anita is feeling from her family. That's one side. There is also a lot of pressure from the outside for women to assimilate completely...including physically. There's a reason blue and green contacts are selling...and a reason colored contacts don't come in my eye color. There's also a reason that "My Big Fat Greek Wedding" was such a popular film...the regular girl didn't just get the handsome guy, she also got to keep her culture. That message really resonates with some of us!

It's a paradox, ya know? There's a pressure to assimilate until we're all about as exciting as a wooden-spoon-and-fork-set to hang on the wall. Meanwhile, many of those who are assimilated (American WASP) are traveling to foreign countries, rhapsodizing about the history, the architecture, the language, the culture, the beauty of the people....and find something lacking in their own past....they're busy de-assimilating!

Yep, people are funny.


I don't think this discussion, on either side, is being at all fair to Armenian culture. The assumption seems to be that if she's independent, moves away from home, and postpones (perhaps even abandons) a husband and family, she's abandoned Armenian culture. But why would we assume that? Because her parents fear it might be so? Who made them the arbiters of what it means to be Armenian?

We have a very bad habit of doing this when we talk about minority or traditional cultures--assuming they are static, unchanging, and unable to survive adaptation, change and growth. This may well describe the fears of Anita's parents, but it's simply not how cultures work. Cultures are constantly changing, adapting, importing outside influences. Why should we assume that Armenian culture (or any other) is defined by it's most conservative members.

Maybe Anita will abandon Armenian culture. I have no particular objection to that--frankly, any culture that's near-impossible to abandon is a bit to authoritarian for my taste and probably needs to be changed or abandoned by its youth. But it's much more likely that she'll be an agent in re-defining what it means to be an Armenian woman--for the better. I hope, for her sake and for theirs, that they figure this out sooner rather than later.

La Lubu

I agree with you, DJW. I hope I didn't leave the impression that I was seeing things exactly as Anita's parents may be seeing it (because here, we only have Hugo's interpretation of Anita's side...we don't really know what they're thinking). It's just that with Anita only being twenty, she may not want or be able to see things from her parents viewpoint, even though she is bright. Not knowing the ins and outs of the situation, she may or may not be able to reach a compromise with her parents. I hopw she makes the right decision for herself, regardless.

From what Hugo has said though, Anita seems to view her Armenian culture through the same single lens her parents do. From this post, I get the impression that she isn't able to reconcile the image of a high-powered attorney with the Armenian-American woman serving up baklava after dinner! From what was posted here, it leaves me with the impression that she also doesn't think the two images can co-exist in one person! And I think it's telling that she went to Hugo with her concerns, rather than to an Armenian-American female teacher. Maybe she's not really looking for a compromise with her parents, but permission from some other authority for rebellion. She didn't find that from Hugo, but maybe she hoped to.

In any case, whatever and wherever she goes in this world, she is going to take who she is with her. A lot of people don't realize just how much their culture is a part of them until they are older. Especially if they have children. She's Armenian, like it or not. And she'll probably end up making baklava when she comes home from a particularly difficult, trying case in court. She'll find a balance. I hope her parents do, too.


Indeed, the absolute last thing in the world I would want is a homogenous culture in which all of one's historic, ethnic attachments are erased.

I suspect Anita is in many ways proud of her Armenian heritage. She is struggling to reconcile it with her dreams and ambitions. What happens, as we've all seen, is that one's culture gets redefined as folks spend more time in this country. New generations pick and choose which aspects they want to keep: baklava stays. Remembering the 1915 genocide stays. Forced marriage within the ethnic group and virginity until the wedding night: those go. It's a healthy process.

Mythago, I'm sorry if I offended. But it is certainly setting limits to tell one's child that you prefer that they marry within your religion, even if you are open-minded about having your child-in-law convert.


La Lubu, I don't think we disagree.

From what Hugo has said though, Anita seems to view her Armenian culture through the same single lens her parents do. From this post, I get the impression that she isn't able to reconcile the image of a high-powered attorney with the Armenian-American woman serving up baklava after dinner! From what was posted here, it leaves me with the impression that she also doesn't think the two images can co-exist in one person!

This may be true.

One of the frustrating things about the misconception about the nature of culture (so to speak) as unchanging and conservative is that this view is often shared by older enforcers and younger frustratants (not a word, I know). In other words, the phenomenological reality of culture looks quite different than it would look to a historical anthropologist who charts and maps the often radical shifts and meaning, ritual and tradition over time. This presents a challenge for someone like Anita, and the Anitas I've know haven't taken on the task or re-writing the meaning of their identities knowingly from a young age. In most cases, it isn't until they're a bit older and a bit more experienced, and have experienced both the good and the bad of both the pull of home/family/tradition on the one hand, and the pull toward the new and the different and the exotic on the other.

