26 July 2013, 13:02
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The Masculine Role

She had many tempting job offers come her way. Numerous high-profile banks, including Armenian ones, tried to entice her with opportunities for professional advancement. But a Vice-President of the Glendale Branch of Bank of America, Caroline Mirzoyan, believes that she owes too great a debt to her bank to even consider leaving and doesn’t view these offers as ones she “cannot refuse”.

When you relocated to the United States in 1987, it was rather complicated for an immigrant to get hired at an American company. How did you manage to build such a career; you did not even have a professional degree?
Somehow it all happened by itself. In 1985, after high school graduation, I applied to the Yerevan Institute of National Economy but I failed to get an adequate score on my exams, so I went to work as a telegrapher. I intended to apply next year, but my life took another turn when I came to the United States by 1987. In the United States, already employed at a bank, I realized that this was it - my calling. Banking operations, the impeccable precision of the system and to put it simply - the world of numbers - instantly captured my interest. Of course, I had to do a great deal of learning – intensive study of the English language, as well as the basics of the banking business. Less than a year later, I was hired at a branch of a Security Pacific National Bank. In 1992 we merged with Bank of America and that was when I was really “tested” as a professional. Both banks had to lay off much of their staff and selected only their best employees to stay. Naturally, Bank of America employees were preferred. So, fortunately, I was not among those laid off, I was even promoted. In other words, the bank was my “university”. It is here I learned everything I know and acquired the profession I love. I had to work as a manager as well as an assistant and not only at the Glendale Branch, but at other locations as well. Obviously, I gained experience in various aspects of the banking business and as one may put it, became multiple-line. Finally, in 1999 I was offered the position of Bank of America’s Glendale Branch Vice-President.

This is a quite masculine role, do you regret accepting it?
I did only once. In 1998 our bank was robbed. I had to stand at gunpoint for quite a while as the robber collected the money. This is how it happened. One of the cashiers and I were about to enter the bank vault to get some cash. Suddenly, a robber stormed into the bank armed with a huge gun. The first thought that entered my mind was: “Why isn’t he wearing a mask?” I remembered the detailed instructions for handling bank robbery situations. According to these instructions, we were supposed to satisfy all of the robbers’ demands and not enter into any kind of negotiations with them in order to protect the safety of bank employees. I remembered all that, but I was so afraid that I froze solid and could not move. Meanwhile, the robber waved his gun at me, demanding the cash. I do not know how we would have come out of this mess if it wasn’t for the cashier. She reacted quickly, ran to the register and gave all of the money to the robber to get his attention off the vault. As for me, when I got a hold of myself, I switched on a pocket alarm (all bank employees have pocket remotes on them). But the fear never left me, I was afraid that we would all die. But the robber turned out to be much kinder than I anticipated. He calmly took the money and left before the police arrived. He wasn’t able to take much cash, the registers were fairly empty as all this took place in the morning, but he sure scared the heck out of people. I suffered immense stress that day. After that, I wondered if I should stay at my job. But I have received therapy with qualified psychologists and management was very supportive. This is probably the only event that really could have changed my life.

Why is it that you have such a typical American name?
It is a very amusing story. My father believed in democracy when it was not even thought of in the Soviet Union. He especially admired John Kennedy. So he named his two daughters Jacqueline and Caroline, after the wife and daughter of the 35th American president. When in the 80s the possibility of leaving the Soviet Union was no longer an illusion, he did not hesitate to take advantage of it. We said good buy to Echmiadzin and moved to the States. You can say that in the past 15 years our fellow countrymen have modified the demographic picture of Glendale; at this point it is mostly populated by Armenians. By the way, many of them now have prestigious jobs.

That is how it is now. Twenty years back there were hardly any Armenians here who would be able to support you. Do they support each other now?
It is true that back then weren’t many Armenians here and I couldn’t count on their support. But who knows? Maybe it was better that way. I am happy I have succeeded on my own. Experience proves that external help makes people lazy and incapable of making decisions. When you have no one to lean on, you search for other options or resources for survival. In that sense, America is a country where you think about survival every second of your life. God forbid you should loosen up and relax – that is definitely a luxury you cannot afford here. When it comes to support overall, it is not always the same. If you really think about it, here everybody thinks only of themselves. Of course, our fellow countrymen try to help each other, especially the newcomers, but sometimes this support is not what you had hoped for. For instance, recently I was approached by Armenians with a request to accelerate a banking operation important to them. I was not authorized to do that but decided to help them out because they had convinced me that they had an excellent credit history. In reality, they had deceived me and I am still busy with damage control. Of course people are different — overall, Armenians feel much more comfortable here in Glendale, as opposed to other parts of Los Angeles; it is easier to live among your own kind. I myself am planning to relocate to Glendale from Northridge, where I live now. I have already bought a house in Glendale.

So you can now be considered a full-fledged American?
Believe it or not – no, I cannot be. I have remained a bona fide Armenian, in the very traditional sense of the word. In the twenty years I have lived here, I still have not adopted the American lifestyle.

What does the phrase “Ame-rican lifestyle” mean to you?
It’s hard to answer this question on the spot. But it’s indeed very different from ours. You see, they have a completely different domestic culture. Within their families they don’t have the same warmth we Armenians do. It seems they are guided by a “we’re all on our own” concept. Often, parents have no idea as to how their children live, what kind of problems they have and if they need help. Americans themselves are very cautious, even fearful, of approaching this problem and it is determined by the federal laws pertaining to child upbringing. In my opinion, these laws reinforce alienation between parents and children. Actually, the alienation here is felt in all social relationships. It always seemed barbaric to me that neighbors here do not even know each other’s names. Well, they indeed have a long way to go before they reach our level of hospitality. I do not know, possibly this lifestyle seems absolutely normal to certain people, but not me.

That is what you think. What about your children?
I think they will remain true Armenians, my husband and I raised them with Armenian traditions. Besides they attend Armenian schools and that, as you understand, is important. And our domestic lifestyle is purely Armenian. We prefer a home cooked-meal to dining out, unlike many Americans. Although going to a restaurant every Sunday has become a tradition in our family, which perhaps makes us a little American.

Yerevan Magazine, Summer, N1, 2008

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