Another long, hot summer in Greece has come to an end, as signs of autumn slowly begin to appear.
For many, it also signals a time to say goodbye to family and friends. A time to journey back to America, where life was once assumed to be better. Greek – Americans in particular, plan their return the minute they leave the motherland; only to ensure the following summer is more fulfilling! It is a love of country so strong, passionately kept alive in Greek communities with festivals and dance, Orthodox churches, traditional dishes and of course, Greek schools and music.
“I was so excited to return to Crete this summer,” says Pauline Loupasakis, a member of St. Demetrios’ Greek Orthodox Church in Ft. Lauderdale. “I traveled from Kria Vrisi in Chania, to Rethymon and then on to Heraklion, where I visited with relatives from both sides of my family.”
Greek Festival at St Demetrios
St. Demetrios is well known in South Florida for its annual Greek Festival, where thousands of locals gather each year to enjoy moussaka and baklava, to stock up on olive oil and mountain tea, to see children and grandchildren perform spectacular dances that transcend over generations from various villages in Greece.
“We know how deeply rooted Greek traditions run in Greek families over here,” says Father Chris, Pastor at St Demetrios church. “We try to keep it alive by keeping age-old traditions active in the community.”
Traditionally, sports play a vital role in American society. It is not unusual for families to partake in various sporting events over week-ends. In Greek-American families it is no different, except for Sundays when the family visits with yiayia (grandmother) for Greek cuisine after church!
Greek youth in Florida
Emmy Louvaris, a second generation Greek-American dance instructor, recently returned from a tour to Greece with The Odyssey 2009.
“It is a tour,” she says, “that the Diocese of Atlanta sponsors every year with an objective to bring the youth together through traditional dance. They believe it plays a vital role in the preservation of our culture.”
Youth in America are encouraged to join one of several Greek community classes at some stage of their lives: Greek school, Sunday school, GOYA, (Greek Orthodox Youth of America) or Greek Dance. Extracurricular activities are intended to teach the youth about their heritage.
Anyone in the community can sign up for: Junior Palazakia, Palazakia, Senior Palazakia, Kamaria, and Paradosi. The classes range from kindergarten through college and up.
In St Demetrios’ parish alone, there are 500 families in a congregation of almost 1200 parishioners. It comprises of doctors and lawyers, teachers and students, parents and grandparents, as well as Orthodox priests who cherish everything authentically Greek.
“Our language and our history, our traditions, are all a part of who we are as a people.” says Father Chris. “We share it so well because we believe in the land of our fathers. I still call on the name of my grandparents who came here a long time ago.”
And like many immigrants before, so did the Greek population cross over American shores in search of a better life that they believed, offered better opportunities. An easier life from the hardships endured in Greece at the time. First they would send over one or two relatives, who would work and send back money. Then, as time would have it and better opportunities arose, they would send for more family members to join them.
“For some,” says Emmy, ““My Big Fat Greek Wedding” defines life in America. For others, there are no similarities at all.”
Objectively and even today, Greek Americans insist that nothing in America compares to Siesta!
“Where in the world” asks Pauline, “can one work from 9:00AM to 13H00 and then from 17H00 to 20H00? It is a way of life that I envy. It is hard to tell a tourist from a local, life is the same for everyone over there.”
My mother was voted Miss Heraklion one year,” she says. Her picture is still on the knives in Crete. Imagine my pride when I saw it for the first time this summer? It is every Greek mother’s dream to pass the torch to her children.”
When asked about the similarities between the Greek youth in Florida compared to youth in Athens, Father Chris explains:
“I was going through a very large rain storm in Greece one day, when I saw teenagers at a church make the sign of the cross as they entered. Here in America, I see the same from our youth when they pass or enter the church. In Greece and America alike, we Orthodox Greeks believe the church is where Christ reigns and this is how the community chooses to preserve their heritage in the United States of America.”
* Article by Wendy Longley