I've long had a theory that I've never quite figured out how to articulate. I'll give it a short try here. Most individuals experience the pull of home/tradition/family/the known as well as the pull of newness/strangeness/otherness on the other. A few people might find all they need on one side of that dialectic or the other, but most people's paths are best served by acknowledging the dialectic and being open to exploring both directions. The trick, of course, is knowing when and how much to go in each direction.

20 is a great age to allow yourself to be pulled toward the new and the different for a lot of people. Under what circumstances should it be resisted? There's no one answer to that question, but I'll take a stab at what I would tell Anita, were she to seek out my counsel:

If you feel the pull of home and tradition in your own heart, take it seriously (but don't necessarily give over to it completely). If you feel other people using your emotional connections to you to pull you in that direction against your own wishes, politely but firmly insist on taking your own path. One of the first great challenges of adulthood for people who are close to their parents is learning how to not succumb to emotional blackmail from those you love, especially when that emotional blackmail is unintentional and well-meaning.


Amen to that last sentence,DJW, amen!

Joe G.

I would also want to know if her parents are immigrants and that Anita is the first to be born here in the States (or did most of her growing up here even if not born here).

Her parents, if indeed are immigrants, are not that unusual. Traditional roles and cultures tend to work against females as far as what is expected of them and their access to property and financial resources. However, plenty of women seem fine with doing this even when introduced to western, modern ideas.

Most "traditional" families do this in the States, with both their male and female offspring. Some of these young adults want to do something different given that they have available to them, especially in a society such as the U.S., many options that their own parents may never have had available to them when they were young adults.

If she wants to pursue a different life, then it might be helpful to see if she understands the pros and the cons of her choices. If she chooses the non-traditional path, then where can she get some support including within her own community (I appreciate the comments about "traditional" cultures being "fixed". They are not; the rate of change and emphasis on individualism is different, but these cultures do change. I wonder if there are other young adults in her community faced with similar issues that she could get some advice from.)

It might also help her to know that most parents, my guess, "come around" somewhat in the end. It can just be bumpy in the beginning, but if her parents see that she is ultimately happy & secure pursuing what she has done, and if they see other young adults in the extended family being successful likewise, my bet is that they'll eventually come to some acceptance of it. The work is pursuing the "non-traditional" choice while waiting for that time to come.


I see all that she has to gain clearly. However, one thing that I think we should all examine is what we have collectively lost by becoming a society of two-career families.

There is something to these cultural traditions. I don't like the individual freedoms lost, but there is something there that works for the family. Only my American friends seem to be so distant from their families. I wish we could find a middle ground of sorts.


Good points, la luba. It's always hard to be a pioneer.

to tell one's child that you prefer that they marry within your religion

Prefer, yes. That's different than telling them you will shun them or their partner if they aren't of the faith or of the right culture, or that they would be committing a great wrong by doing so.

On the other hand, I think parents (yes, even Anita's) do a great disservice if they pretend that all it takes to overcome cultural, religious and social differences is falling in love. It's a very shallow background that does not inform us of our morals, ethics and ways of approaching the world.


i going to guess she was telling you want she wanted you to say, "Hell yes, sister!". she has probably had enough cheering from the other side, has made up her mind, and just wants someone to root for her for a change.

"she fears shaming her family and being rejected by those she loves." i was married to a gal seven years my senior of another race. then married another gal six years my junior of another race. i knew my parents would have problems especially with the first. i told them i wasn't affraid to make mistakes-- that if i did, i was willing to live with them. i am greatful for my mistakes. they remind me of my weaknesses, and at the same time contribute to the chain of events which has landed me where i'm at. that is why i am extremely greatful. one has to have their ducks in a row. can't be living a life for parents, can't be living a life for friends etc. one is contstantly reviewing their life and eventually and hopefully we look back and say it was our life.

Girl go for it! and ask your parents if they would like to come along for the ride of your life.


I agree with Mythago that your assumptions about Jews who object to intermarriage are wildly off-beam and verging towards offensive.

It seems to be an assumption among white Americans that race is the most important factor in choosing a partner. Thus, liberal sorts are terribly proud of being open to marriage to someone with different skin color. The converse of that is that anyone who expresses doubts about marrying outside their own culture is automatically assumed to be racist.

It's not necessarily about race at all. A culture may be more than just eating 'funny' foods or knowing what part of the world your ancestors came from. If it's a major factor in your outlook and experience and values, isn't it reasonable to want to marry (or want your children to marry) someone who shares such an important part of your identity?

It would be near-impossible for me to marry someone genetically / ethnically similar to me unless I committed incest, since I'm so ethnically mixed I'm barely the same 'race' as myself. But I would still prefer to marry someone who shares my moral system, and who would not be excluded by my spending most of my leisure time on synagogue-related activities, and who understands my cultural references.


Influencing who your children will marry is so much more than making rules. If you think you are not influencing who your children will marry by raising them in a strongly Christian home, you're deluding yourself.

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