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Suzanne Anoushian Froundjian

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Armenian Oral History Project
Interview with: Suzanne Anoushian Froundjian
Interviewed by: Gregory Smaldone
Transcriber: Cordelia Jannetty
Date of interview: 28 March 2016
Interview Settings: Manhasset, NY
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(Start of Interview)

0:01
GS: This is Gregory Smaldone conducting an interview for the Armenian Oral History Project with Binghamton University’s Special Collections Section in the Binghamton University Library. Please state your name, your age and a little bit yourself for the record.

0:16
SF: My name is Suzanne Anoushian Froundjian. I am sixty-two years old. I live in Manhasset, New York. I grew up in New York City.

0:25
GS: So when and where were you born?

0:27
SF: I was born in 1953 at Lincoln Hospital in New York City on a 135th street which is no longer there, the hospital. And I grew up– I started– I first lived with my parents in the Bronx on East 233rd street, and then moved to the country–to Bayside, New York when I was two years old. And we went from an apartment to a house.

0:57
GS: Okay, and how long did you spend there?

1:00
SF: Twenty four years.

1:01
GS: So you grew up in [inaudible].

1:03
SF: Yes, I grew up [inaudible].

1:05
GS: Perfect. Where your parents immigrants?

1:07
SF: No, my parents were both born in New York.

1:09
GS: What about their parents?

1:10
SF: There parents were immigrants, all immigrants.
1:13
GS: Where did your grandparents emigrate from?

1:15
SF: My maternal grandparents were both from the same area, the village of İçme which is outside of Kharput, which is in Western Armenia, now Turkey.

1:30
GS: Now Turkey, were they fleeing the Armenian Genocide?

1:36
SF: Yes, they were. My ̶ let us see– my great grandfather, my mother’s grandfather came to America when he was twenty-six, twenty-five years old in order to raise money to bring his family here because there was the imminent danger of the genocide. And he settled in Whitinsville, Massachusetts near Worcester and he worked here to try to raise money. He died of– he died here at twenty-seven of– God what did he die from– of Pneumonia. Brought on, they said by being on a street car when it was– from getting a chill– who– God who knows and so he left behind his wife and six children, four children. She was a young– younger than that and was, had lived with her family but they all lived in enclave but they had to decide what to do and so they sent the girls– the two girls to an orphanage for safekeeping so they would at least be safe near Eastern Relief Fund Orphanage. They sent one son to Mexico who was–who with relatives who were fleeing the area and her baby who was two or three, she kept with her. The family, that family had not seen each other all together for fifty some odd years until they reunited. My grandmother and her sister were not too–they saw Smyrna burning. They were on a boat. They, eventually went to Corinth, Greece with the orphanage. The orphanage was funded by the Americans– the American Near Eastern Relief Fund, Henry Morgenthau was the– was one of the benefactors. She babysat for Robert Morgenthau many times who was the– what was he in New York City– the attorney general and Barbara Tuckman, the– his sister who was a historian. She was contacted by my grandfather who wrote to her, who knew about her family and she came to America– actually she came with her sister to Cuba. She married my grandfather in Cuba. They came to America. And she came as an American citizen and they sent to my great aunt to Mexico to be with her brother.

4:17
GS: Okay, wonderful. Can you tell us a little– a bit about your childhood growing up, do you recall your goals and your aspirations? Who your kinship group was?

4:28
SF: Well, I mean I had an American life and an Armenian life. And my Armenian life consisted of church. I spoke English as a second language, I spoke Armenian as the first language. I grew up with a lot of family and church and Armenian life. I also grew up as an American. My parents were American.

4:50
GS: So, would you say that your friends were mostly Americans, mostly Armenian or was there a mix or did you have two separate groups?

4:58
SF: I had separate groups because they did not mix at that time really. There were not that many Armenians in Bayside although there was a church there so they ended up being a lot of Armenians.

05:07
GS: Would you say– where was the main social space for the Armenian community?

