Monday, 22 July 2013

Half-Fish, Half-Woman: The Hybrid Creature of the Greek-American Identity

Half-Fish, Half-Woman: The Hybrid
Creature of the Greek-American

Koukla, if you clicked onto this page,
you are a Greek-American girl. The
one half of you to the left of the
hyphen is Greek; the other half is
American. This can create polla
problemata. That little hyphen can
become the twisted rope in a
perennial tug-of-war between the
two cultures, the two poles that you
run to, back and forth, back and
forth, the two foundations that you
were fashioned out of. Which do you
identify with more?
It's like living in two different worlds.
You know how it goes—stuck on the
"N" train in rush hour traffic half-way
between 49 th and 42 nd Street on a
grey, below-zero Monday morning,
freezing your bun off, you get visions
of the turquoise, crystal-clear
beaches outside your giagia's white-
washed stone house in Zakinthos.
You look around to the blank, empty
faces of the poor miserable souls
around you, and you harken back to
the Friday night, actually Saturday
morning 2:30 am in Disco Dream
where you and maria and Stacy met
those hot Italians, the ones who
bought you the Summer Breezes that
sent you gyrating to the top of the
bar where Kostaki, the bartender,
treated everyone to a string of
sfinakia under the ceiling of your
thighs. How easy it was to connect
Dodging the buffets of briefcases and
the blows of doubled-over morning
edition New York Times squeezed
under stiffened elbows as the
massive exodus charges to escape
the closing doors, the eternal
question creeps into your head again
and again—"Ti sto dialo kano edo?"
You remember the apogevmatakia
when you'd gather bronzed and
brazen at the Kafenio and sip frappe,
share a Marlboro, and talk about
everything from Papandreou to the
new Metro, to whether or not
Socrates was a pousti, talk about
everyone from Gus the Rat to
Bougouklaki, or talk about nothing at
all just gia na chalarosete. As you
rush off into the bowels of the
greasy, water bug infested NYC
subway, 20 minutes late to your
corporate post, you wish—"Ach! If
only I were in Greece right now!"
If only it could be so easy. When you
are in America, you think about
Ellada, and when you are in Ellada,
well, you bitch and complain about it
because it isn't Ameriki. Doesn't any
public restroom have free toilet
paper in Athens? Can anything be
cashed on time? Is there no one who
updates boat schedules in Pireaus for
the benefit of the tourists? What's
the use of having traffic signals if no
one bothers to follow them? Is there
not one honest taxi driver that takes
you from point Alpha to point
Gamma without going through the
remaining 22 letters of the alphabet?
These people here don't work. They
just complain about working. So
narrow-minded. They don't think in
terms of long-term. Everything is
"live for today."
While you love Ellas, you are proud
to be an Ellinida, you couldn't
possibly live there for more than four
weeks. There is something foreign
about the place. Plus, you aren't
really accepted there, really. To
them, you aren't an Ellinida, you are
another Amerikanaki—a turncoat to
the cause of Ellinismo. Your parents
forsook their country by pimping
themselves for the seductive
American dream. You have sold your
pschi to the American dollar. You are
sweet, but stupid. You work too
much; you have been sucked into the
capitalistic black hole. You waste
your life working for someone else,
when the purpose of life "den eine i
douleia alla i zoe" (is not work but
life itself).
Your cousins, although they'll never
admit it, hold a grudge against you;
they speak with a latent malicious
undercurrent of rivalry under their
tongues. You are not "in" and they
let you know it without so many
words. You speak Ellinika with a
funny accent; you confuse your
ousiastika—"fanella" for "fallen" and
your rimata, ksechase to. You have
given up your seat at the Agora; you
are no longer a citizen and cannot
vote. You do not exist, except for a
random summer here or there. You
can't recite the Pater Imon without
tripping on the 6 th line. You no
longer fit in ekei. So, tin a kaneis?
You cannot live there and you cannot
live here without the siren songs of
Monastiraki, ochtapodaki, and sfinaki
haunting you. Face it, kopella mou,
you are neither pure Greek nor pure
American. You are this strange hybrid
creature—those beasts from your
mythology, half-human, half-horse,
half-fish, half-woman, half-man,
half-goat. You were born out of the
blood of the Medusa, from the drops
that fell from Chronus' detached
testicle, and frothed out of the sea.
You mingle two completely opposed
elements—sea and earth. You have
more in common with Anjali, the
Indian dorm mate, another minority
spit onto the great US of A than with
Marika your cousin in Thessaloniki.
You belong to this estranged
subculture called "Greek American."
It spends 5/8ths of its time struggling
to get a share of the enormous
portions of the rich American pie
while the other 2/8 th s it spends
strung out on a psatha on some
beach in Mykonos recuperating.
You're forced to marry within your
limited gene pool so that your
"cultura" and "glossa" don't
disappear. And so, you have become
a very selective, unique species
native to a certain space, captive of a
certain time, isolated on an island or
two, surrounded by others who
hyphenate their identities too.
Who knows what the future holds for
you and your kind? Will it die out and
disappear—becoming so isolated and
clinging to its own that it implodes?
Or will it adapt to the larger
environment, mate with the other
rare breeds, and become
unrecognizable from its original
Your identity is an artificial construct
in a way. You were created out of
circumstances. The product of
someone else's choice, way back
when at a time before you even knew
that your last name was tampered
with. What creates your identity is
the combined force of two contrary
cultures impinging on a point in time
outside your control.
So here you are. On the "N" train
going to work on a gloomy Monday
with dreams of Myknonos in your
head. You can never go back, except
in spirit and in memory. This sea-
change has made you into the weird
creature that you are. Your
grandchildren and their children's
children will hear your song in the
turquoise-blue, clear fathoms of
their sleep and wake up crying.

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