Transcription of Intercultural Understanding #241
Speaker 1: You are listening to Love Maine Radio hosted by Dr. Lisa Belisle and recorded at the studios of Maine Magazine in Portland. Dr. Lisa Belisle is a writer and physician who practices family medicine and acupuncture in Brunswick, Maine. Show summaries are available at LoveMaineRadio.com. Here are some highlights from this week’s program.
Pious: With the young people public schools are very diverse in terms of racial and language and religions. We have kids who are coming from many different backgrounds. It helped them connect better with the students. They got involved socially with the students, because they understood the different cultures. I think it was a plus for the family here to grow up in Maine and to have that background for us and for our kids.
Lisa: This is Dr. Lisa Belisle and you are listening to Love Maine Radio. Show number 241, Intercultural Understanding, airing for the first time on Sunday, May 1, 2016. How can we promote understanding between cultural groups in Maine? Whether our family has been here for generations or whether we have just arrived, it is incumbent upon us to learn how to get along and celebrate people of all backgrounds. Today we speak with Pious Ali, founder of the Maine Interfaith Youth Alliance, and Gerard and Annie Kiladjian, founders of the Armenian Cultural Association of Maine. Thank you for joining us.
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Lisa: Our next guest is well known within the community and an individual that I’ve been interested in talking to for quite some time. This is Pious Ali, who is a youth and community engagement specialist in the Muskie School of Public Service, where he is working on a project called Portland Empowered. Pious has spent the better part of his career focusing on engaging youth and creating dialogue across cultural, ethnic, socio-economic, and faith-based groups. He is the founder and executive director of the Maine Interfaith Alliance. He is the co-director and co-founder of King Fellows, a Portland-based youth group dedicated to creating meaningful opportunities for youth leadership and civic engagement based on the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Pious is a member of the Portland’s Board of Education and he is the first African-born American and Muslim to be elected to a public office in Maine. Thanks for coming in today.
Pious: Thank you for having me.
Lisa: It is really a great honor for us to have you, because you do a lot of things. You’re in a lot of places. You work very hard. You’ve spent a lot of time doing the things that you feel passionate about.
Pious: I do my best.
Lisa: Well, tell me about your background. What was it about your family and the way that you were raised and your education that caused you to become so interested in these topics?
Pious: That’s interesting because yes, the way I was raised but not necessarily my education or professional background. I was raised in a household where my family, which is my mother’s family, my grandfather and his brothers and cousins have a house where other people bring their kids to come and live with us. It’s a madrasa, which means a place that young people learn how to, it’s like a Sunday School but goes on throughout the week, where kids learn how to read a Quran, the Muslim holy book, learn how to write and a couple of other things religiously and culturally.
I grew up in my own household where we share it with kids coming from the community. That is how I was raised. I went to a regular school, public school back in Ghana. When I graduated from high school I took classes in then they call it, it’s like a journalism school, but I specifically did photojournalism. I work with newspapers and magazines and did a couple of photographs for many different entities back in Ghana before I migrated here. I did live in New York for two years and then I came to Maine.
Since I’ve been to Maine I work with young people. I talk to people that I stumble on the job. I wasn’t looking to save any or create anything for anybody. I was looking for a job like any other immigrant out there. I was looking for a job. I would make a buck, take care of my then wife and son. Then one thing led to the other. I learned so much from the young people that I work with. I have funny story that I share with people. I used to work for a program.
My very first job with young people was with an organization then called People Original Opportunity Program. They had this program called Peer Leader, as in peer and leader. When I first applied for the job, I didn’t get it, because I didn’t have a background in social work and I didn’t have a degree in social work. Someone else was hired. The person happened to be the second on the list of many applicants after a series of interviews. I didn’t get the job and I think a month and a half or two months down the road, the person who was hired left, because she had a job somewhere that was paying more or that is more what she wanted to do than what this job was. I got called back by the director of the program. She called my home number and left a message and said, “Hey, if you are still interested in that job, call me back.”
I called back. The story is, I just give this background so you know where I was coming from. My first time at the job was at Riverton Park. The young people that I was going to work with, most of whom are immigrants like me, some of them are from Africa, some of them from different part of the world. I took it on myself thinking that this is going to be an easy job. These kids will have the same background. Some of them are Muslims. It goes on and on. The similarities are bigger than the non-similarities between me and this group of young people.
I would be sitting in the corner and nobody would talk to me. The initial connection was not there, because I didn’t have any idea what I was in. I’m a people person, but I have not worked with any young people. I was there for a few weeks and then I started connecting with these young people. Also I was coming from the background which was culturally conservative from how I was raised. I was looking at these young people when I speak. No one speaks. I’m the adult in the room, but after my weird interaction with them where they’re like, “You don’t know what you’re talking about,” I learned.
