Updated: Mar 21, 2021
AND WHAT IT MEANS TO ME TO BE FIRST-GENERATION AMERICAN
People ask me all the time why I named my company GOLIVE Spartan. There are a lot of reasons, but the short answer is that being Spartan is about living as a part of a well-established community. It's about being a strong woman and being connected in a truly visceral way to nature, history and everything else that breathes and bleeds on the foothills of Mt. Taygetus. It's about connection, growth, and learning from one another.
My father was born in Greece. When I was a kid, he would call us (my brother and me) each morning to say hello before we went to daycare or school. He left for his factory job at 4AM, but it was important to him that he be involved in our day. Almost like clockwork, the phone would ring at 7:30 and I would pick it up. "Hello," I would say, and I would hear a click on the other end. Then the phone would immediately ring again. I always answered differently the second time. "Embros," I would say; then my father would begin speaking.
Though he left Greece in his mid-20's, he never left his culture or heritage behind. He was also adamant about instilling that same sense of culture in his children and his American wife. To my mother's credit (or perhaps to my father's), she learned to speak Greek fluently, converted from Irish-Catholic to Greek-Orthodox and eventually became an officer of the Philoptochos Society*.
My father left a place that he loved in order to provide a better life for his children than the one he had. The fact that he was no longer in Greece didn't negate the importance of that background. Sure, there were some parents who left their countries and truly left them. They never spoke the language again and tried to assimilate as quickly and seamlessly as possible. That certainly wasn't the case in my house though.
My brother and I both attended Greek School twice a week, church every Sunday, Bible Study a couple of times each month, and GOYA (Greek Orthodox Youth Association) meetings. Though I did these things begrudgingly, I eventually not only attended these mandatory events, I took over. I ended up teaching Greek School for four years once I got into high school and was president of GOYA for most of that time as well. Lest this start to sound like a biography of my over-achieving adolescence (typical child of an immigrant behavior); I mention these things only to point out that being Greek was not just part of me, I was a part of it.
First-generation kids usually go one of two ways. Either they are super Greek (or whatever the relevant ethnicity), or they are super American. My brother and I fall on opposite sides of this spectrum. Though he speaks Greek- albeit in a broken, unsure way- he has only been to Greece twice in the last 15 years. I, on the other hand, have probably been 15 times in that same period. I have tried to find a reason for this discrepancy, but I can't.
I thought maybe he was more like my mother and I more like my father (as much as I absolutely loathe to admit that), but that's not it. Like I mentioned, my mom is pretty much as Greek as they come- in spite of her pale skin, freckles, and Irish-American background.
I can‘t come up with a reason for this severe difference in how children handle being the first of their family in a new country. I honestly think it comes down to a person's individual character. That being said, I have yet to meet a first-generation kid who doesn't have a strong sense of community built into their core- and that's pretty special.
I spoke with a friend of mine last night who was born in Honduras but raised in New York. While speaking with her, I realized that we all have one thing in common. No matter where our parents are from or how they chose to deal with their assimilation to American society, we didn't naturally fit in anywhere as children. This may sound negative, but I don't mean it to be.
When I'm in Greece, I'm the American girl. It doesn't matter how well I speak Greek. It doesn't matter that I hold dual-citizenship. It doesn't matter that I have lived there. I'm American. In the States, however, I'm Greek. It doesn't matter that my mom is mostly Irish. It doesn't matter that I went to public school or was born in Upstate New York. I'm Greek. No matter where I am, I'm the outsider.
This forced me from a very young age to redefine what this meant to me. I could choose to feel as though I fit in nowhere, or I could decide this meant I had the flexibility to fit in everywhere.
This is the reason I have been committed to creating collaborative communities for most of my life. I grew up in a world that was often hard work, but ultimately made me a better and stronger person. My community made me a warrior, just like my Spartan ancestors. The exchange of ideas in a safe space can propel people to great heights. If I can play even a small part in that journey for people, I consider it not only my honor, but my duty to do so.
I'm Spartan; that's just my way.
*The Philoptochos Society is an organization of Greek-Orthodox women, most of whom are of Greek heritage, unlike my mother. https://www.philoptochos.org/