5:12
SF: At the church. Yeah, there really were not, were not any groups. When the more– when the new comer Armenians came they started forming more clubs and organizations which is how it was there, but in America really the only place was the church.

5:27
GS: Okay– what– hold on– so did both of your parents work when growing up?

5:41
SF: Yes, Oh no not my mother. No not until I was– she went back to school when I was thirteen, went back to college.

5:52
GS: What did she study?

5:53
SF: She studied education. She went back to– she went back to Queens College and started with one class and then two and then decided to finish her degree which she had left to help support her family after her father died.

6:08
GS: What were your parents’ roles in the household?

6:11
SF: Traditional roles but equals in terms of how– my father never was– they were– how do you say– he was not bossy. He was not– they were equals in every way.

6:28
GS: They were equals in every way but your mother was the caregiver and your father was the breadwinner?

6:32
SF: Primarily, my father also was very hands on, did lot of things like shopping and cleaning and helping and doing– so yeah.

6:42
GS: Now you said you spoke Armenian as your first language and English as your second language?

6:47
SF: Yeah, I was, I think I was the trial child because I was the first grandchild and I was the first– and I was the daughter. And I guess I spoke Armenian– my daughter ended up speaking Armenian pretty–Anoush spoke Armenian pretty much too. But that way– but they figured if they spoke to me in Armenian that I would answer in Armenian and I did. So I learned– When we moved to Bayside and I was two, some neighbor told my mother that a foreign family had moved in because the little girl did not speak English. Of course you learn English right away. By the time my brother was born, when I was three, I was already speaking English and he did not know much Armenian at all compared to me.

7:28
GS: So did you– how may siblings did you have?

7:31
SF: I have two brothers, one three years younger and one seven years younger.

7:35
GS: Okay, did they end up speaking Armenian?

7:37
SF: Very little, although interestingly they did a lot of Armenian things. They did not have the language but culturally they were– Carl, my brother Carl– was very involved in the church. He was a deacon. He was an archdeacon. He did Poorvar, you know incense burning and he did a lot of– He knew the whole liturgy which is no small feat.

8:01
GS: Okay, did– so none of you attended Armenian language school?

8:05
SF: I did for a couple of years. I hated it. [laughs]

8:10
GS: How old were you when you attended?

8:13
SF: Like eight, eight to ten maybe. And I– it was really set up for Armenian-speaking children. It was not set up for American-Armenian kids. So I stayed– when my mother finally let me stop going, I was happy.

8:31
GS: Okay, did you and your siblings attend Armenian bible school?

8:35
SF: Yes, um, well they attend Sunday school, I attended bible school as an adult at the Diocese.

8:42
GS: So you would distinguish between bible and Sunday school?

8:47
SF: A little bit because I think it was– because then I think it was not as much influence only bible study, but it was, it was history, it was also Armenian history, it was– but it was some bible–some bible.

9:02
GS: Would you attend church as well as Sunday school?

9:05
SF: We usually– Sunday school, usually attended for an hour, forty minutes then yeah like you did.

9:11
GS: Same system. Okay, perfect.

9:13
SF: And we had one thing that I just want to just mention– because I think– we learned the Nicene Creed in our Sunday school assemblies. Every week we learned an article of the Nicene Creed which was twelve big long articles and so that was something that we were prepped and prepared for church.

9:35
GS: Okay, how would you describe the Armenian community in Bayside as you were growing up?

9:40
SF: It was strong. The experience that my brother who was three years younger than me and I had were that there were not too many extracurricular activities; therefore church took on a big role. It was– Oh, there was even a Boy Scout group when they were growing up. So my brother, Carl, was a Boy Scout. By the time my brother Walter came a long, who was seven years younger than me, there were other things– people went to clubs and they did boy’s club and they did baseball teams and they did other things. But it– there was less of that and so the church took on a bigger role for the two of us. Sunday school was also important. It was the only time you got out and saw your friend– you looked forward to seeing your friends.

10:30
GS: So, Sunday school and church was where the community came together mainly?

10:34
SF: Yeah, mostly.