They forced me. I watched my colleague. I was working with someone. I watched the way she engaged them. I step back and look at the way I was engaging these young people. They forced me to do self reflection, look at the way I do things and learn that, no, the way I was raised is quite different from how you engage young people here. The basic principles of raising young people and working with young people are the same, by the way you engage is a little bit different.
That was my first baptism, is that’s a word to use, into working with young people. Since then, I’ve made it a point to learn as much as I can when I’m working with young people because they have a lot to share. Most of the time us adults don’t look for that piece. We want them to just listen to us and do what we say they should do.
Lisa: Tell me about the King Fellows program, the program that you co-founded with Rachel Talbot Ross.
Pious: The King Fellows Program is a program for young high school students of color from greater Portland. About 85 percent of them are from Portland, but some of them are from South Portland. A few of them are from Westbrook and similarly about 95 or 98 percent of them are all students in public schools, but because some are from South Portland they go to school in South Portland or one or two go to private schools here in Portland. It came about when I think it was about 2010 or 2011 during the Martin Luther King weekend holidays. The NAACP have a group of youth and the Maine Interfaith Youth Alliance have a group of youth. I’ve done some work with Seeds of Peace, still part of what we call the greater Seeds of Peace family.
We have students from the Seas of Peace group. They’re in the Martin Luther King holiday. These kids and some other kids who are not part of anything will come together and do projects. They’re in this project. We call them King Fellows. It was becoming a little bit too all over the place and we wanted to contain it and turn it into an actual youth group, so that when they come there’s no “I’m this, I’m that.” It could be more of a structured program where young people can be part of it and have this solid vision and goal.
Lisa: You also do work with Portland Empowered through the Muskie School.
Lisa: You’re doing something slightly different there.
Pious: Right. Portland Empowered is a project that is funded by Nellie Mae Education Foundation, which is I think the largest private education foundation in New England. The program is a school form program. Basically, what we do is we work with parents who are coming from what we call marginalized background. Parents who do not for whatever reason normally engage the school districts either because the school districts have challenges in how to engage them or they don’t understand or do not have the experience of having engage school districts.
I will start with the parents. We have a parent group called Parent Engagement Partners. Then we have a student group called Youth Engagement Partners. The Parent Engagement Partners for the past year and a half to two years have had a conversation in different schools in Portland with broader parents on how to create a meaningful engagement between them and Portland Public Schools. They’re in this conversation. They create a form of conversation called shared space café, where we joke that everyone is an expert. Most of the parents are coming from immigrant background, but it’s not exclusive group for immigrant parents.
We have some mainstream parents who may or may not have graduated high school or may not have experience or may not have engagement or communications between them and the school system. It used to be housed with City of Portland’s Refugee Services and then the foundation wanted administration or school or something like that to base it on, so they asked Muskie School to apply for the grant and Muskie school did within the organization, but Muskie School got it.
Because I was working on the project anyway, they wrote me into the grant, so I moved to Muskie School with the grant. The work did not exclusively start at Muskie School. It was started from the refugee services and then it moved to Muskie School. We did a one on one to gather information on what other issues between that demographic, what was the issues and challenges that they have and what came up with communications. We also went on further to do more conversations in different communities that are the parents who are involved are coming from. Then gather more information then decided to have what they call the Shared Space Café. We have a parent, what we call lead parent organizers.
The basic idea is to come up with certain way of communication that will make schools comfortable in engaging parents who are from that background and also make it very comfortable for these parents to walk into school districts or their children’s classrooms in high school and talk to the teachers without any reservation. The whole idea is to make high school experience meaningful for students.
Lisa: What are some of the issues that you hear from students or from parents who are from other countries or have a different religious background and they’re trying to interact with a school or community? What types of things come up that you hear about?
Pious: Well, I’m going to take off my hat as a staff member for Portland Empowered. I wear so many hats. I’m also not speaking as a school board member. I’m speaking as me, somebody who does a lot of work in the community. I think some of the issues that comes up in my engagement with families and students in the community is some of the claims that students or the families that made either language barrier on both sides. Misunderstanding or miscommunication. Where the young people, the Portland public school is very diverse in terms of racial and language and religions.
We have kids who are coming from many different backgrounds. The staff at Portland schools do their best to understand where and who is coming from where. Unfortunately, it’s … How do you say it? It’s a tall list of things that you have to learn. There’s bound to be somebody being called names or somebody being referred to as this or that by other students who may not necessarily even know what they are saying. There are situations like that. Most specifically you hear stories here and there.
