#BeingGreek101: Cherishing Our Independence

3474799.962a7a2c.640XRONIA POLLA! Happy Independence Day!

As many of you know, Greek Independence Day is March 25th. All the local cultural, professional, student, and philanthropic organizations have been scrambling for weeks to plan out the best possible parade and a myriad of educational and social activities to celebrate our freedom and our identity. Activities will begin this weekend in Philadelphia — one of the largest and oldest Greek communities in the US — and will carry on throughout the spring in the form of festivals and conventions.

But what does it mean to be independent and how do we work to instill the pride we have in our Hellenic culture and traditions to others?

Growing up reciting the National Anthem every morning, standing tall in “de land of de free and de xome of de brave” with my hand over my heart and long pigtails behind my back, I never questioned that I would be free to do as I please and reach for the stars. I never thought “I can’t.” My heart was born free, my soul bigger than any classroom, playground or book. The ideological shackles only snuck up to hold me back when people said things like, “You sound different. Where are you from?” and acted as though my English wasn’t the same as theirs, as though my mannerisms and traditions were “too different” to allow me to fit in. Over the years my childlike fearlessness took a few bashes, but thanks to family and friends I came to realize that it’s the differences that make us beautiful and valuable to the world.

As a child, I’d hear the negative questions and ask my folks, “Where ARE we from?” and hear a list of stories about the people and times I came from… and my heart was always full. Full of pride and the desire to challenge and be challenged…. It’s somewhat difficult to explain, but there was always a certain level of peace in knowing that this is who I am, that no matter who criticizes my differences… I’m here, still standing tall, proud of who I am and ready to help others do the same.

Funny thing is that even now I never just say I’m from the Big Apple. It seems smaller than who I am and who I was raised to be. It seems smaller than the identity I was raised to cherish. “Being Greek” (or Greek American) is more than just DNA or geography. It’s a single look, a state of mind, a state of soul. I knew it as a child, as a young adult, and as a teacher/mentor.

Some may go as far to say “Independence… is Greek.” And maybe it is. The more important thing is to remember to hold on to it and dare to be different, to glean lessons from the past and use it to move into the future, to pass the torch along to our children and keep that spirit alive.

And so I ask you, dear readers, to add to the ongoing commentary I have running on Facebook/Instagram, entitled #BeingGreek101, OR to leave your comments here. Ela!