Saturday, April 9, 2016

It Really *IS* All Greek to Me

I recently saw the movie My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2 with my wife and, as with the first movie, found it utterly charming, funny, and 100% relatable. I think I've mentioned it before on here, but if not then let me do so now. I'm a third generation Greek-American, and I say that in the sense that I am an American of Greek descent; I have always disliked identity politics and believe that while we're all from somewhere and should all be proud of our heritages, first and foremost we're Americans (obviously this is only applicable to those of us who live in the USA. For my non-American readers, I trust you get what I mean). I've been able to see so much of my own life and family in these two movies. The first film came out in 2002, about five months before my wife and I got married, and the timing was almost too perfect. For anyone who hasn't seen the movie, in a nutshell, it's about a Greek-American woman who falls in love with and gets engaged to a non-Greek man. To her family, who is always nosing into her business, this is unacceptable until they get to know him and until he passes several "tests" in order to be accepted into the family. Besides finding it funny because I could relate to so much since I'm from a similar type of family, my wife and I could really relate to it because it was almost our exact situation, only in reverse: I was the one with the loud, boisterous, everyone-in-your-business Greek family while my wife came from a much smaller, quieter, WASP (for lack of better term) family. What made it even funnier timing besides the movie coming out a few months before our wedding is that when my wife's extended family was flying over from California, it was the movie they saw on their flight! So I always tell my friends when they ask me if I've seen the movie "yes, it's basically my life and not only that, I had a big fat Greek wedding."

Moving beyond the film, though, it has been interesting and challenging (mostly in a good way) growing up in a family and environment similar to what is depicted in those two films. I'm sure it's similar in a lot of ways to people growing up in any family here that has its roots somewhere else: Greek, Italian, Irish, Japanese, Korean, Cuban, Brazilian, Indian, Portuguese, and families from anywhere else who originally emigrated to America can probably relate to a lot of the same things. Speaking from personal experience (and with a family that's not quite as big as the one portrayed in the movies), it can be a struggle to stay connected to everyone and have them all know everything going on in your life while still trying to maintain some semblance of your own identity. My wife is now a veteran at all of this, but when we were first dating and then engaged, it was more than a bit of an eyeopener for her. There's an old saying: "telegram, telephone, tell a Greek," and it's so true...if someone on one side of my family knows something, I end up hearing it from someone on the other side shortly afterward. It can be hard to keep anything private, whether it's a health issue, thinking about buying a new car or house, or an upcoming trip somewhere. We take great pride in our heritage and do all that we can to keep many of the traditions alive. Even though we're all fully assimilated and unquestionably American (and have been for a few generations), we still go to church regularly, speak the language (although this will die out with my own kids), cook traditional Greek dishes, and carry on as many of the traditions as we can.

Most of my relatives in Greece have passed away or are getting very old as they are mainly from the generations of my grandparents, all of whom were first generation Americans (except for one of my grandfathers who came directly from Greece). The relatives I do have over there are uncles, aunts, and cousins who I've only met once or twice. Except for my grandfather mentioned above, all of my relatives from Greece who settled in America that I knew directly have all passed away, so unlike me, my children have never experienced family members from the old country (many of whom only spoke Greek). Both sides of my family came to settle on the New Hampshire seacoast where there is a large Greek community (mainly from the same village in Greece) so growing up, we all knew each other. While I moved away from home a couple of years ago for my current job and have lost (and really miss) the connection I had with the community, it's still definitely a part of me and always will be. So many of my friends have told me over the years that they're envious of how strong and central my heritage is to my family since their families came to this country so long ago that they don't have anything like it.  Every time I feel like being in a Greek family can get to be a bit of a challenge (and I mean that in the nicest way, I really do), I remind myself of that fact and realize how thankful I am for my family, during good times and bad.

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