Bravo for Writing a Greek-American Memoir

9 Apr

On my lunch break one afternoon I met a man from Greece at a coffee shop.  He had been born in Greece, but currently resides in New York.  He didn’t have the thick Greek accent that would’ve indicated a recent move, and yet like so many Greek people I’ve met, he was still very much hung up on Greece.

After some rather dull conversation he perked up when I told him the memoir I’m writing is about growing up Greek American.  It made me kind of hate him.  I know that’s a terrible, overdramatic reaction, but his reaction gave me the distinct sense that in his eyes my ethnic heritage played a role in my worth.

The Greek American community is incredibly proud of its Greek heritage.  As we should be.  We have a beautiful culture with a rich and fascinating history.  I often feel I don’t live up to Greek ideals.  I know the reason I inwardly cringed when the man expressed interest in my heritage above all else is because I feel like I fall short of the standards of Greek American identity.  I don’t speak the Greek language, I don’t look particularly Greek, and I’m not 100% Greek.  Culturally, I’m not very Greek.

In fact, those who know me well are surprised when I say I’m writing a memoir about growing up Greek American.  Spoiler alert!  The memoir isn’t really about being Greek.  It’s about being American.  It’s about growing up American but going through an experience as an adult that ties me back to Greece.

Life is too complex for anyone to be categorized or valued based on just one aspect of their identity.


4 Responses to “Bravo for Writing a Greek-American Memoir”

  1. Heidi @ homeingreece April 9, 2012 at 1:53 pm #

    I think I get what you’re saying here. I live in Greece and the culture is very inward-looking. It doesn’t surprise me that this is the reaction you get when you ‘reveal’ your background. As an American who lives in Greece, I actually get a lot of the same things as you do – wanting to hear about how I learned Greek, why I live here, how is the US different from Greece, etc. – which I think is perfectly normal, but it usually takes a while before conversations make it past that anyone wanting to learn about me an individual! I hope you don’t let that kind of thing get to you. Most people never know what to say when they meet someone and having some sort of ‘common thread’ is the easy way to make conversation.

    • Stephanie Nikolopoulos April 9, 2012 at 2:43 pm #

      Heidi, you’re so right. I think he was just looking for a common thread, since it was very apparent after even just a few minutes of strained conversation that we had nothing in common. I think, though, that in the end, the very thing that he thought was a common thread, for me was not in actuality a common thread, given that I am not culturally Greek or even culturally Greek American. I felt like I was being judged as to whether I was Greek enough, whether I was living up to some sort of Greek ideal. Although he did not intend to make me feel that way, my entire life I’ve been given sideways glances at Greek events and probing questions as to who I am. It’s made me feel self-conscious about my identity as a Greek, and so when this man in the coffee shop latched onto the subject of my Greekness, it made me feel like a fraud.


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