I’m a Muslim, so I talk to people a lot in the Muslim community and the immigrant Muslim communities. The recent national platform political rhetoric did, yes, increase or created a few instances here in Portland where there’s a parent, one from Iraq who was at a bus stop. She didn’t specifically say which bus stop where somebody was talking to another person, look at her and spit in her face. This woman doesn’t speak any English, so she doesn’t even know what to say. There was an instant where someone was sitting by the waiting room in one of the big hospitals in Portland and another patient start yelling at her and telling her to go back where she came from, because here people don’t like Americans. What is she doing here?
In both situations, these people don’t necessarily speak good English, so they didn’t know how to react. It’s unfortunate that both situations happened to women based on the way they look because I can walk down the street. Yes, I’m a black man. Someone will see it as a black man and probably say, “Oh, he’s not an immigrant,” but a person cannot know what I worship or what religion or what’s my faith based on the color of my skin or how I look. Also, I don’t dress specifically like any, I don’t wear any religious, edifice that shows that this person is a Muslim or a Christian or whatever it is. It’s difficult for mostly women and children.
Lisa: I just think about as a woman if I was in another country standing at a bus stop and somebody spit in my face and said something to me and I didn’t even understand them, I can’t imagine how that would make me feel.
Pious: Right. Even in that instance where a young woman was at a gas station here in Portland, and that’s about 8 year ago. That person who was buying gas, he happens the be a veteran. He’s not from Portland. He’s actually not from Maine. He’s from Connecticut or somewhere. He’s been to Iraq and he kept calling all sort of name. He said he was going to kill her. The gas station attendants have to literally hold on the door and tell him he was not welcome there. The good thing was that he was already finished paying for his gas, so there’s no need for him to get into the building. They took his license plate number and hand it over to the police.
It came out that the car doesn’t even belong to him. It’s for his dad. He lives in Connecticut. He was a veteran. I don’t know how that case ended, but the police were working on it at the time that I knew of it. It’s difficult.
Lisa: It’s so complicated, because you have on one side people who may be refugees who have their own set of painful circumstances and then you have people who are veterans or have their side of their background and their experience. There’s enough pain to go around, but we all have to co-exist. We all have to live here together, so how do we make that happen?
Pious: Well, try to understand each other. I’m a firm believer that speaking to people irrespective of who they are or what your beliefs are, try at least to reach out to that person, talk to that person, understand where that person is coming from. Having that conversation opens a lot of doors and a lot of opportunities for us as humans to leave peacefully next to each other irrespective of what we believe or what we lean on. I believe that we all are looking for the same thing, which is everybody wants to live peacefully. Everybody wants to raise families. They want to have a safe home, have food on their table and go about their lives without being disturbed or interrupted by someone else.
Having a conversation with an open mind, just know that, yes, you have the right to live, but other people also have the right to live without you imposing your beliefs or the way of your life on them. To each way of life. As far as my way of life is not getting in your way. I believe that you don’t have to force me to live the way you live. Then we all live in peace. Unfortunately it doesn’t work like that in reality.
Lisa: Why did you decide to come to Maine?
Pious: It’s a long story. I didn’t come to Maine to live in Maine. I’m joking. I have a friend who came to school here. He came to Maine College of Art. I visited him a couple of times. I was going to move to Albany, New York. I have friends who said, “You can come work here.” Then I came here to stay for a week or something like that and I met my ex-wife and decided not to go anywhere.
Lisa: How has it worked out for you?
Pious: Well, Maine is a great place. Well, I can talk for Portland because I live in Portland. I lived a little bit in Cape Elizabeth but not enough for me to talk for on behalf, even though it’s a great place, but I cannot speak for Cape Elizabeth. I can speak for Portland. I think Portland is a great place, great people … I have experimented with different ideas and I got nothing but support. I have grown into a different person than I was from when I arrived in this country. I have at least transitioned from being somebody who worked in the media who was a photojournalist or a photographer into somebody who does social work, work with young people and work in the community.
I’ve had tons of support in everything that I have done. I can say nothing but that I think it’s working good and I’m grateful for all the support and all the people that I’ve engaged in that journey. Actually, I think Sunday was is 14 years since I moved to Maine. There’s been some challenges, ups and downs, but it’s been nothing but exciting and I’m looking forward to do more.
Lisa: Pious, how can people find out about Portland Empowered or more about the King Fellows program?
Pious: Both of them, King Fellows have a Facebook page and actually can follow. It’s having a youth summit next week on January 16. It’s part of the Martin Luther King Day celebrations. King Fellow is having a youth summit from 1 to 5. We’re going to have the mayor and the superintendent of schools, some school board members and hopefully some city counselors. They’re going to talk about young black students and the challenges that they face in the schools and in the community with the mayor. Both have Facebook page.
