Greek Genes

I’m Greek. Well fifty percent. And my family won’t let me forget it. While my Greek heritage is not necessarily part of my everyday life, my “roots” become very apparent during extended family functions, particularly Greek Easter. Every year we gather at my Great Aunts’ home. With two big kisses on the cheek, my heritage is re-awakened. The lamb slowly cooks in the oven and spinakoptia and baklava line the linoleum kitchen counter. Greek Easter is like Thanksgiving, in the sense that you always end up in food comatose by the end of day. My dress feeling a little bit tighter than when I arrived. Yet, my heritage is evident apart from the Greek feast.

The Greeks are notoriously hierarchical. There is a scene in My Big Fat Greek Wedding where the father, Gus Portokalos states matter-of-factly, “There are two kinds of people – Greeks, and everyone else who wish they was Greek.” The ongoing joke of the movie being that every word originates from the Greek language. It appears in both the movie and my life that the “Greek” gene just makes everything better. Sitting around the dining room table, my Great Aunts ask the perpetual and anticipated question of, “are you dating anyone.” In the past year or two, my answer has been “no, no one special yet.” I probably should just lie, pull a Jan Brady and make up an imaginary boyfriend for the day. I know what’s coming. My relatives will glance mischievously at one another and inform me that they know of an absolutely gorgeous Greek boy. He’s single. He’s Greek. A match made in heaven. I always nod politely. “Oh really!” I’ll say, with no intention on ever contacting this poor boy. In that regard, I’ve always wondered what the real significance of keeping a pure Greek bloodline is. Granted my family hasn’t exactly succeeded in this task. After all, I’m half Ukrainian. Yet, the hope lingers. The older generations of my family would be thrilled if I came home with a nice Greek boy. Yet, genetically speaking, I am not entirely convinced.

Gus Portokalos, my muse for this post, explains towards the end of the movie, “You know, the root of the word Miller is a Greek word. Miller come from the Greek word “milo,” which is mean “apple,” so there you go. As many of you know, our name, Portokalos, is come from the Greek word “portokali,” which mean “orange.” So, okay? Here tonight, we have, ah, apple and orange. We all different, but in the end, we all fruit.” I think these are wise words. In White Teeth, the notion of ethnicity as an inherited and determining factor is a re-occuring theme. In relation, I don’t think my Greekness comes from my genes, but rather my family and these gatherings. Our heritage is a part of us, but does not necessarily determine who we will be. Regardless of whom I ultimately marry, my “Greek” genes wont be the determining factor of my child’s Greek heritage. But these Greek Easters will.

Thanks Gus.

– Zoe

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~ by sawkazm on April 18, 2010.

One Response to “Greek Genes”

  1. I’m also a half-blood, but my Croatian relatives don’t ever push me
    too hard to meet a nice Croatian girl…

    My family also has large gatherings at Easter, where we consume vast amounts of traditional Croatian dishes (such as the delish fried dough, powdered-sugar-covered “crustulae”) and many Americanized dishes, as my relatives have assimilated quite well into the new world, carrying along only some old habits of the “old country.”

    However, it wasn’t until I went back to Croatia this past summer to visit cousins I still have back there — all of whom I’ve never met before, some of whom I didn’t even know existed — that I really felt connected with my Croatian heritage. I got to see where so many of my Westernized family’s eccentricities come from, as well as see the homestead where so many past generations of my family had grown up. Taking this trip helped me to better outline my own identity.

    So, have you ever been back to Greece? Do you still have relatives back in the “old country?”

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