Living “En Lak’ech”
by Anna Minasyan
photo taken by Kia Harlan
“You are my other me. If I do harm to you, I do harm to myself. If I love and respect you, I love and respect myself.”—“En Lak’ech” Ancient Mayan poem
Reciting those lines once a week in Mr. Avila’s class is what it took for me to realize my place in the world.
My journey began when I moved from my birthplace of Yerevan, Armenia to my new home in America when I was 4 years old. On the first day, I discovered what broccoli was and that the 99 Cent Store sold more toys than my jet-lagged mind could comprehend.
When I found out I would be attending an Armenian school, I was ecstatic because it wouldn’t seem so far from home after all. I would make friends that spoke the same language as I and they would be patient with my progress in English; I would pick up where I had left off with my introduction to the Russian alphabet (as was required to learn in Armenia).
However, that wasn’t the case. My memories from the first four years of my schooling in America were of loneliness, exclusion and neglect, mostly due to the fact that I was different from most of the other students in the school, even though we were all Armenian. I was the only one that was born in Armenia, one of the few that spoke a different dialect of Armenian and the only one that did not speak English.
As my knowledge and skill in English grew, the division between my classmates and I did not lessen, but instead made me resent the differences they refused to accept. I began to change my Eastern dialect to a Western Armenian dialect to be similar to my classmates’ and teachers’.
Even though I was born in the very land that everyone at that school called their Motherland, I was still perceived as inauthentic, an outsider.
Ultimately, my parents saw how our unhappiness affected our grades and transferred my brother and me to public school. This time, I was not as optimistic as my 4-year-old self; I was afraid of being judged and rejected by an even larger group. I soon realized that moving to a public school was the best choice my parents could have made for me; I wasn’t excluded for my differences because everyone was different. They extended a hand towards me that I never had at my old school, and I no longer felt “Inauthentic.”
That same year, a student from Armenia transferred into my fifth grade class. As I was the only Armenian in the class, Ms. Sakamoto asked me to show him around campus and help him with translations until his English improved.
Unknowingly, I became the bridge between him and our other classmates. As I saw him interact with my intrigued peers through the language barrier, I began to wish that I was in his position upon moving to America; I wished an empathetic hand had been extended towards me so my early years of loneliness could have been avoided.
As I recited the ancient Mayan poem, I realized that “You are my other me” referred to how interactions with people circle back. Throughout my early years in this country, I blamed myself for not being accepted; however, I saw that without that experience, I would not have been as inclined to be the bridge for another student.
I chose to be that person for him because I saw myself through him.
He was my other me; I went through it so he did not have to. Perhaps we might all try more often to see ourselves through other people and extend a hand when we see the opportunity; it might mean more than we think.