Many say that ‘there is no place like home’ and that despite having left Greece to migrate to Australia, most migrants of Greek descent continue to feel Greek inside.
So, what does it really mean to be Greek and who decides our identity?
One of the greatest Greek philosophers, Isocrates, wrote that “Greek is the person that embraces the Greek ethos, culture and values.” But I can’t help but wonder.
What are we?
If someone was born in Greece and spent half their life there and the other half in Australia, are they considered Greek or Australian?
In the same breath, if someone who was born in Greece, has spent more than half their lifetime in Australia, are they still considered Greek? Or are they Greek Australian or even Australian Greek? Also, for any person born of Greek parents in Australia, what are they in essence? Next generation Greek? Greek-Australian? Or Australian?
I consider myself ‘lucky’. I was born in Greece from Greek parents. I grew up in Greece. I studied in Greece and I have plenty of wonderful memories of my childhood and first years of adulthood in Greece. I migrated to Australia 15 years ago.
A series of unfortunate and fortunate events brought me here. I never wanted to leave home. And I certainly never entertained the idea of the ξενιτιά. I didn’t dream of it. I didn’t pursue it, and quite frankly I am still not particularly fond of it.
In saying that, Australia has grown on me.
Ξενιτιά on the other hand, hasn’t.
Maybe that’s why I am yet to apply for my Australian citizenship. 15 years later. I speak Greek fluently. I also speak English fluently.
Fortunately, to this day, I have never had to question my ‘Greekness’. No one has either.
I look Greek. I feel Greek. I am Greek. Only Greek. And a proud Greek at that.
However, I’m also a mother of two young children who were born in Australia, live in Australia and have already spent most of their lives in Australia.
When I look at my two children, I can’t help but wonder. Sure, I am Greek. But what about my children?Are my children Greek or Australian?
A few days ago, my 11-year-old daughter, was awarded her first Diploma of Achievement for her accomplishments and knowledge of the Greek language. After she received her award, all happy and proud, she came up to me and said: “So, mummy. What am I now? Greek, or Australian?”
My heart broke. What is the answer to what appears to be a very simple innocent question? “Whatever is in your heart, that’s what you are,” I responded as that was the only thing I could conjure at that moment.
SO, WHO IS GREEK?
In Australia, the vast majority of Greeks don’t speak Greek. Many Early Greek Australians don’t speak or understand English. Interestingly, a large number of Early Greek Australians who only speak Greek, have never returned and/or have no intention of returning to Greece, albeit, even for a visit.
Maybe that’s because some of them feel that their own ‘πατρίδα’ ‘betrayed’ them when they needed it the most or some might not want to return and visit the past that they missed so much. Perhaps others don’t necessarily feel that Greece is their home anymore.
In saying that, a great number of Greeks in Australia love nothing more than visiting their “homeland”. They look forward to it. They talk about it. They plan it and they jump at every opportunity to go back. Then there is the less fortunate, who would give it all to visit home but their financial circumstances or deteriorating health don’t allow a long overseas trip.
In Australia today there are many Greeks, Greek-born and Australian-born, that adore Greece. There are also a lot of Greek Australians, who were raised, maybe even forced, to love Greece, but their knowledge and experience of Greece is limited. And by Greece. I mean the real Greece. Of course, that’s not of their own making.
How can one expect someone who was born in another country and has never really lived or spent adequate time in Greece to feel the pulse of the real Greece?
The Greece of the Arts, the Greece of Philosophy, the Greece of Poetry, the inspirational Greece.
The Greece that has nothing to do with the Greece of Mykonos and Santorini and the well-beaten tourist track.
Don’t get me wrong. I realise there are some people that both know and love the real Greece.
But they are not many.
GOING BACK HOME…
I will never forget the first time I returned to Greece after migrating to Australia. One morning, as I was walking around the neighbourhood reminiscing the good old times, I bumped into an old friend of mine. She was so excited to see me. She asked me about Australia and was so keen to find out all those things about the almost mystical world down under.
I told her that despite Australia being kind to me, I still found it hard to adjust and particularly struggled with the fact that I lived in a place where I had a conflicted identity. No family. No friends. No past.“Who cares about the past if you have a future,” she said to me as she was saying goodbye.
I stood there dumbfounded with what she had just told me.
Maybe she was right. After all, who needs the past when a whole new future is there waiting to be explored.I guess she had a point, an untested one, but I still can’t help but reminisce. Maybe because I loved my past. And all the good and bad that came with it. I loved it the same way I loved the country I left behind. All of it. I still love my country, my true home, and I still can’t help but wonder. How many of us truly consider ourselves Greek and what is the element that ultimately defines our Greekness?
Is it the language we hardly speak? The history we hardly know? The places we have never visited? Sure, our bloodline is Greek. Our parents are Greek. We love Greece. We love Australia, too.
“Surely we must be Greek” some of you might say.
“In Australia?” I might add.
“Still Greek!”, you will argue.
Maybe. Or maybe not. I will always wonder.