Coming to Terms with Armenian-American Identity: The Testimonies of Michael Arlen, Jr. and Peter Balakian in Passage to Ararat and Black Dog of Fate
Paper presented at the “Critical Approaches to Armenian Identity in the 21st Century: Vulnerability, Resilience, and Transformation” conference organised by the Hrant Dink Foundation and the Hamazkayine Educational Foundation, with the support of the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation, held in Istanbul, Turkey, October 7-8, 2016
The United States offers a very interesting context to explore issues of identity at multiple levels. It is a diverse society that promotes a sense of citizenship while at the same time largely allowing for the practices of pre-immigration cultures. The Armenian-American story is fascinating that way. “Armenian-American” has become much more defined as an identity over the past few decades, comprised of many traditional Armenian elements accommodated within and shaped by the American environment that surrounds them.
That was not always the case. For most of the 20th century, assimilation was the name of the game. In that light, the memoirs to be reviewed in this study consider two individuals who were born into families in which the Armenian heritage was secondary or outright discouraged and who came of age in that 20th-century America. The two somehow encounter and connect with their Armenian identities later on in life. Passage to Ararat by Michael Arlen, Jr. was published in 1975 and Peter Balakian’s Black Dog of Fate came out in 1997. Each published his text at almost exactly the same age, in their mid-forties, having about one generation between them, capturing somewhat different historical moments in terms of Armenia and the Armenian people. Continue reading