Listen before you label

Gayana Parsegova, Staff Writer


“I’m sorry, can you please say your name again?” “Do you have any nicknames, something easier to pronounce?” “Is that even a name?” The majority of my life has consisted of these questions regarding my first name alone, but that’s only the beginning.

After tearing apart my first name, this is the part in the introduction where you thoroughly examine my facial features such as my big brown eyes, long eyelashes and thick eyebrows, and ask where I’m from.

My parents are from Azerbaijan (you’ll look at me in bafflement wondering where this country is located). They were refugees and left their country in 1989, where they had then gone on to live in the Soviet Union for a few years before it had collapsed in 1991. Thankfully, the majority of my family was sent to live in beautiful San Diego, where my brother and I were born.

When I was in third grade, I got myself into a bit of an argument with my father, and I had yelled at him boldly stating, “Papa we’re Russian! We aren’t Armenian. No one cares about Armenians because no one even knows who those people are.” He stared back at me in disappointment and didn’t say a single word to me. To this day, I still look back at this moment, absolutely mortified that I had ever said such a foolish thing.

Growing up, I had told everyone I was Russian because that was the language my parents had taught my brother and I to speak. However, as previously stated, we’re Armenian, but no one around me had ever heard of or knew what Armenia even was, so I kept my mouth shut, because my first name was already overwhelming enough for new people to withstand, and telling people my last name was quite the rare occasion.

So here I was, a first generation American trying to figure out how to incorporate my cultural background while altogether attempting to mix it with the American way of life.

When I began high school, my first thought had been, “I can tell people I’m Armenian now, because people here are so much older and smarter. They’ll understand who I am.” Unfortunately, I was wrong. Not only was 2009 the year of my first year of high school, but it had also been the year that the Kardashians made an appearance on television. So whenever people had heard “Armenian,” I was constantly being compared to a Kardashian, and if I wasn’t being compared to a Kardashian, I was labeled for being a communist for speaking Russian. No matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t seem to win in any situation.

Now being 22 and a third-­year student at CSUSM, I’ve learned that it doesn’t matter what people label me as or what they may say about me. At the end of the day, I’m still Gayana, I’m still Armenian and I still very much speak Russian. I take great pride in my roots, my family’s story, my heritage and everything about me that makes me different from everyone else. Indeed it was a challenge, but one I thank God for everyday of my life that had happened.

The next time you meet someone with an odd name, rather than making irrational judgments to their face, I strongly encourage you to take the time to listen to their story. There is truly so much more than meets the eye.