Armenians of Mexico
June 13, 2016 - July 2, 2016
Armenians of Mexico
Mexico may seem like an exotic place for an Armenian diasporan community, the community is in fact more than 393 years old, making it one of the oldest in the Americas. Though few Armenians had travelled or done business in Colonial Mexico before the 20th century, they had left a mark. Moreover, in the XIXth century, some Armenians were well known in Mexican Society; for example, Jacobo Harootian was the first Armenian to be promoted to General in any army in the Americas. Despite this history, when Armenians fled to the Americas in the early 20th century, the proximity to the more appealing United States made Mexico a less desirable destination.
The vast majority of Armenians who settled in Mexico did not go in search of adventure, but as victims of persecution and hatred. After 1915, all of the Armenians who went to Mexico were refugees. Those who had managed survive the Genocide were forced to leave most of their belongings, although some brought a few items such as rosaries, carpets, photos and books. They left behind their houses, their orchards, their furniture and sometimes even their wealth; they left behind a place called “home.” But these material objects were nothing compared with what they had really abandoned: their churches and monasteries, their dead buried in their cemeteries, and the memory of having lived in someplace called a homeland. Their luggage contained few material items but numerous memories of the world they had left. They brought only a few books, but countless stories which evoked sorrow and profound nostalgia.
Although Armenians in Mexico failed to create the necessary institutions to preserve their cultural identity, members of the Armenian community in Mexico kept their dreams of returning to their homeland very much alive. They considered their displacement to be temporary and maintained strong bonds with other Armenian communities. Especially strong were their ties with communities in the United States, with which they communicated about their struggle against assimilation, and about how the very spirit of being Armenian still thrived in their community:
Like everywhere, the Armenians of Mexico are also patriotic, they live with the memories and traditions of the country [Armenia], when we appeal to them, they sacrifice themselves for the national aims. The nostalgia for the Fatherland among the elders is very well-known. The new generation is obviously influenced by the environment and condemned to assimilation as everywhere. Even if Armenian salvation doesn’t come, the spirit of Armenia is still alive in them.
In 2013 the Republic of Armenia opened an Embassy in Mexico City. With the activities promoted by the Embassy and the considerable amount of international discussion which accompanied the centennial commemoration of the Genocide, the assimilated Armenian community rekindled a connection with their past and their identity. This is potentially a process which will help Armenians in Mexico maintain their memory and cultural identity: this exhibition is part of that reconstruction.