GLENDALE, Calif. - Actor Joe Manganiello may be known for his hit roles on ‘Magic Mike’ and ‘True Blood’, but he’s now sharing the story of his family’s history, roots, and Armenian culture.
He spoke about his family’s past in Armenia during an Armenian Genocide commemorative event at the Alex Theater in Glendale Monday night.
He told the story of his great-grandmother who survived the 1915 Armenian Genocide and moved to America.
In 1915, 1.5 million Armenians were massacred at the hands of the Ottoman Empire (modern day Turkey). Armenians were taken from their homes, tortured, starved, and killed. The land in Western Armenia was also taken by the Ottoman Empire. His great-grandmother survived, but was sent to live in a relocation camp and was impregnated by a German officer.
She gave birth to a German-Armenian girl, Manganiello’s grandmother, and eventually moved to Worcester, Massachusetts and married an Armenian man.
Manganiello said it’s important to share the stories of our ancestors and spread awareness of the issues.
"I didn’t realize how underrepresented the Armenian story is out there, I didn’t realize how me telling my great-grandmother's story, just simply she survived therefore I can be here today to tell her story and say her name and have a show like Dr. Gate’s show ‘Finding your Roots’, to have the ability to have me tell her story. I didn’t realize how many of those stories haven’t been heard and how many people don’t know the story of the Armenians," he said at the event.
April 24, 2023, marked the 108th anniversary of the Armenian Genocide. To this day the Turkish government denies that the genocide occurred. In 2021, President Joe Biden became the first US president to formally recognize the Armenian Genocide.
And even though the genocide occurred over a century ago, an ethnic cleansing of Armenians is occurring now in the region of Nagorno-Karabakh, also known as Artsakh.
"There are still atrocities happening now. It is definitely true for the Armenians; if there could have been some sort of repercussion you wonder if what happened in World War II couldn’t have been avoided," Manganiello stated.
"When you have a Diaspora, when you have a displacement of a group of people, it then gets kept alive through food, through culture, through language, through religion. So, the idea that my great-grandmother escaped and took that with her, I understand why it was so important for her."
Manganiello found out about his family’s past and multicultural roots through the genetics test 23 and Me. He also shared his story and learned more about it when he appeared on an episode of the PBS show ‘Finding your Roots with Henry Luis Gates’. He said the entire process took him about 10 years.
His ancestry includes African, Armenian, German, and Italian.
"So, like I said, it's been this big discovery process. But I think as an artist, what's amazing to me is that now I know. And now I can spend my time exploring all of those things and then finding ways to talk about them in different ways," he said.
His mother was Armenian, so Manganiello and his brother grew up surrounded by Armenian food, culture and language.
"My mother was Armenian, and so, you know, that’s the food I grew up with. I grew up with grape leaves, I grew up with lahmajoun, I grew up with sujuk and eggs, I grew up with pilaf and tabbouleh, which is not my thing, but I ate tons of it. And being around my mother, that’s what she cooked for us."
Manganiello and his brother also used to protest in front of the Turkish Consulate.
He hasn’t visited Armenia yet but plans to visit soon with his brother due to a new project he’s working on.
He said knowing his family’s history and sharing it with the world makes him complete and encourages all people to share their ancestor’s story and to not forget where you came from.
"I will always be proud of what my great-grandmother went through so that I could be here. I will always carry that with me, and I think that every Armenian should be proud of their ancestors and what they did so that we could all be here".