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Social Justice Advocate Honored by Portantino

Glendale resident Anahid Oshagan was among the women honored at the annual 25th State Senate District Women in Business Legislative Update & Awards Luncheon, hosted by state Sen. Anthony Portantino earlier this month.
Oshagan’s work in advocacy and justice takes a variety of forms and spans across many disciplines. From teaching English to refugees from Armenia, Iran and Iraq before attending law school, to curating a gallery dedicated to representing the experiences of marginalized groups, Oshagan has remained steadfast in her commitment to activism.
Of the hundreds of women nominated for the recognition, Portantino’s office carefully selected 41 local women “who have contributed to the economic vitality and diversity of the 25th Senate District… [and] who have contributed to the greater good of our community. These honorees inspire others [and] stimulate our workforce,” stated a press release from Portantino’s office.
While she was “shocked and humbled” to hear that she was receiving a Women in Business award, Oshagan said it was nice to be acknowledged for her work in the community and that the event was a great opportunity to connect with other successful women across a variety of industries.
“It was very empowering to be in a room full of such wonderful and talented trailblazers,” Oshagan told the News-Press. “I can’t express how profoundly significant it is for the glass ceiling to break and we are there breaking it and seeing the remnants, the shards, and it definitely needs to happen because we are an integral part of society.”
Having immigrated from Armenia to the United States with her family at the age of 6, Oshagan spoke to the influence her family’s expectations had on her career choices. In a place full of opportunities and the mentality of the American Dream, Oshagan’s father told her she was going to be a lawyer from an early age.
“Apparently I always liked to argue,” she joked.
While Oshagan had wanted to be a philanthropist growing up, she found a way to harness her desire to help others through other avenues including law.
“Justice has played a big role of right and wrong and law sort of fit into that — making sure that people who are wronged get ‘righted,’ so to speak,” Oshagan said. Currently, Oshagan works in private practice as a civil litigator, “making injured folks whole again.”
Following the 100th anniversary of the Armenian Genocide in 2015, Oshagan said the Armenian community in Glendale asked the city for a space dedicated to discourse about the genocide. Amid the renovation of the Glendale Central Library, the city built the ReflectSpace Gallery within the library in 2017 to fulfill this community desire, while also addressing other human and civil rights violations and atrocities.
Oshagan and her husband have been co-curating the gallery since its inception, carefully selecting a variety of social issues to highlight and reaching out to artists whose works reflect these respective issues.
“There’s always a nexus between the artist and the issue that we’re covering,” Oshagan said, noting that they have had exhibits dedicated to slavery in America, Japanese internment, domestic violence, Korean “comfort women” and beyond.
Oshagan spoke to the importance of diverse representation when it comes to creating an inclusive environment.
“I remember growing up and not feeling a part of anything. I wasn’t reading my history in the textbooks. I wasn’t seeing it in art or in food as an immigrant child growing up in the United States. And here (in the gallery), people really feel that connection when they come in. They’re moved because they’re represented,” Oshagan said.
In addition to resonating with the communities being portrayed, the diverse range of subject matters and communities covered in the gallery exhibits can also foster understanding and connection between different groups who have been oppressed and may not be familiar with another group’s experience, Oshagan said.
ReflectSpace is not a “didactic type of place” where viewers are being lectured at, but rather a space where people can go on their own journey while getting a sense of the issues being presented to them. Oshagan notes the convenient location of the gallery within a library so that gallery goers can easily find resources about issues they want to know more about.
“Art is very expressive. … People don’t know what they’re walking into when they walk in the gallery — what kind of art they’re going to be confronted with and what kind of emotions,” Oshagan said. “But they walk in and there’s always some sort of a connection, whether they feel something, whether it’s color or imagery, whatever it happens to be.”
Along with her work as an attorney and in ReflectSpace, Oshagan has also served on the boards of YWCA Glendale and the Glendale Library Arts and Culture Trust and currently serves on the board of the Armenian National Committee of America Western Region.
Through her professional journey, Oshagan has also raised four kids and was even nursing her firstborn while she took the California state bar exam. She emphasized that having a career, being involved in the community and raising a family do not have to be mutually exclusive.
“Both as a mother, as a woman in the workforce and as a woman in society, we have to understand and know that we have to wear multiple hats and we play multiple roles,” Oshagan said. “We can do and accomplish and succeed in so many things.”

First published in the December 23 print issue of the Glendale News-Press.

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