The following is a continuation in a series of student essays to be published by Hye Sharzhoom. If you have an essay about any aspect of Armenian life or culture that you would like to publish in Hye Sharzhoom, please contact Dr. Kaprielian in Social Science Room 216 or call her at 278-6493 or the Armenian Studies Program office at 278-2669.
By Robbie Sahatjian
An Armenian background, with strong Christian beliefs and values, has played a vital role in shaping the person I am today. A family of lasting traditions and family closeness have always meant a lot to me. Being Armenian makes me feel proud because of the many hardships that our people have gone through and have overcome. My grandfather, Sarkis Sahatdjian, has faced many tough times and has had to overcome many hardships and obstacles throughout his life. He is a man that I am extremely proud of because of all the accomplishments that he has fulfilled throughout his lifetime.
My grandfather is one of the strongest willed men I have ever known. In a life that has always been a constant struggle for him, he has always kept on fighting. Grandpa always told me, ìNever give up, and strive to reach your goals.î There was a time in my life was when I was in high school, and wanted to quit the basketball team during the middle of the season of my senior year, but in the midst of all of this I recalled hearing my grandfatherís words. I remembered how he had told me never to give up in what ever you do in life and to keep fighting to the end, so I listened to him and did exactly that . I just could not let myself nor him down.
Perhaps the reason that he strives so diligently is because of his background. Born in Constantinople, in 1920, he and his family, as thousands of other Armenians, were forced to leave their homeland, to find a new home. They left to seek a better life in South America. In South America, his family still struggled to survive and saw that there was no future for them in the business field. A year later they received notice that they had been accepted to enter the United States. They arrived in Fresno, California in 1924, and my great-grandparents found work in the canneries. They would work up and down the coast of California, and would save their money, hoping to purchase a farm. It was my great-grandfatherís dream to own his own business, preferably in agriculture. Directly after graduating from Central High School in 1937, my grandfather worked in the cannery in order to help provide for his family. He spent five seasons in the cannery where he worked long hours and received low wages, but it was something that helped to keep the family going. Then, he enlisted in the Army Air Force where he served three and a half years, during World War II. My grandfather said that he was earning more money in the Army, then in the canneries, but it was not the same, as being at being home. He missed his family and was excited to return home after the war.
He always wanted to be a mechanic and loved working on car and tractor engines, but he was needed to help out on the farm which his father purchased. His father had purchased a vineyard that was located in Chateau Fresno, near McKinley. He had purchased this farm right before the depression and this caused the value of the farm to decrease drastically. During this time it was a constant struggle to survive and it was an extremely difficult time for my grandfather’s family. He had to help out on the farm and worked many long tiresome hours in order to keep the farm going. This led him into the agricultural industry.
He married my grandmother, Iris, who was born and raised in Mexico City. Her family had also been forced to leave Armenia, and they had ended up in Mexico City. She had a sister who lived in Fresno. While she was visiting her, when my grandfather met her, and later they married in Fresno, California. The times were very tough, and to make ends meet, he drove the Madera High School bus to make extra money to provide for his family.
In Madera he also purchased a farm, and later with his brother they were able to build a Raisin Packing plant in 1963. In doing this they had fulfilled my great-grandfather’s dream, in which they named the business after him, calling it ìVictor Packing.î Starting this business was not an easy task. The first few years they struggled to maintain and manage the business. As I look at my grandfather I can see all the years of hardship, though his dark brown eyes, and tough but wrinkled hands. I know it was not easy for him and his family, because he tells me stories of how he sometimes would get very little sleep. In interviewing my grandpa he told me the he never imagined himself going into the farming business. He also said, farming is a big gamble, because you work hard all year and you do not know how much you are going to get paid for your fruit or commodity. After the business got going, things started to change for the better. The future was starting to look much brighter. My grandfather also told me something that his father told him: ìIn business it is very important to always be honest and to have integrity, in order to be successful. These values have always been important to our family. The business has grown to what it is today through word of mouth.
My grandfather and family have always believed in giving back to the community. He has made donations to California State University Fresno, Fresno Community Hospital, several different schools, others charities, and organizations. He has always believed in helping others who are less fortunate. Throughout much of his life he has been faced with many hard times, and I feel that he truly knows what it is like to go through life ís difficulties. This leads me to believe that this is in why he tries to help others.
The one major thing that struck me the most in talking with my grandfather was that he would sacrifice almost anything to provide for his family. I am extremely proud to come from such a background. My family has grown tremendously over the years and I feel very fortunate to come from such a great family. I learned a lot through this interview and it has inspired me to find out more about my roots and origins. After listening to my grandfather’s stories of all the struggles he faced and overcame, I feel honored to come from such a wonderful background. I hope one day to be able to go into our family business and to add something positive to it. My grandfather started the business and got it on its feet, along with my father, Victor, who has played a vital role in expanding the business and taking it onto the next level. Throughout my life I have seen some major changes and expansions to the business, such as building more storage rooms for the raisins, and replacing old machinery with new and modern technology. Now as I look into the future, I hope to one day go into Agriculture and to work my way into our family business. I hope to be able to live up to my grandfather’s words, and keep the business running strong, for the next generation.