“You’re not Greek”, he said. Excuse me?? When I first moved to Astoria, Queens where people are straight off the boat, I heard this a time or two while working in some restaurants in the neighborhood. At first, I questioned my own authenticity, but quickly realized these Greeks were just very close minded, which is fine, I get it. Astoria is mainly Greek, so they came from Greece, to live in…Greece. They know nothing but that! However, in America there are so many large Greek-American communities, which I couldn’t be more proud to be a part of.
I’ve come across some people in life who don’t understand the connection I feel with being Greek, when I am so clearly American. This isn’t about religion to me, it’s about heritage, culture and tradition. I confess – I am a Greek school drop out. I do not speak Greek, so being raised in the Greek Orthodox Church where the entire mass is spoken in the native language, at a young age was a bit confusing. As I got older, going to church became increasingly more enjoyable and more important to me. I wouldn’t consider myself a very religious person. But, while sitting in the pews of Holy Trinity surrounded by older Greeks whose faces I grew up knowing, who knew the words being preached, I sat there thinking about my life, my decisions, the consequences, my family, our future, and I prayed. I sat in our beautifully ornate church, reflecting and speaking directly to God in his house. I felt like he was listening, and that encouraged me to continue to pray, in and out of church, strengthening the connection I felt. From that, I have become “spiritual” in my own way, as I believe we all do to some capacity.
The traditions of our culture have shaped me. Mainly, the food. Every year we look forward to our Church’s Greek Festival where we eat our favorite food surrounded by the people we grew up with, drinking and dancing the night away. As a foodie, I sometimes rate the importance of a holiday on the meal that is served. My favorite, by far – Easter! Yes, yes it’s also the most important because it marks when Christ rose from the grave (Christos Anesti!), but….lamb and lemon potatoes and spanakopita, oh my! My mother is Irish, but that didn’t stop her from being an awesome cook! She makes Greek food better than some Greeks. Our Easter dinner is by far my favorite, topped off with my Aunt’s baklava, which is also the best I have ever had, and an oh-so American banana split cake, which is heaven! No, we don’t roast a whole lamb on a spit in the front yard with paper plates and plastic utensils. We have a more civilized take, at the table with candles, crystal and fine china.
We also take this opportunity to dress in our Easter best, as most people do. We never waste this opportunity.
I was fortunate enough to finally visit Greece last March. I saw neighborhoods members of my family grew up in and met people who may very well be my cousins, but we can’t be too sure. I felt right at home, and the people were incredibly welcoming. I hope my Greek-American story resonates with others who grew up the same way, we are all one big fat family, after all!