Nevertheless, most American Armenians never get so comfortable that they forget the continuing plight of Armenians in the Middle East and Asia Minor, said Paparian. Their abiding ties to the old country stem from its 20th-Century afflictions, he said, particularly the annihilation of as many as 1.5 million Armenians by the Turks between 1915 and 1920.
A bonding has occurred because of that historical experience, said Paparian. "My earliest memory as a little kid was waking up one night and finding my mother with tears coming down her cheeks," Paparian said. "She said, 'You'll never understand what happened to our family.' "
Armenians often speak of "the genocide" as the dominating element in their national identity. It has given Armenians, even those who are three or four generations removed from the homeland, a sense of vulnerability and protectiveness, said Mesrobian.
"Our culture is like a beautiful rose," he said. "Something beautiful like that will fade away if it's not kept up."
But Andre Barsoumian, a music teacher at Pasadena High School who once served as music director of the American University in Beirut, Lebanon, said the bonding between far-flung Armenians also was related to their experiences in the Middle Eastern countries where many fled after World War I to compete with other national groups for patches of territory.
"In the Middle East, you're constantly reminded that your homeland is really Armenia," he said.
As in other cities where Armenians have congregated, the Pasadena community has sought to re-create a bit of the homeland abroad. On Washington Boulevard, the grocery stores bristle with fragrant Middle Eastern products.
"I've never been to Armenia, but we all have Armenian blood," said Mary Donikian, whose family owns the American Armenian Grocery. The store's shelves are stocked with, among other things, pistachios, almonds, garbanzo beans, jarred yogurt curds in oil and a dozen different kinds of olive oil, while long, thin salami dangle from the ceiling.
Among the women who gathered in the store on Tuesday was Elizabeth Oghanesyan, who arrived in Pasadena from Soviet Armenia just a year ago. Her 13-year-old son, Akop, she said, had just learned that his entire class of former schoolmates in Kirovakan had been killed.
"My son is cry, cry, cry," she said.
At the Sahag-Mesrob School, in the foothills above Pasadena, 250 impeccably behaved school children in uniforms learn, among many other things, the Armenian alphabet and the troubled history of their forefathers. It's part of that bonding that Paparian and others talked about, says Jack Loussararian, whose school is accredited by the state to teach children from kindergarten to the eighth grade.
"Armenians have always been very close to the fatherland," he said. "Parents like to have their children learn Armenian and to grow up in a Christian atmosphere."
In a literal sense, the closest that an American Armenian will be able to get to his homeland will soon be in La Verne, about 20 miles east of Pasadena, on the campus of the American Armenian International College.
The 12-year-old college, the only one of its kind in the Western Hemisphere, has literally transported a large chunk of the homeland to the San Gabriel Valley. The school has acquired almost 50 tons of the native Armenian stone called \o7 touf. \f7 The pinkish material, used for centuries in buildings in Yerevan, Armenia's capital, will become the facade of the college's new academic center, said Garbis Der Yeghiayan, president of the school.
"We expect to go into construction in March," said Der Yeghiayan, who is also chairman of the Intercommunity Relief Fund, formed a week ago by a coalition of Armenian groups to lead the earthquake relief effort.
Not everyone in the Armenian community shares the prosperity of second- or third-generation professionals like Paparian or even of the shop owners on Washington Boulevard.
Recent arrivals from the Soviet Union have particular difficulties, said Suzanne Berberian, a social worker for the Armenian Relief Society, which has been awarded a federal grant to provide assistance to refugees.
"Many are good technicians, but they have a language barrier," she said. She described a man who had worked as a choirmaster in Armenia. "He ended up working as an assembly worker in Anaheim for $5.50 an hour," said Berberian. "Then he was laid off. He has a music brain, but there's no way for him to be a part of American music society. He ends up doing assembly work, and it hurts him."