LOS ANGELES (CN) – As in many places across Southern California, a trek across the international notes and flavors of the city of Glendale offers a view into residents’ stories of migration and community.
First incorporated in 1906 and nestled between the Los Angeles basin and the Verdugo Mountains, Glendale has grown into a city of just over 200,000 people and home to a colorful spectrum of Asian and Middle Eastern cuisines. With that comes the concurring reality of both international political tensions and gestures of solidarity that play out not across borders but in grocery aisles, schoolyards and sidewalks.
The city’s 34 neighborhoods – carved out by streams, washes and mountain ridges – are home to large diaspora communities of Persians, Filipinos, Mexicans, Thai and Armenians among many others. More than 70 percent of city residents identified as white, according to 2010 Census data, with Asians accounting for the second largest population at nearly 17 percent.
A walk along Colorado Boulevard captures a fragment of the color and flavor palate the city offers.
Inside India Organics, storekeeper Shreya Parekh glides between aisles lined with fragrant spices, religious talismans and a galaxy of curry mixes. The notes left in Parekh’s wake, combined with the Bollywood soundtrack playing overhead, entangle the spirit with sounds and smells of India.
Parekh prepares pani puri, puffed rice balls filled with potatoes, Indian spices and tangy water, in between tasks. The dish, eaten at food stalls on streets across India, is a quick snack.
“You can eat the pani puri here,” Parekh said, pointing to a small space next to the cash register, the only spot in the store where one could enjoy a prepared dish. “You just pop them in your mouth!”
Down the street at Baklava Factory, Suria Mehrabi helps her mother pick out a combination of beautifully constructed pieces of baklava – a dessert found across the Middle East made with light dough, nuts and sweet syrup.
Mehrabi says her mother will likely eat a third of the baklava before it makes its way to a family party.
“We have so many reminders of our [Persian] cuisine at home and in this neighborhood but [my mother] insists on clinging to the sweets,” Mehrabi said.
When Colorado meets Brand Boulevard to the east, it feels as though two worlds collide, with older, ethnic establishments overshadowed by massive chain restaurants such as Shake Shack, In-N-Out Burger and Buffalo Wild Wings.
The commercial strip on Brand, Glendale’s largest concentration of culinary and entertainment venues, also hosts a movie theater and bars. The energy is charged on the strip with people buzzing between stores, a stark contrast from the quieter pace on Colorado.
“It’s convenient, I mean, to go from Marshalls to T-Mobile and then grab food for later,” said Chris Dune, a college student running errands between classes. “I don’t live in [Glendale] and don’t have much time to explore other areas.”
The renowned Porto’s, a Cuban bakery famous for its guava pastries and cakes, is a staple of Glendale cuisine and has as much star-power and name recognition as top eateries across LA County. The bakery is minutes away from the Glendale Galleria, an upscale mall that has transformed the area in its immediate vicinity into a commercial mecca.
Glendale resident Annita Aramayis said she enjoys bringing her Armenian relatives to the Galleria when they visit from abroad.
“They don’t have these kinds of luxurious things and shopping options so [my relatives] like to get their fancy stuff here,” Aramayis said.
Glendale is home to a large Armenian community that has left its mark on everything from politics and cuisine to the auto dealership market. It also hosts the Consul General of the Republic of Armenia.
At the Lahmajune Factory on the corner of Broadway and Chevy Chase Drive, bakers pump out a variety of flat, Armenian pizzas called lahmajune and stuffed breads called borags.
During the Genocide Remembrance Day each April, the city swells in size to remember the roughly 1.5 million Armenians killed by the Ottoman Empire. But the community was rocked this year when someone hung dozens of Turkish flags outside two predominantly Armenian elementary schools in the LA area.
The act prompted widespread condemnation from officials, including LA Mayor Eric Garcetti and LA City Council member Paul Koretz who described the incident as “the equivalent of putting a Nazi swastika on the side of a Jewish school.”
The Turkish Consulate in Los Angeles said in a statement that they knew of no Turkish individual involved and called the incident “a defamation campaign against Turkey,” which has largely declined to recognize the events of 1915 as a genocide.
But Glendale’s international issues don’t just involve Armenians and Turkey: Tensions swirled in 2014, when a federal judge dismissed a lawsuit demanding the city dismantle a bronze public monument to South Korean “comfort women” forced into sexual slavery during World War II.
The Ninth Circuit affirmed the dismissal in 2016, finding Glendale has a constitutional right to express its international policy by installing public memorials like the bronze statue in the city’s Central Park.
During a mid-afternoon picnic with friends over burgers and fries at Glendale’s Central Park, resident Greg Ramirez said he hadn’t heard of the history behind the “comfort women” statue or news of the Armenian community’s response to the Turkish flag incidents.
“I’m still learning about everyone’s history and figuring out where I fit into the city myself,” Ramirez said. “But I feel like Glendale has space for everyone, like a container for stories.”