I’ve always been curious about the world around me, but also my family history. My mother was born in Mexico, and became an American. Her family roots come from Italy and France, from what we know. Even though my father was born here, his grandparents came from Mexico, Spain and Greece. By having a Greek last name, there was something that always made me curious about my Greek heritage. I’ve wanted to know about the history, the culture, and my great-grandfather as well as my ancestors. It wasn’t only Greek, but it was a stronger influence than my other family roots, possibly because of my Greek last name.
Last year I learned that March is Greek-American Heritage Month. If you walk around in the stores this month, you won’t see much about it. There is more focus of Irish-American Heritage Month. The main reason is the popular Irish national holiday that celebrates Ireland’s patron, St. Patrick (March 17th). Though both the Greeks and the Irish share this month, thanks to Former President George H.W. Bush and Congress in 1991. It gives honor to both cultures for their contributions and achievements to the US. They chose to have Greek-American Heritage Month in March as well because of Greek Independence Day is March 25th.
I knew a bit about my Greek heritage through local annual Greek festivals in Texas. It’s a wonderful experience to go with family and enjoy the great food and music offered. They even have a little store where you can buy products from or about Greece. Though I love going with my family every year, it only has given me a glimpse of the culture that I really wanted to learn more about. When I was younger, I read myths from different cultures, but my focus was on the Greek. In my studies, I’ve read the great Greek epics like the Iliad and the Odyssey. Later, I read on my own the Percy Jackson series, that are based on the Greek myths. I knew that there were stories out there that focused more on the country than the myths, and those who immigrated to the US, but… where were they?
That began my search to see what I could find in literature, music, and in history. The first thing I found was two book lists, one from 2009-2011 and another from 2012. It gave me a starting point. I continued my search online and found the Greek American Foundation. I also found books in the public library, such as Corelli’s Mandolin and a history book on Greek-Americans. My search even went to finding songs on Spotify. I learned that my great-grandfather arrived in the US at Ellis Island, and even found the name of my great-great grandmother in the records from Ellis Island. We didn’t know if he had arrived at the port on Ellis Island, or another one, and when I found a book on searching through the Ellis Island Records online. I realized that I didn’t have to travel far to find out. Learning that he came to that port, made a difference because by searching the history of Ellis Island I could learn more about what my great-grandfather experience as an immigrant to the US. It was wonderful to do my own research just to learn and experience my heritage. It’s even made me want to pursue studying Greek-American literature in grad school.
Now it’s another March, now I’m wondering what can I learn and read relating to my Greek-American heritage. Though I’ve found some interesting fictional books (The Island by Victoria Hislop, Lipsi’s Daughter by Patty Apotolides, Falling in Love with Sophia by Robert Krantz, and The Green Shore by Natalie Bakopoulos). I’m sure there is more that I don’t even know about, that includes relating to history. It’s just a bit harder to find, unless you’ve studied it. I’ll keep searching this month, and explore what I find.
“If there’s a book that you want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it.” – Toni Morrison
I’ve thought about traveling to Europe, especially Greece. To learn more, but also to give me another setting to write about in my stories. Though I can’t afford traveling right now, maybe doing a some research could help me start writing stories about Greek-Americans, and Greece. I’ve written a poem about my desire to learn and experience Greece. One of my former professors even suggested to me that I could write a story similar to my great-grandparents, and he was also the one that told me that if I truly wanted to go to Greece, what was stopping me from doing so. I kept telling him that it was the cost, and he insisted that wasn’t a good enough reason. He said I could save up enough money to travel to Greece. As much as I try to save up money, I don’t think I’ll be traveling to Greece any time soon. Though I realized last year that there were other ways to experience Greece, without spending a lot of money. I had it all near by… the festivals, books,music and food. It not a lot, but for now it’s enough. Plus who knows what stories I might write with Greece as a focus.
Is there something about your family past that makes you curious to learn more about? If this applies to you, I recommend doing your own research and learning everything you can. You may never know what you might find, and what stories or poems might appear.