(7 of the 12 12-years-olds in this photo are of Greek origin;
Clyde Quay School, 1978, Wellington, NZ)
So what happens to those people who called themselves Greek, then lost their language through the generations? Do they stop calling themselves Greek? During the course of my interviewing Greek people from all walk of life (I had to interview at least 100 people, and ensure that I had a good range of ages and generaitons), I also came across people who didn't speak the language very well, or whose children did not speak it at all. They still called themselves Greek, and they insisted that that's what they told people who asked them about their strange-sounding names: "I'm Greek," they all insisted.
The feeling a person has of his/her Greekness has never centred around the Greek language. There are many other factors involved. If the Greek language was one of the main defining factors in "engagement with Hellenism" as Hermes insists, surely the Greek communities of the disapora would have died out one by one, instead of flourishing, as they are still doing, judging by Stavros' and Laurie's reports of Greek festivals in Maine and Alaska, respectively. Clearly, religious choice is a more defining factor in the expression of Greekness than language - and if there were no Greek Orthodox church organising a Greek festival, there would be no festival.
I myself hated the hyphenated version of being Greek. I was born in New Zealand, but I knew that I was being raised to be a Greek. Was I a Greek New Zealander, or a New Zealand Greek? When I came to Greece and ended up staying here, I feel I was still regarded for a long time as a foreigner. Now that I have been living in Crete for nearly fifteen years, I've almost forgotten what it's like to feel like a New Zealander, but I still get asked where I come from, since whenever I open my mouth to speak, a foreign Greek accent is detected.
Hermes, when your veins run Greek blood through your body, you cannot but be a Greek. Eventually it will become evident somewhere somehow, evn if you have tried to ignore it in your life, and that's when you will be caught by surprise, when you realise that you are a Greek and can no longer hide it.
I will never forget a visit by a Greek politician to New Zealand in 1990, because he made one of the most condescending remarks I had ever heard made towards a Greek born outside Greece (up until then, that is, as I heard many more after I came to live permanently in Greece). He had just been given a guided tour round the Greek community halls of Wellington when he chanced upon a meeting being held by the young people of the Greek community. "Κοίτα να δεις, μιλάνε Ελληνικά", he said, ("oh, look, they're speaking Greek") gawking at us like we were aliens. It was one of my closest encounters with a Greek politician. Once I came to Greece, I realised that there were also many other people like him who did not regard us as Greeks equal to himself. Maybe we weren't Greeks just like him, because we had better manners, in any case.
Every non-Greece-born Greek will probably have asked themselves this question at some time in their life: what is it that makes them say they are Greek, when in fact that they were born in Australia, New Zealand, Canada, or any other place in the world, except Greece? I think I just answered the $64,000,000 question (which has drastically depreciated in value just recently) of who is the real Greek:
(Souvlaki chain restaurant found in the UK; this branch is located across the river Thames, on Southwark Bridge Road, London).