10:35
GS: Did you attend primary school with people in the Armenian community and if so, did you guys tend to stay as a group in school?

10:44
SF: There were not any Armenians in my elementary school, and there were no Armenian teachers and nobody knew what Armenians were, nobody. And we had– I remember borrowing an Armenian costume and go– and we had an ethnic day and I did an Armenian report. But no, there was nobody. By the time– like– in Manhasset there were many Armenian kids at the schools.

11:08
GS: And Manhasset is currently you reside as a member?

11:12
SF: Yeah.

11:12
GS: What was the highest level of education you have achieved?

11:15
SF: Graduate degree– Master’s degree in Illustration.

11:19
GS: Master’s degree in Illustration, Okay wonderful. Moving on to adult life, how many children do you have?

11:25
SF: I have two. Anoush and Rafi.

11:28
GS: Anoush and Rafi, and how old are they now?

11:30
SF: Anoush is thirty-one and Rafi is twenty-four.

11:34
GS: Did they attend– how important was it for you that they speak Armenian, you continue speak Armenian?

11:42
SF: Interestingly enough, even though their father was an immigrant and it was more important for me to have her attend the Armenian day school. And she went through to sixth grade school and graduated. She totally is–reads and writes in Armenian. It was she actually received a large scholarship to Mount Holyoke because she was Armenian student who could read and write Armenian.

12:08
GS: And what is Mount Holyoke?

12:09
SF: Mount Holyoke is one of the Seven Sisters’ Colleges in Western Massachusetts.

12:16
GS: Okay, so ̶

12:17
SF: But Rafi– I took Rafi out after– after kindergarten and so he really does not retain much Armenian. Interestingly he is attracted to Armenian music, as a musician, which I am very happy about, but Anoush is my Armenian speaking child and Rafi is my non-Armenian speaking child.

12:38
GS: Why was it important for you that Anoush attend language school for Armenian?

12:43
SF: Primarily because my mother was then recently– well she still is the superintendent in the school and I really felt that culturally it was important for her to speak–for Anoosh–to speak Armenian, for many reasons; sometimes I feel like I saddled her with the same problems I saddled myself with. The bad days, but on the good days, there were many things interestingly that she loved about it. First, when I go to church with my daughter, my daughter reads the Armenian side and I read the English transliteration side, so, that my own daughter the next generation should be able to read Armenian and write it better than I do is remarkable to me. Then the other thing was she knows more history than I do. She knows more songs than I do. This is I think very important and I think it is a great joy and a great burden but I do think that it is important. Varoujan was less important– it was less important for Varoujan that she go to Armenian school, but that was how it was. She graduated in 6th grade. She still retains her Armenian. With Rafi– no he– it just did not– it was too hard. Also, the school had changed, my mother was no longer there. My mother had died. It was hard for me.

14:04
GS: I understand. What is their level of education now and what is their occupations?

14:12
SF: Anoush is– has a BA [Bachelors of Arts] in Dramatic Writing. She has– she is a person– well let us see, she is an illustrator and a writer she blogs; she illustrates– she is sort of an entrepreneur with some beta brand materials as far as a job she works a job to fund these things it is not a career. Rafi is a graduate of– in Music. He has a BA in Music and Performing Arts, yeah. It is with some technology too. There is a technology aspect to it. He has a band. They play a lot around– he– they play in many different kinds of venues. He also was a barista at Starbucks. He has private music students and he, he is considering going back to graduate school.

15:14
GS: Wonderful. Have you ever travelled to Turkey?

15:16
SF: No.

15:16
GS: Have you ever travelled to Armenia?

15:18
SF: Yes.

15:18
GS: When, and how many times?

15:20
SF: Once in 1979.

15:23
GS: Once in 1979, what was the reason for the visit?

15:25
SF: It was a visit with my family– my brother, my mother and I went together because we had always wanted to. And so we decided to take– use the opportunity while we were able, to take the trip.

15:37
GS: Okay, how– is it important for you at all that your children marry other Armenians?

