Although nowadays mixed marriages in Australia are considered a frequent and usual occurrence, a few decades ago, particularly for first-generation Greek immigrant families, the concept of marrying a ξένο was an unusual and frowned upon phenomenon, which primarily affected the second-generation offspring.
Daniel Becker, age 31, was born in such a mixed family with parents who originated from two completely different worlds, but chose to go against all odds and commence their life journey together, despite the initial objections and resistance from their families.
“My mother is second generation Greek and my father was born in Australia, with his origins in both Hungary and Lithuania,” says Daniel in an interview with Neos Kosmos.
The young high-school teacher remembers what it was like growing up in a family in which the parents came from different places, had different cultures and adhered to different traditions and religious beliefs.
“My mother was a cashier at a large supermarket chain in Whyalla and my father worked as a manager of the same chain in Adelaide. One day, as he visited the shop in Whyalla, he met my then 18-year-old mum. They fell in love and decided they wanted to spend more time getting to know each other. However, they both knew that such relationship would never be welcomed by my mother’s Greek parents, especially since the patriarch of the family was certain to raise some serious objections.
“I honestly admire my father for his patience and my mother for her persistence because my pappou Elias was adamant; my mum would not be allowed to marry someone who wasn’t of Greek background and bring home a ξένο, as he used to say.”
Daniel’s parents were young and in love.
“Initially, things were hard for my father Derrick, who was determined to win over the family patriarch and, to his credit, he eventually managed to gain my grandparents’ respect and acceptance, although there were numerous times when my grandparents would resort to literally ‘stashing’ my dad away in the spare room every time unexpected visitors would ring the door bell, so that no one would see the ξένο,” remembers Daniel.
Born in the Kalamata region, pappou Elias Athanasopoulos, worked hard for mining company BHP in Whyalla whilst yiayia Aliki, fully devoted herself in raising her children and taking care of her family.
Like most immigrants, the married couple worked hard to provide and build a better future for their family.
“Nowadays, it might seem excessive to us but, to a certain extent, I can understand the reasons why people thought the way they did back then and I can now even fully comprehend their perceptions and reluctance to mix with other cultures.
“Nevertheless, my pappou finally gave his consent for my mother to marry my father. The wedding took place on November, 3, 1979 at the Rostrevor College Chapel in Adelaide.”
Despite their so-called differences, the first grandchild of the family was welcomed into the Greek environment and was raised with adoring love and affection by his grandparents.
As the years went by, yiayia Aliki and pappou Elias made sure Daniel was introduced to and stayed connected to his Greek heritage which he gradually learnt to not only accept but also embrace and appreciate.
In the last 12 months, Daniel has taken up bouzouki lessons and is also attending Greek language classes. He is also planning his first trip to Greece with his fiancé Teresa, who, although of Italian background, is also eager to study and learn Greek.
“We’re getting married next year and we are planning to visit Greece and France for our honeymoon, but this is not the only reason why we are both trying to learn to speak Greek.
“If anything, my wish is to eventually be able to communicate properly with my grandmother in her own language and I also hope that learning the language of my ancestors will also help me discover a part of my history and existence that I didn’t see clearly when I was younger,” he says.
Despite the fact that the mother of the young high-school teacher, Kanela, never pressured her first-born son to adopt and embrace her own culture, she is certainly very proud of Daniel and supports his decision to get closer to his Greek heritage.
“Both my parents are very supportive of me.
“My father’s not Greek, but respects my wishes and choices. My Greek mother on the other hand is really pleased with my decision because she has also been very diligent in preserving our family’s Greek heritage all these years,” says Daniel who recently also commenced bouzouki lessons at the first bouzouki school in Adelaide, set up by distinguished musician Con Dalagiorgos.
“The bouzouki came into my life recently and I have already learnt how to play four songs. My favourite so far is ‘Το Ζεϊμπέκικο της Ευδοκίας'”, he says.
Yiayia Aliki is still alive and will have the opportunity to listen to her grandson play the bouzouki and Daniel will finally be able to communicate with her in Greek. Unfortunately, pappou Elias passed away a few years ago but he certainly left a big mark on his family as he was ultimately the one that embedded the love for Greece in his daughter and grandson.
“As a child, when I was growing up, I didn’t appreciate the diversity of my family and the important legacy my pappou left behind.
“I now understand that to originate from such a country is a blessing and my desire is to continue, preserve and protect the Greekness of our family,” concludes Daniel.