King Fellows have a Facebook page that is public Facebook. Portland Empowered have a Facebook page which is for the whole program called Portland Empowered, but you only see the youth part. Then you’ll see the parent part. We post stuff and we have a couple of blips about on both Facebooks have a short blips on what the groups are about.
Lisa: Well, I appreciate the work that you’ve done here in Portland and for the state of Maine. I thank you for coming in to speak with me today. We’ve been talking with Pious Ali, who is a youth and community engagement specialist working on a project called Portland Empowerered with the Muskie School public service, and who is also the co-director and co-founder of the King Fellows program and also a member of the Portland’s board of education and the first African born American and Muslim to be elected to a public office in Maine. Thank you so much for sharing your time and your talents and your energy. I appreciate it.
Pious: Thank you for having me.
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Lisa: In the studio with us today I have two dear friends who I’ve known for quite a while and are really wonderful people in their own right, so I’m glad I have the chance to finally have time to speak with them on air. These are Gerard and Annie Kiladjian. Gerard is the general manager of the Portland Harbor Hotel, Diamond’s Edge Restaurant and Marina and the newly opened Inn at Diamond Cove on Great Diamond Island. His passion for hospitality began with a hotel management degree from Boston University. Gerard is a first generation immigrant from Syria.
Shortly after settling in Maine in 2000, Gerard and Annie established the Armenian Cultural Association of Maine to promote and preserve their Armenian culture. Among events they brought to Portland are lectures by notable authors, accomplished speakers, and Armenian folk dance and music performances. Thanks for coming in, Gerard.
Gerard: Thank you.
Lisa: We also have Annie with us. Annie grew up among the rich culture and diversity of Montreal, Canada. The child of Armenian immigrants from Cairo, Egypt, she was raised with a close sense of family and community her entire life. When she married Gerard Kiladjian in July of 1991, her adventure began. After living in Montreal for 5 years, they made their way first to New Jersey then finally Portland, Maine.
Annie began her career in education of the fashion and design industry in Montreal. Shortly after moving to Maine, she studied and worked in the interior design field. She is currently the owner of Annie K Designs, LLC, an interior design firm that has created beautiful spaces throughout Maine, Boston, New York, and Los Angeles. After living in Portland, Maine for 16 years and raising two beautiful children, she cannot see herself living anywhere else. Thanks for being here.
Annie: Thanks for having us, Lisa.
Lisa: I can’t really see you guys living anywhere else, either, because you’re fixtures in the Portland community.
Annie: Thank you.
Gerard: Thank you. We enjoy it very much.
Lisa: Let’s talk about Montreal, Annie. I’m interested because having been there, you know, a few times now, it’s this very artistic and creative and wonderful place that’s not that far from Portland and yet it seems very European in some ways.
Annie: It’s very European and very diverse. Growing up in a place like Montreal actually grounded me in so many ways to so many different aspects whether it be arts or fashion or design or anything else. The people I grew up with, this is the difference between Portland that we moved into in 2000 and where I grew up, was that there was just so much diversity and so many ways, whether it was food. So many different things.
I loved growing up there. I loved being able to speak maybe language. I speak Armenian fluently as does Gerard. Having the Armenian culture and family around was a huge part of how I was raised. That’s what we tried to do when we came here.
Lisa: It must have been interesting to be in Portland and have it be 16 years ago, still relatively non-diverse. I guess you could speak to that, both of you, better than me.
Gerard: I think it changed quite a bit. If you compare it to Montreal, perhaps not, but the Portland we new 16 years ago was very different what it is now. I feel that I find it to be a lot more diverse. There’s a lot more culture. Different heritages are coming into the city and making contributions and making their presence known and sharing their culture with everybody else. I think Portland has come a long way in the last even 10 years of what we saw when we came in.
Lisa: It’s interesting to me that Montreal and Portland are similar in some ways. They both are relatively cold climates and somewhat metropolitan, but Montreal for some reason has just attracted a broader range of people to live there. Is it because it’s maybe a bigger presence within the general landscape of Canada than Portland is?
Gerard: I think it’s because it’s little bit of existing cultural diversity with being French Canadian. Part of Montreal’s French Canadian. Part of it’s English speaking. That makes it a little more international. There has been a lot of migration from different cultures all around the world to Montreal because of the way it is and all of the cultures that it has from food to music to theatre to everything else. I think that’s what’s been attractive to immigrants and Canadians in general to go to Montreal. Portland is the miniature. I find it a little bit a miniature of that.
It’s not to that scale, but yet we have a lot of things that we enjoyed in Montreal that we can have a small taste of it here in Portland.
Gerard: Now we do, yes.
Annie: 16 years ago, I don’t feel it was the same.
Gerard: It was a lot less. Yeah.
Annie: It was definitely a lot less.
