Linking Identities and Forming Trust
The Linking Identities, Forming Trust (LIFT) Committee has created a safe space for other Volunteers and I to be able to participate in a cultural exchange with Armenian youth and adults.
As part of LIFT, I have had the opportunity to discuss issues of diversity – including stereotypes, discrimination and bullying – with not only youth but also educators. Partnering with different universities, organizations, clubs and camps that are interested in the increasing diversity of Armenia has helped spread the message that diversity in all forms (race, ethnicity, gender, ability, age, religion, etc.) is positive and, if accepted, it can lead to wonderful collaborations and growth..
Let's be clear: We are not attempting to deny Armenian traditions and culture, which are wonderful. We are aiming more for an understanding or clarification of differences. Obviously, there’s still a long way to go in diversity education and acceptance, and it has also been a learning process for me in the areas of communication and cultural understanding. These cultural events are not just a superficial exchange of information. They lead into a deeper conversation about culture, identity, allyship and the stereotypes that arise due to misinformation.
Being a biracial Latina volunteering in Armenia, I have had the experience of being the "first" that many Armenians have encountered. The concept of what is considered biracial is alien to many Armenians. For me, what has made Armenians more receptive to these types of conversations are the similarities in history and traditions between Armenian and Latin culture. For the most part we share similar values such as love of family, love of food and hospitality, as well as a strong collectivistic group orientation, where the good of the group comes before the individual.
Understanding the traditions and mentality that arise from these types of cultures has facilitated conversations on identity and the benefits that come from diversity. That said, there are still some differences between Armenians and Latinos, which I educate on in presentations about diversity. For example, due to the slave trade and colonization of indigenous groups inhabiting Latin countries, there is a range of race, religion, food, music and etc., in these countries. This concept is astonishing to many Armenians.
Recently, I've discovered a group of Armenians who want to learn more about the Latin culture. We went on a picnic and spoke Spanish the whole day! It was amazing to speak Spanish again in a group. I was also impressed with the Armenians' knowledge of Latin culture and their desire to learn more. I also learned about the economic benefits they've noticed as many are working with foreign companies from Latin countries. This really brought home to me that diversity education and understanding of other cultures has real tangible values for Armenians.
I also discovered how Armenians have a great love for salsa and bachata, two types of Latin dances. Being Dominican, I couldn't be happier to share my love of Latin music, as well.
I’m proud of the work other Volunteers and I are doing within the LIFT committee and grateful for the Armenians who have welcomed us, as well as the delicate subject of diversity, into their organizations and their classrooms. I believe these continued collaborations creating open and safe spaces to have these sensitive conversations will lead to amazing things.