Wednesday, June 27, 2007

The importance of being Greek

When someone emigrates to the U.S., they seemingly have a whole world of opportunities available to them. They can start a business, raise a family, and even become American. By “becoming American” I don’t simply mean they can gain U.S. citizenship. Since the U.S. isn’t based on any one culture or genetic ancestry, it is easy to just “be” American, if you want to be.

It certainly isn’t the same as moving to a country like Greece. I’m sure there is a bit of variety in the gene pool here, but for the most part, a Greek is a Greek. A Turk is a Turk, an Albanian an Albanian, a Brit a Brit, and so on. You don’t see hyphenated heritages here, no Chinese-Greeks, no Italian-Greeks, etc. For the most part, that does seem like a ridiculous prospect in a country like Greece (or really most European countries). These countries were not traditionally made up of “your tired, poor, huddled masses” – there was a specific ancestry that took on some immigration/invasion over the past few thousand years but for the most part, Greece did not absorb a large variety of immigrants from all over the world like the U.S. has. Greece has recently become a country that has taken in a large number of immigrants, especially from African and Middle Eastern countries, but the cultural identity hasn’t changed. You are what you are in Greece, and even second and third generation children of immigrants don’t seem to be able to call themselves Greek in the same way they’d be able to be American.

I’ve had numerous people ask me “what do you do to become more Greek?” The answer is nothing. I have no intention of becoming Greek, which is not to say I won’t learn the language or participate in the culture or immerse myself in the Greek way of life. But I know I cannot ever really be Greek, and even if I did have a swab of Greek blood in my ancestry, I think I would immediately be disqualified because of my intense hatred for all things seafood and my inability to enjoy the sun (or the heat). Yet I love Greece, I feel very protective of the country and its people, and I’d even cheer for the Greek national sporting teams over the U.S. ones if they came face to face. My favorite place in the world, which used to be Chestertown, Maryland, has been replaced by the beautiful Greek village of Litochoro. Greece is my home. The love of my life is Greek. I may never be Greek, but Greece is in my heart to stay.


Joanne said...

Spoken like a true Libran :)

Hi! I'm Joanne BTW. I'm a Greek-Canadian currently living in Canada. I once lived in Athens for 5 years. I have had a like-dislike relationship with Greece for the past 20 years or so. Now I LOVE Greece and plan to visit with my non-Greek husband in September.

So don't say anything bad about Greece because I'll be reading. And on occassion commenting.

p.s. how could you not like seafood? When in Rome...

Cheryl said...

Hey Mel! I am completely with you on this one. Although I have lived in Greece, will live in Greece for the next 20yrs or so and have been married to a Greek for 17yrs...I will not change who I am for anything. I may change the way I do some things and have learned the language but I have no desire to become something that I am not. I have been lucky enough to have been told, "now your are Greek" from time to time...only to politely decline the compliment and declare my American heritage...and then we go back and forth. It's kind of funny but I do feel flattered to have been told that- considering how hard it is for even some Greeks to be Greek natives. For example, one of my best friends who is an American-Greek came to visit us in Drama about 10yrs ago. Everywhere we went he was accused of being a xeno and he was peeved. I told him that even though his blood line is 100% Greek, he isn't completely Greek when he visits because he was raised in America. All I know is that I love my Greek hubby and comprimise is the only way to live harmoniously. Ciao.

oh, btw...thanks for adding me to your list of blogs!!

Anonymous said...

You say that in America it is easy to just be American. I don´t think that’s true. A black is a an African-american, and there are the Italian American, the Chinese American, etc, as you say. You don’t mix. People don’t get American, people get diferente labels, according to the origin, the color of the skin, etc.. In Brazil, for instance, a black brasilian, is just a brasilian, a person of japanese descent is just brasilian too, and so on (from italy, from Russia, etc, Brazil was a great immigration country, like US). But I agree on you on the rest.


Anonymous said...

You don't say Gisele Bundchen is german-brazilian, or something like that. For a brazilian, that would sound weird.


melusina said...

Hi Joanne, and welcome! I haven't ever had a point where I hated Greece yet - I've been frustrated by things, sure, but Greece itself, the beautiful mountains and sea - who can ever *really* hate it? I have to admit, however, that I *do*, without apology or hesitation, hate Athens, except for its history. Too many people, too much noise, too much traffic, too much!

Cheryl, I think we are in the same boat. But I also think we can't *really* be Greek, but it doesn't matter, I'm ok with that! I do feel for your Greek-American friend, though! I probably wouldn't like to actually *be* Greek and be considered a xeno!

Hi Fabio. I guess I didn't explain it fully, but people choose to (blank)-American. They have an identity as American, but choose to add their cultural identity on top of that. Honestly, when I was growing up, that distinction was never made, no one called anyone an African American or Chinese American or whatever, that seems to be something that has been adopted, by choice, in the past 20 years or so. Yet they are American, consider themselves so, and for a long time it was never questioned (what with immigration issues in the U.S. lately that probably isn't the case, but that goes much deeper than what I am talking about). But as far as I know, people chose to add their ethnic heritage to their American "titles". When I was little, if someone wanted to bring attention to their heritage, they might say "I am an American of Chinese descent". These labels grew out of America's brand culture, I think.

It is nice that in Brazil you can be a Brazilian no matter what, it seems like a good country to move to (not to mention the nice beaches).

To me, I would like to live in a world where the distinction is only given as choice. Because does it matter what color someone's skin is or where they are from? It shouldn't, only if it is important to themselves.

Anonymous said...

You're right, Melusina. You are a very nice person.


CaliforniaKat said...

Fabio and Mel,

That would be nice, wouldn't it? I'd love it if I could be non-hyphenated or just be what I state myself to be. Everywhere I go, people ask me what I am. When I say I'm American, people say "no, what are you really?" Uh, I'm four generations in America.

Inevitably, more questions. "What was your father?" American. "No. What was your grandfather?" American. "NO! What was your great grandfather?" American. Please people, what answer are you looking for?

I'd love it if I could just say I'm American or I'm Brazilian and have people let it be. I always thought I was just a human being, same as everyone else. Just like when I was a kid, we were just all kids. It wasn't until I grew up that people started categorizing me and everything else.