Lisa: I have to admit that until I think I was in Boston and we went into a convention center and we saw that there was an Armenian convention that was going on down there. We also saw that there was a monument in Boston. I mean, I could feel like I have some degree of education behind me, but I didn’t really know that much about Armenia and what had happened. I wonder if this felt strange to you, coming to a country where that just wasn’t talked about all that much?
Gerard: Well, it was a little bit strange, but also Armenians in general didn’t talk a lot about it growing up. When the Armenians moved to different parts of the world after the genocide in 1915, they tried to assimilate so it wasn’t a topic. The genocide itself wasn’t a big topic everybody talked about. When I moved to Boston, that was one of the reasons I moved to Boston is because there was an Armenian community and they were an active community. That was a piece of home, moving into Boston when I went to college.
That kept my Armenian culture alive and actually got me even more interested in it as the time passed and I graduated, started working. I started connecting with the culture. It wasn’t a big surprise. It was something that I enjoyed and helped me stay connected with my culture even though I moved away from Syria.
Lisa: It seems as though, you’ve been calling it the Armenian genocide, has only taken route perhaps within the last 10 years. Yet it’s interesting that other genocides obviously have taken place over the last centuries and those have been specifically called that.
Lisa: Why is that?
Annie: We’re still fighting for that.
Gerard: I think it’s because in the United States because of the strategic alliance with Turkey. I think the United States as a government, as a whole are reluctant to call it a genocide, because they feel that they don’t want to upset Turkey in the strategic alliance. I think different states within the United States have recognized it. Certainly the state of Maine for the last 15 years. There have been recognizing it every year at the state legislature level. Many other states do so, but as the United States government, they have not come around to do that because of t political pressure coming from their relationship with Turky.
Lisa: How does that make you feel to know that your families were impacted by this and it’s something that still isn’t quite as mainstream as some of the other genocides that are talked about?
Gerard: It is frustrating. Like Annie said, we keep fighting for that. We keep trying to get the US legislators to acknowledge it. It is very frustrating. It’s been going on for many, many years and we continue to lobby with the legislators and explain or story and ask them to step forward and call it what it is. It’s been a difficult road for Armenians in general not to get recognized as a genocide.
Annie: Every April 24th we try. I mean, we try throughout the entire year, but on April 24th we try to bring light to it and try to get recognized and unfortunately so Armenia it hasn’t happened but hopefully it will at Federal level. State level we have recognition. Maine recognizes it. We go up to Augusta every April 24th around that time whenever it falls during the week. As of last year, I think it was last year that we had a proclamation that the state of Maine gave us. It’s wonderful. It’s a great feeling to be recognized on the state level.
Gerard: Because there have been a lot of Armenian community, people in the community here that really contributed throughout their life in the state of Maine.
Annie: They really have.
Gerard: It’s great to recognize.
Lisa: What’s the significance of April 24th?
Gerard: It’s the date of the Armenian genocide. 1915. April 24th is when the genocide started at the hands of the Ottoman Turks. They tried to eliminate the Armenian race in Turkey, the Ottoman Empire at the time.
Lisa: I’m interested in your daughter’s experience with Armenia. I know Annie, you and I were talking about a time that she spent over there actually doing some work in I believe the public health field.
Annie: Yes. Alexandra studied health sciences and was very much interested in going to Armenia and serving in some form. She decided I think it was August of last year she went to Armenia for 5 months and worked for an organization called COAF. It’s Children of Armenia Fund that a very dear friend of ours started. An incredible organization that a lot of our friends are a part of, one in general who started this organization to basically create entities inside villages, where he could help a certain village at a time in whatever capacity was necessary, whether it was building hospitals, schools. He does so with the help of funding from the diaspora. Mostly from the diaspora.
Alexandra, being in the medical field, let’s say, really wanted to somehow or another get into that with COAF. She ended up working at the office in Yerevan, which is the capital of Armenia. She would go weekly, 2 or 3 times a week, to the different villages, help out in whatever way she could. We work on so many levels here where whether it’s the medical field or, you know, anti-bullying or any of these fields that actually assimilate together, she decided that she wanted to take on just as an example, an anti-bullying campaign in Armenia. Does not exist. It creates anxiety for different kids.
It’s all this domino effect. Alexander was put in charge. This was probably right at the end of her almost coming home of this anti-bullying campaign. It was incredible how it was received by this kids in these villages, because that was just not something that they even recognized, truly. There’s just so much growing that still has to be done in these countries. It’s not a third world country, but in so many ways, it’s so backwards. We’re still the diaspora along with the government is trying to push forward so many different aspects of whether it be medicine or education or government policy, there’s just so many different aspects of Armenia that we could still help to bring to the 21st century.
