I see on Facebook and other social media, comments about who is a Greek and who isn’t a Greek, or better yet, what makes a Greek? There was a recent article on Cosmos Philly about Kurt Rambis, who played with the LA Lakers in the 1980s and won four championships with them. His real name is Kyriakos Rambidis and the article was about famous people that were of Greek descent, but who we, the Greek diaspora, may not know about. It was not about whether he was truly Greek.
However, one comment I read stuck out. The person stated, “He’s not Greek because he doesn’t speak Greek or raise the Greek flag like Giannis Antetokounmpo.” Obviously the person didn’t get the point of the article.
After pausing to try and understand the comparison (there isn’t one), I had one of those light bulbs over the head moments. How do we determine who is Greek enough? Just for the record, Giannis was born in Greece, I think that makes him Greek, and Kurt was born in Indiana. I guess that makes him American.
The first question that needs to be answered is who has the right to decide? Is there a Hellenic High Council of sorts, that decides these questions of importance? Is there a Zeus-like figure sitting on a throne making pronouncements of the degrees of Greekness for each candidate? Or is it one guy sitting alone, in the dark, in the basement of his parent’s house who decides who has the right to be Greek and who is not Greek? I’ll tell you one guy who had the right to decide. Back in 1980, I was flying to Greece and naively wrote on my Declaration Card that I was “Greek-American,” and the customs officer, with a truly evil, sarcastic snicker, crossed out, “Greek.” Yes, he had the right to decide!
The better question is what makes one a Greek? There are certainly different types, for instance, someone born in Greece. Yes, that person is Greek… well, maybe. I’ve seen people from Greece who have no idea about their history, music, philosophy, or anything Greek, except the bouzoukia. They are Greek by birth, so what. On the other hand, I know people born in different countries in the world and know everything about Greece. Are they or aren’t they Greek? Some people would say, you’re not Greek if you’re not Greek Orthodox. Hmmm. So if you are Greek Orthodox, but have no Greek ancestry, are you still Greek? This is getting confusing.
There are first-generation Greeks in this country that can’t speak a word of Greek, cannot tell you anything about the ideals of the Ancient Greeks, or even tell you where Athens is, but they have a Greek last name and say Yíayia instead of Yiayía and they can also say “spaneeekoopita.” Are they Greek? How about the person whose great-grandmother was Greek, married to an Irish-Catholic, whose grandparents and parents all were non-Greek, but this person speaks Greek just as fluently as anyone from Greece, and visits Greece once a year. Are they Greek? This is getting worse.
There is the stereotypical “manga” with the heavy Greek accent that uses a certain word in every sentence but can’t tell you the difference between a stoic and a sophist. Greek or not? How about the academic who can tell you the difference between a stoic and a sophist, but never listens to Greek music and couldn’t tell you how to make a souvlaki? Greek or not?
Are we more Greek because we use a few Greek words, or wave the Greek flag, or say “ti kaneis?” Are we less Greek because we don’t know who Parios, Klynn, or Mitsotakis are, or we’ve never been to Greece, or we don’t have a Greek last name? So who cares if Kurt Rambis never waved a Greek flag, or Giannis Antetokounmpo talks better Greek? What’s the difference if I have a Greek flag sticker on the back of the car, or just good Old Glory? Do I need to show my Greekness for others to accept me as a Greek?
Being Greek is an ideal and a thought. It’s how you feel. If you want to wave the Greek flag or play with a komboloi, go ahead. If the only word you know in Greek is Yíayia, that’s fine too. You can have one percent Greek blood in you, but you feel Greek, God bless you. Whether you were born in Greece, or somewhere else in the entire world, but always look for that Greek name on the list of credits at the end of a movie, go for it. In the end, it ourselves who make the determination of whether we are Greek, not anyone else, including the Hellenic High Council!
So go out and wave the Greek flag… or not. Be who you want to be and don’t let others tell you who you are.
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