No matter how you and your ancestors arrived in the U.S., holding on to one’s heritage becomes increasingly difficult over time from one generation to the next. I should know, I’m not only the grandson of an immigrant, but this was the subject of my Master’s thesis in college.
The struggle to maintain one’s culture is not easy, particularly for Armenian-American people, as documented in Stephanie Ayanian and Joseph Myers’ What Will Become of Us. Her film opens with Armenian-American investment banker Jon Simonian, who takes a business approach in describing the dropout rates of Armenian immigrants. When you first come to the U.S., you’re both Armenian and American, and logic dictates that each generation removes themselves further and further away from their ancestor’s heritage until they become fully assimilated Americans. That also means, over time, traditions and history are forgotten.
Director Ayanian shows that the loss of Armenian culture was accelerated because of the Armenian genocide by the Ottoman Empire in Turkey. They systematically murdered 1.5 million Armenian people and then looted and destroyed their cultural artifacts in an attempt to obliterate them from history.
“The struggle to maintain one’s culture is not easy, particularly for Armenian-American people…”
What Will Become of Us is, in a way, a call to arms for Armenians to reconnect with their heritage. Thankfully there are still those who refuse to let the past fade into oblivion. Andrew Hagopian is a young adult, who has recently taken up the traditional Armenian instrument, the oud, from his grandfather. Artist/designer Michael Aram Wolohojian incorporates Armenian design into his commercial work. Lory Tatoulian is a comedian, who finds the humor in her heritage and has tasked herself to find the funny in the 100th anniversary of her people’s genocide. The most famous person in the film is Sebu Simonian, one half of the band Capital Cities, who, after great success as a musician, feels the call for reconnection.
What Will Become of Us is a familiar story for immigrants. Watching it stirred up feelings within myself to reconsider as the once vibrant Chinatown of my grandparents is now becoming an L.A. landmark. As an outsider to the Armenian community, I sympathize with the problem presented in Ayanian’s film.
What Will Become of Us is a compelling documentary about the immigrant’s journey in America that certainly means much more to Armenian viewers than to everyone else. That said, it still has something to say to anyone with an immigrant’s background…which is everyone.