Alexandra was absolutely loving ever second she was there, because she was able to give just a little bit of herself to her homeland. You have to understand, my daughter was born in Montreal. Gerard and I were born in the Middle East. Her ties to Armenia were not very strong in the sense that we didn’t really have family that live in Armenia. We were those families that had to leave Armenia, our homeland, and assimilate into a different country, he being in Syria and myself in Egypt.
From there, we came here, so we don’t really know Armenia. We went 3 and a half years ago to an incredible event that a friend of ours hosted. We were there for two weeks and got to see Armenia. Our kids at that time, the message was, give back. We were hundred Armenian friends that went. The message was give back to Armenia. Some way or another, give back. This is what we need, the diaspora, to do. Alex and even our son Aaron really has that goal of someway or another giving back to our homeland.
Lisa: What did it mean to each of you if you’re both Armenian, but Gerard, you’re from Syria, and Annie, your family went to Egypt? How did that influence the way that you looked at the world and maybe your Armenian culture? How did that influence your families?
Gerard: You know, I think the Middle Eastern influence is similar between Syria and Egypt. There’s a lot of hospitality, family life, preservation of culture, preservation of language. Our families were not very different, Annie’s family and my family being from two different countries. It did influence in terms of growing up and how we raise our kids to make sure that they understand other cultures, they understand where they came from but also what goes on in different cultures.
That gives them a broad understanding of different societies in the world. That also helped them in public schools in Portland where they grew up because they had the different backgrounds and a little bit of the Armenian language and some Arabic that I speak. I didn’t speak at home, but my son’s always been intrigued about it. It helped them connect better with the students. They got involved socially with the students, because they understood the different cultures. I think it was a plus for the family here to grow up in Maine and to have that background for us and for our kids.
Lisa: As part of the work that you do with the Armenian Cultural Association, you’ve brought in authors and speakers. You’ve done folk dance and musical performances. Talk to me a little bit about the Armenian culture and what types of things are important.
Gerard: Food, music, and dance are very important. I think every time you put a little bit of food and some music you can get the Armenians to get together. That’s part of the culture that we wanted to keep. That’s why we’ve hosted some musical events. Also intellectually there’s a lot of authors that talked about the Armenian genocide and the Armenian culture and how the Armenians grew up. We’ve done a little bit of that as well because we found that in Maine, the Armenians are second and third generation Armenians. They moved in right after the genocide.
As the generations pass by, the Armenians assimilate more, so you end up families with half Armenian, quarter Armenian, because they start marrying non-Armenian and they start dispersing a little bit. We found that was an important part rather than let it fade away, let’s keep the Armenianism in everybody who has part Armenian. You’ve noticed also in the last 15 years, all around the United States people are beginning to connect a little bit with their cultures, whatever that is. The timing was right for that.
We focus on culture. We focus on music and food every change we get. Annie did a couple of cooking classes for Armenians, so they can learn certain things that they’ve heard from their grandmothers that used to do this or that. Annie has a couple of classes and help them cook it and learn it. We keep it fun and interesting.
Annie: We tried to do language classes right in the beginning.
Gerard: For the kids.
Annie: For the kids, which was a little difficult in trying to tie people down, because I went to Saturday school to learn how to speak. We both speak Armenian. To write and to read Armenian. I found that it was a lot more difficult to tie kids down here. I gave 4 classes and it was barely enough to just get them to say a few words.
My kids speak. They don’t speak very well, but they do speak. If they are put in a position where they have to speak, they both do beautifully. I think that’s true of just about any language. When you’ve heard it and you know what it’s supposed to sound like, you can try harder and you know what you’re trying to say. I find with our kids, that’s really true. When they go to Montreal, when they’re speaking with their family, they speak Armenian. They can do it, but when they’re at home with us, they speak English.
I think for us starting the Armenian Cultural Association, and let’s just say that there was an Armenian Cultural Association already here in the ’70s and-
Gerard: For many years.
Gerard: Even before that.
Annie: Even before that with a lot of big families in-
Gerard: It was called the Portland Armenian Club, I believe.
Annie: Yes. These families had great dances and different events that they could probably tell you more about. We didn’t have that when we moved here. We looked at each other and said, “You know, are we going to live in a state where we have nothing Armenian? Absolutely nothing?” We met one family and through that family met a couple of different people. We all honestly thought we were the only Armenians in this state for a little while. As soon as we found this family and we became like family with them-
Gerard: We learned about the history of Armenians here, we decided-
Annie: The history and other families who had made a difference here. We ended up starting this.
Gerard: We decided to continue.
Annie: Yeah. We started the Armenian Cultural Association and then said, “Now what? Let’s get some lists together. Who’s here? What can we do?” I think our first event was the picnic, right? At Two Lights?