15:43
SF: It was important. My brothers and I all married Armenians which was– which we were the only family– my cousins all married outside of, of the Armenian arena. They all married Italians–[laughs] so it seems like it must be, [laughs] it must be the next choice. I have one– in all the second cousins too, really very few of them married Armenians. It seemed to be important. It was important to my brothers too, which was more surprising to me because I was felt a little more Armenian than they were because I had more background but I got the real Armenian, they got the American Armenians, you know.

16:30
GS: Is it important for you that your children marry Armenians?

16:33
SF: Yes, but they will not. They will not [laughs]. And I think that my daughter is– I think my daughter, in her being more Armenian it will be interesting, however, I think that it is– the world is different– and I think that does not happen, I think it dies out.

16:52
GS: What does it mean to you to be Armenian?

16:56
SF: I think it is a legacy, I think it is important. I think it is a job. I think it is my other full-time job. I am working on a project which, if you are interested in, I can tell you about, but, but I find that in the Armenian community I have, I have a lot of trouble fitting in because I think being– I do not know where I belong. All these years later I do not know where I belong. And so in within my family I am very Armenian, within my household, and within my extended family I am very Armenian but– and in the workplace I am Armenian. Everybody knows me as Armenian, however I do not have any– I do not really have Armenian friends or social group anymore because I have changed a lot over the years, and that group has not grown with me and I have not found my place in, in another group. So it is a– it is a love and a burden at the same time.

18:01
GS: What are some Armenian traditions that you have tried to maintain in your household and you have tried to pass on to your children?

18:07
SF: Oh, a lot of them, let us see. We made çörek this week for Easter that is very important.

18:12
GS: Can you explain for the record what çörek is?

18:14
SF: Çörek is an Armenian Easter bread made with a certain spice that you make at, at Easter and I think the significance is rising and He is risen– and this rising bread– it is something my mother made all the time. I only after– and interesting she made it with your grandmother all the time. And so ̶

18:34
GS: Let the record show that we will not devote the secret spice, ̶ anyone steal the recipe ̶ Please continue though.

18:41
SF: And so there was something about Anoosh and I making it this year that was really very special. Let us see what else do we do. Certain things; Armenian Christmas, foods that we make or getting to church– although I get to church less and less frequently.

19:01
GS: How frequently would you say you do it now?

19:03
SF: Couple times a year, I do not know if I go anymore. Again I think part of it that I am just– my life has changed than I am far too busy to– I have a job that keeps me incredibly busy after years of not having one.

19:17
GS: So one can be– with you agree with the statement that one can be Armenian without speaking Armenian or attending the Armenian Church?

19:24
SF: Yes, yes, yes.

19:25
GS: So, would you say that there is–So would you say that there is a singular aspect that defines one’s Armenianness, would you say it is a personal identity?

19;34
SF: It is probably a personal identity. But there is a word hay sery, which is “you love of being an Armenian.” I think that people are– I know I went to Armenia with my brother, Walter, and he did not speak a word of Armenian but he was as moved as I was. So I think it is– I think it is just part of you and it is the way you brought up but I do think that certain people who have more– I think certain people who have more knowledge have more responsibility. For instance, one of the things that really bothers me is that while Eastern Armenian is the language spoken in Armenia, it is the language that people who speak Western Armenian who–that which was the language that the people who came before– during the genocide brought to America. And the Western Armenian is a different language. People understand each other sort of, the Eastern Armenian understand the Western Armenian but–

20:35
GS: Is it a dialect or–

20:36
SF: It is a dialect but it is a modernization of the language. And so what happens is when you go to Armenia its– like you say [speaking in Armenian] in Western Armenian and you say [speaking in Armenian] in Eastern Armenian. Now, Western–Eastern Armenians understand what Western Armenians say, Western Armenians do not always understand the other. And so what happens is all of–and Western Armenian is one of the languages on the UN list of disappearing languages. That kills me. Because in one generation, that will be gone. And so I am working on a preservation project, personally, where I am trying to collect unimportant things by world standard and the genocide and things ̶ but things– traditions that passed by word of mouth, that are–that will disappear because people come to me now and ask me how to do things and I realize I only know how to do some of them or say some of them. Know certain rhymes. So I am collecting them as an artist I am illustrating them. So, anyway, that is my preservation project. We will see where it goes.

