'It's a great opportunity for me: I send the money I earn to my family in Armenia'
Located on the Pacific coast,the City of Angels (Los Angeles) has been a great and attractive labor market over the past 20 years. Thousands of Armenian citizens travel there to earn their living, of course, if they manage to get U.S. visas. Fewer return to Armenia at a set time: many of them violate the visa terms, driven by a desire to earn more, and they work in the country illegally.
Bella Martirosyan, 56, from Yerevan, has been living in L.A. for 3 years already. She’s been babysitting 2 children and has been living in their family’s house. She says, she has long violated the visa terms and if she returns back to Armenia she will be banned from entering the USA again.
“It’s a great opportunity for me: I can send the money I earn to my family in Armenia. They won’t survive without my earning. I’m not going to stay here forever. I’ll just work here for a while, save some money and then return home. I used to work as an accountant in Armenia for many years, whereas here I’m just a babysitter. I’m paid US$2,000 per month. What should I do to earn the same amount in Armenia? People in Armenia are paid AMD100,000-150,000 for the same job. It’s approximately US$300. So, it’s quite obvious which option is more preferable,” says Bella.
There are many Armenian nationals who, like Bella, stay and work in the USA illegally. They do the ‘menial’ job there and are paid less than others. They mostly look after the children or elderly, work in the bakeries, confectionery plants. Men work as taxi drivers, do some odd jobs at the car wash or construction sites.
At first, many of them stay at their relatives’ place, and afterwardsjointly rent housing, so as to make it easier to pay a rental fee. A rental fee here amounts to US$1,500-US$2,000. An illegal worker’s wage makes approximately the same amount. They try to finds jobs in the cities populatedbymany Armenians-in Hollywood, Glendale, Burbank and Pasadena Valley.
Nelly Khachatryan, 45, who used to work as a teacher in Armenia for years, has become a baker in the USA.
“I was paid AMD80,000, about US$190, at school. I’d been thinking for quite long before I decided to come here. I could hardly provide for my children and my husband was ill. I was lucky to get a visa and I managed to travel here. Now I work in a bakery and earn US$1,600. There are three of us sharing the same apartment, jointly paying a rental fee. I also do some odd jobs as a house cleaner. Thanks to this work I managed to pay for my children’s education and cover my husband’s surgery expenses. I don’t know what we would have done if I hadn’t come to the USA,” says Nelly who has been working in Glendale for 4 years already.
There are neighbourhoods in the Armenian-populated cities, where all signboards are in Armenian, where Armenian language could be heard in the streets and the shop assistants will answer you in Armenian. Little Armenia community in the east part of Hollywood is particularly well-known. It’s the neighbourhood bounded on the north by Hollywood Boulevard, in the center – by Sunset Boulevard and on the south by Santa Monica city (west of downtown L.A.).
According to some unofficial data, there are about 1,5-2million Armenians in the USA, including those who immigrated here in the 90s. The majority of Armenians reside in the western U.S. state of California, which is often referred to as the American Armenia.
Khoren Aramuni Keshishyan, a novelist and playwright, who now lives in Glendale, says:‘Armenians doany menial job in the United States. It’s particularly hard for the intellectuals, who are not accustomed to physical work.’
“A minimum wage here amounts to US$9 per hour, whereas they are paid US$4-5. Anyway, it’s more than a teacher or a physician is paid in Armenia. And most importantly, they have an opportunity to provide for their families. Many settle here and never return home again,” says Aramuni. He himself was born and brought up in Iran. He moved to Armenia together with his family in 1969 and then, in 1980, he immigrated to the USA.
As he points out, after the collapse of the Soviet Union and lifting of the iron curtain, people got a chance to leave the country and started seeking more reliable countries for themselves.
“Many were disappointed with the government’s pursued policy. So, the immigration process started in the 90s. This period was marked by a large inflow of immigrants in the USA, and this process continues until now. After 20 years of work in Armenia, where they could hardly earn their living, they travel to the USA and could see the achievements of those, who immigrated here some 15-20 years ago. And they realize that although it’s not that easy to work here either, but they can achieve progress here.
The immigrants realize that the USA is really a country that offers great opportunities. So, people agree to any job that they would have never done in Armenia, knowing that it would bring no prospects. Whereas here, having started with the most menial job, people achieve serious career advancement. It’s no coincidence that a young man, who immigrated to the USA 20 years ago, has become the Mayor of Glendale. There are 3 Armenians in the Glendale municipal council alone, to say nothing of the whole USA,” says Aramuni.
Some Armenians get a chance to immigrate to the USA thanks to the Green Card lottery drawing. Under the U.S. Congress decree,50,000 permanent resident visas are awarded worldwide as part of the annual lottery. People are selected based on results of random drawing. The visas are apportioned among the countries with ‘historically low rates of immigration to the USA.56,000 citizens of Armenia took part in the 2015 lottery drawing and 2,000 of them won Green Cards.
Hayk Petrosyan, 59, and his 4-member family, won Green Card in 2011. Afterwards they moved to Glendale.
“If you work hard and makea step here, the next step will lead you forward. People ensure decent living through their own labor. In the first 5 years I worked wherever I could. It requires one’s strong will and patience to settle here. We live much better now and I don’t regretmoving here. From here I can support the familiesof my sister and my brother, who are staying in Armenia,”saidHayk. He is as a driver at the cargo transportation company.
Many Green Card-winner Armenians find it hard to get accustomed to a new place. Aram Manvelyan’s family is one of them. They won the Green Card in 2015.
“I’ve been trying to figure out who I am here since the day of my arrival. It’s not that easy to quit a good job, to leave your habitual environment and next of kin. After all, it’s hard to start a new life in new reality, especially when you’re 40 and you’re already a fulfilled person. I used to be a sports coach in Armenia and it’s a low-paid job here. I started doing some other things. I have troubles adapting to this environment, but I won’t leave anyway, at least for the sake of my children. They will have future here,” says Manvelyan.
According to the USA’s population census2010, the number of Armenians residing in Glendale totaled 170,000 people, that is almost 90% of the city’s population. There are also Mexicans, Koreans, Japanese, Chinese, Iranians, as well as migrants from Syria and Iraq.
Khoren Aramuni says, the Armenian community is a rather influential one in the city. When characterizing his compatriots he notes that they are extremely industrious, they don’t like rented housing and their mindset makes them buy their own dwelling.
“Our postman once told me: ‘It’s an amazing thing: one Armenian comes here, buys a house – and the whole street changes beyond recognition: he repairs and takes care of it…’ So many Armenian houses appeared here within 20 years! We are amazing people, but our state doesn’t value us and our work. The oligarchy reigns there,”says the writer.
When asked, why the majority of Armenians who come to the USA never return to homeland, Aramuni answered: ‘That’s because they don’t see any prospects in their homeland, whereas here there is a light that attracts them. After all, if there were jobs, why on earth would people come here? They aren’t that sick, are they!”