Annie: I believe that was our first one. We thought we’d get 20, 30 people and 100 and something showed up.
Annie: More. Right? That was one of the bigger ones.
Gerard: There were over 300 people that came in. A lot more Armenians. people. Yeah.
Annie: We had too many people for the park, basically.
Gerard: I think what brought up together the first time was when we put the monument on Cumberland Avenue.
Annie: Oh, yeah. That was amazing.
Gerard: There’s a small monument commemorating the Armenia genocide. It’s right in front of the Church of the Immaculate Conception on Cumberland Avenue. That was the first event that we put together because the groundwork was already laid. They had begun talking to the city. The city agreed to give us a plot of land.
Annie: The Portland Club had.
Gerard: We came in and we decided let’s finish this project with them. That was the first event. We had a couple hundred people show up when we first did the inauguration of the monument. That started going, and then we did a picnic. From then on every year we try to do two, maybe three events ever year.
Annie: We’ve got a great group of people with us now. For a very long time, it was just the two of us trying to push through some different events and last I think it’s probably about 5 years we’ve got quite a few people that help us, which you can’t do this alone. You need other people in one form or another. The support that we’ve got right now is quite amazing. We love it. We love the discussions we have, what we can do and what we can’t do, what we should bring forth.
Lisa: I find it fascinating that Gerard, you went into the hospitality business, and Annie, you do interior design. Both of you are very much about the creating of home, whether it’s home away from home or home in home.
Annie: Well put.
Lisa: It’s so interesting that your family was dispersed and now you come to Portland and you are very consciously making this your home, but at the same time you’re pulling in international pieces. You’re designing in Los Angeles, New York, and Boston, Annie. Gerard, of course, you, with the Portland Harbor Hotel and all the properties that you’re a part of, people are coming from everywhere and you’re working with people internationally. There’s this interesting blending of things that both of you have brought into your lives.
Gerard: It is. The hotel side of it definitely it helps connect with many people from across the world that I tend to see. That’s part of that hospitality that I’ve enjoyed. That’s one of the reason I went into the hotel business. It seems it’s part of my personality and I enjoy it. That’s the part I enjoy. I think having that international flare or background from living different places and bringing the culture certainly help our family life but also help our life here and people around us.
Annie: I think for me every space I create, and a lot of people have actually said this to me, I feel part of the space has some kind of influence from my Middle Eastern or my ethnic background. It’s in a very small way, but I find that people like it. I just finished a beautiful place on Munjoy Hill. Interestingly enough, the powder room had this beautiful wallpaper and the homeowner said it brought a little bit of you into our house, which was really nice. It was really nice. I liked that.
Lisa: How did people find out about the Armenian Cultural Association of Maine?
Gerard: Online we have a website. It’s ArmeniansofMaine.com. Usually we post all of our events. We also have a newsletter. People can sign up for a newsletter and we keep them posted and all the different events that are going on.
Lisa: Of course, people can see the work that you do in Maine Home Design and the work that you do Gerard, featured often in Maine Magazine, Old Port Magazine, sometimes Maine Home Design. This has been really interesting for me, really fascinating having known both of you for a while, to know this other layer, this other piece of your background. I really appreciate your coming in and talking to me about it.
Annie: Thank you.
Gerard: Thank you for having us.
Annie: Thanks for having us. Really.
Gerard: It’s a pleasure.
Lisa: We’ve been speaking with Gerard and Annie Kiladjian, who are the founders of the Armenian Cultural Association of Maine. Gerard is the general manager of the Portland Harbor Hotel, Diamond’s Edge Restaurant Marina and the newly opened Inn at Diamond Cove on Great Diamond Island. Annie is the owner of Annie K Designs, LLC. I appreciate you taking the time to be here.
Annie: Thanks, Lisa.
Gerard: Thank you. It’s a pleasure.
Lisa: You’ve been listening to Love Maine Radio, show number 241, Intercultural Understanding. Our guests have included Pious Ali, Gerard Kiladjian, and Annie Kiladjian. For more information on our guests and extended interviews, visit LoveMaineRadio.com. Love Maine Radio is downloadable for free on iTunes. For a preview of each week’s show, sign up for our e-newsletter and like our Love Maine Radio Facebook page. Follow me on Twitter as Dr. Lisa and see my running, travel, food, and wellness photos as Bountiful1 on Instagram. We love to hear from you, so please let us know what you think of Love Maine Radio. We welcome your suggestions for future shows. Also, let our sponsors know that you have heard about them here. We are privileged that they enable us to bring Love Maine Radio to you each week. This is Dr. Lisa Belisle. We hope that you enjoyed our Intercultural Understanding show. Thank you for allowing me to be a part of your day. May you have a bountiful life.
