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My Greek-American Identity

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I am convinced that I only have friends because of my mother’s cooking. Friends always seem to come through the door when spanakopita, tiropita, baklava, and other ethnic Greek foods are on the table. Watching others become infatuated with the food I grew up with is both humorous and normal by now. I welcome friends and acquaintances to step into my alternate life so I can share with them a taste of my culture.

For many, the perception of Greek-Americans ends with Classical Greece–the Parthenon, ancient gods, the birthplace of democracy, and various famous philosophers. Today, however, growing up in a Greek-American community involves attending Greek School, being a member of the Greek Orthodox Church, going to Greek dance after school and in between soccer games, and of course being a part of a Greek family. At a young age, I started learning the language in Greek school, learning relevant phrases like, “Nikko has one goat.” Not until later in grade school, when I started to decipher biology terms, did I start to appreciate knowing a language that is the root of many of my vocabulary words.

The Greek Church, the largest organization in the Greek-American community, has enabled me to be a part of a group of people that provides many opportunities for community and service. GOYA, Greek Orthodox Youth Association, has proved to be a rewarding social experience growing up. It builds the groundwork for getting involved in with projects and services and has opened me up to various communities in need of assistance. I have enjoyed working together with similar Greek organizations on projects and events, enabling me to develop leadership qualities and a strong sense of kinship.

Another way I have been able to preserve my identity and culture is through Greek dance. Most people assume I wear a toga and perform rain dances for the gods when I tell them I do Greek dance. I explain to them that Greeks dance at festivals and ceremonies, in preparation for war and in celebration of victories. We dance at weddings till all hours of the night, just to celebrate life. Almost every dance has a story behind it. Today we do not only dance in competition; we dance to share and keep our culture alive and to honor our ancestors’ traditions. Dance has taught me discipline and challenged my patience. However, as an important part of my heritage, I value the lessons it has taught me and the friendships it has allowed me to create above everything else.

Being a part of my family also meant spending summers in Greece. These trips put everything from Greek school to dance in perspective. Summer days included playing soccer in the streets with the children of my grandmother’s village and conversing with family members in the language I have been taught to speak. I visited the remains of my grandfather’s village, which had been bombed during World War II, and admired him as he stood in front of the stone that used to be his home. He stood there, proud and without a complaint. My family’s rich past has become my present, and I look forward to carrying on my roots in the future. Besides the lessons of how to cook lamb or how to pick a nice Greek husband, my family has shown me the importance of being a part of a community that will be there for me through every obstacle in life.

While my identity is not only composed of my Greek side, that culture has played a significant role in my development. When friends want desperately to try my mother’s food, I am proud to share it with them. For with every new food they try, I can share with them the culture that has given me the foundation of who I am and who I aspire to be.

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