21:40
GS: That is wonderful. How do you view the Armenian diaspora in America? Do you see it as an accident of history or good thing? And do you think it is a temporary entity or permanent one?

21:51
SF: Good question! I think– I think there– well, let us see– it is a permanent one because I do not think people would go back to Armenia, I think some people would but not many. I think that Americans are too American. My husband who has lived in America for thirty-five years is now too American to go back. He could not go back. He is a New Yorker, so he could not even leave and live in New Jersey. But ̶ [laughs]

22:20
GS: No one could–

22:21
SF: No, no, ugh! But [laughs] I do think that each past– each person, each elder that dies is a huge loss for all of us because what happens is a piece of history dies with them, and so by default I am the oldest now in the family on one side and the second old on the other side, isn’t that creepy? Yeah, I think it is. And so what happens is Varoundjian and I are the big Armenian experts, and we know how to do things nobody else knows how to do any of it, so I do see it needing to be recorded in some way– in some fashion and I do not know what that is. And I feel a certain desperation about that because I think it is important.

23:13
GS: Okay, what does it mean for you to be both an American and an Armenian at the same time?

23:18
SF: I am first an American. I have always been an American first.

23:21
GS: What would you identify yourself as?

23:24
SF: I would say I am an American-Armenian. Yeah. And I think that is different than an Armenian–American. I think Varoundjian is an Armenian-American because I think he came from, he is a Lebanese–Armenian-American but, but he is, you know he is from there and he went to college in Armenia so he really has lived it and, interestingly, because the Armenian world is so small, he went to college with [inaudible] relatives, so when he came to America and realized they were Dudorians he had been to college with Armenians in Armenia who were Dudorians so it is a small world and we all kind of overlap each other all the time.

24:03
GS: So, one last outlier question, what are your views on gender roles in society today?

24:12
SF: Well, in America ̶ I have always felt that Armenians– well let me go back– in an Armenian household I always saw husbands and wives as equals. That may have been in the family that I grew up in. That may have been socio-economic, that may have been because of education but I always saw women as having equal roles, not as being subservient. And especially when women started to go to work that was it– we were equals. But Armenians with lesser education, Armenians with lesser exposure and certainly Armenians in Armenia often are– women are still subservient. I guess some of that– I think a lot of that ends up being, again, socio-economic and level of education. Did I answer that?

25:16
GS: You did, you did perfectly. Alright, well thank you very much for your time. This was a wonderful interview. Hope you have a nice day.

25:22
SF: Thank you. It was lovely, lovely to work with you.

(End of Interview)

Date of Interview

3/28/2016

Interviewer

Gregory Smaldone

Interviewee

Suzanne A Froundjian

Biographical Text

Born in NYC to second generation Armenian immigrant parents, Suzanne was involved in her Armenian church from an early age. She studied Communications Design-BFA at Pratt Institue and is an Assistant Professor at Fashion Institute of Technology. Suzanne also has two children, Anoush and Rafi and is working on an Armenian cultural preservation project.

Duration

25:25

Language

English

Digital Publisher

Binghamton University

Interview Format

Audio

Rights Statement

This audio file and digital image may only be used for educational purposes. Please cite as Armenian Oral History Project, Binghamton University Libraries, Binghamton University, State University of New York. For usage beyond fair use please contact the Binghamton University Libraries for more information.

Keywords

Turkey; Armenia; Armenian church; Armenian culture;Traditional roles; Traditions; Armenian language school; Food; Genocide; Diaspora; Gender roles.

Files

Citation

“Suzanne Anoushian Froundjian,” Digital Collections, accessed February 7, 2023, https://omeka.binghamton.edu/omeka/items/show/620.