Speaker 1: Love Maine Radio is made possible with the support of Berlin City Honda, The Rooms by Harding Lee Smith, Maine Magazine, Portland Art Gallery, and Art Collective Maine. Audio production and original music have been provided by Spencer Allred. Our editorial producer is Kelly Chase. Our assistant producer is Shelby Watson. Our community development manager is Casey Lovejoy. Our executive producers are Kevin Thomas, Susan Crisanti, and Dr. Lisa Belisle. For more information on our host production team, Maine Magazine or any of the guests featured here today, please visit us as LoveMaineRadio.com.
Here’s an excerpt form Lisa’s interview with Dr. Davis Salko from next week’s program.
Lisa: When I think about sleep medication, I think about the patients who will often tell me that even on the prescribed dose, the next day they feel hungover and it’s less likely that they can actually perform the jobs that they’re doing. I even worry a little bit about them driving. So often what we’re told as doctors is far more than what most people need and it’s something that we can really do on a fairly short term basis just to break whatever cycle that is until they get into a better pattern.
Dr. Salko: That’s exactly. To get into a better habit. They may need a trigger for a while to reset that habit. What I’ve noticed over time though is we will often pull out the sledgehammer when we might need just a finer tool. Alternative medicine does provide us a lot of windows of opportunity, acupuncture, aromatherapy. These might seem a little subtle. Massage therapy. Things like that that could help institute a better cycle of sleep for people, a better restful state, meditation. Those are all very, very, very powerful, but they take time. They take time for people to learn them. They take time for people to use them as a routine. All those alternative things would apply as well to the management of pain.
Everybody has an individual or subjective experience with pain, but we also have the ability with our mind to control how we feel in certain situations. Based on how we’ve lived, that’s the track record that’s set before us and that can be changed. It can be worked with. It can be altered. It’s just about creating a new loop. A new habit. A new experience.
Lisa: I find it really very encouraging that there are three of us in the Brunswick area who are physicians, you and Dr. Cindy Deshane, and myself. We all practice acupuncture. Each of us have been doing acupuncture for a number of years. Having that creeping into the medical mainstream, it makes me feel good, because now we’re offering people something that might actually help their lives in a bigger way than let’s just deal with the symptom.
Dr. Salko: 10 or 15 or 20 years ago it might have been odd to even suggest acupuncture to a patient. Now it is more mainstream. We know how many people are using alternative medicines and alternative treatments. They do provide good relief and they do provide, I’ll say, individual success, even if there’s not some gigantic 10,000 person study that says it’s going to work. We’ve seen a lot of individual success with that. It’s always good to offer people options, more opportunity. If you limit yourself to one or two choices, you’re very unlikely to be successful over time with patients. That’s where the relationship with medicine goes. Somebody can come and see you and if you only have two options for a headache, you’re going to be out pretty quick.
You have to continue to go back and redefine the problem, redefine what successes they’ve had, what failures they’ve had and try to come up with new solutions. I think the challenge of family medicine now is to integrate more of that, is to integrate more of the lifestyle, the things we hear about in functional medicine, the things that we know about alternative treatments into people’s life so they can have those skills and have those good, I’ll call them self adapting skills, to be able to manage their problems.
Lisa: We’ve been talking about acupuncture, but there are also doctors who, for a long time, have been practicing what’s called osteopathic manipulative medicine or manual medicine in addition to chiropractors, who are doing the same manipulative medicine. Often bringing together something like acupuncture with something like OMT or OMM, manipulative medicine, could be really life changing I think for patients.
Dr. Salko: You’re right. When somebody has the opportunity or has a successful acupuncture even OMT session and they feel even if it’s for a moment or a few days or a few weeks that their pain is more manageable or better or that they’re able to do some of the things that they didn’t used to be able to do or they can successfully do their job, take care of their kids, manage their life, that’s way more powerful than any pill will ever be. It’s not something they have to think about how to cope with.
People that take a pill or something, it’s that moment they look for it to wipe everything away, whereas when you’ve taught them a skill with meditation or they’ve been able to have OMT or some manual muscle therapies, they go, “Wow, I can do some of this myself, and I can actually correct some of the mal-alignments and some of the others problems they’ve been carrying for years.” It can be very useful for actually getting to the base of their problem, I think.
Lisa: Another to foundational thing is that you and I both incorporate into our practices our discussion of diet and our discussion of exercise, because exercise, if you can get past an acute pain flare, exercise over the long term actually has been shown to be helpful for chronic pain issues for things like fibromyalgia. Diet is also important. You referred to functional medicine and this is a very specific way.
Speaker 1: Thank you for listening to Love Maine Radio. We do hope you’ll join us next week. Visit us at LoveMaineRadio.com for more information.