By Mihran Aroian
PATTISON, Texas — On April 27, Pattison, with a population of 477, was site of a day-long festival to honor the Armenians who migrated to Waller County Texas more than 135 years ago along with their descendants, who still live in the area. The event was held in the Pattison Area Volunteer Fire Department. Waller County Armenians hosted some 120 Armenians at the celebration. Most who attended were descendants of Armenian settlers, who immigrated and lived in this rural area. The first Armenian immigrant group of 14 Armenians, headed by Hachadoor Donigian, arrived in Texas in 1882.
From Austin, the two-hour drive down rural roads past expansive cattle ranches and the thick roadside wildflowers that lined property fences — thanks to Lady Bird Johnson’s 1960 “Keep America Beautiful” campaign — added to an astonishing not-to-be-forgotten event.
Imagine walking into a rural Texas town and meeting Armenian descendants whose roots date back 135 years. Dressed in traditional rural Texas jeans, some in caps, some in cowboy boots and hats, my family and I met many local families who have never been to Armenia, do not speak the language and whose names do not end in ian. The stereotypical Texas drawl was prevalent throughout the hall as we enjoyed shish kebab, pilaf, fasoulya, choreg, lavash and many other traditional and familiar foods.
Waller County residents are as proud of their Armenian heritage as any Armenian you will meet. They had photographs of their ancestors, documenting their early days in Texas. Ancestral research was displayed on posters and walls throughout the fire department. I became enthralled by this small but important community of Armenian descendants, who are clearly so proud of their Armenian roots and heritage. It was a treat to hear them speak about their great grandparents, the hardships they endured, the extensive genealogical research they have done, and then to visit the graves of their Armenian ancestors. Many tombstones include photographs of these individuals and Armenian lettering, beckoning us to remember our own.
Invited speaker Mark Arslan of North Carolina spoke about his Armenian Immigration Project. Mark gave an impressive presentation on the government records he has collected and made available online regarding Armenians who immigrated to the US through 1930. The oldest documented census report dates back an Armenian who came to Massachusetts in 1850. What Mark has done is impressive. The Armenian Immigration Project is a vast resource for those wanting to learn more about the emigration of their families.