NEWS

A passion for the homeland of the heart

“It is very hard to explain and even more difficult for you to understand: We overseas Greeks feel ourselves to be doubly Greek. I know it sounds banal, but it’s the truth,» said a young girl born in Africa. Whatever the reason for emigrating – need, hope, disillusionment or all of these – Greeks who went abroad to seek a better future have always spoken to their families about their homeland with an overriding feeling of nostalgia. Their children naturally have a strong desire to visit the land about which their parents and grandparents feel so strongly. Hailing from Australia, South Africa, Zimbabwe, Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Uruguay, Peru, Costa Rica, Mexico and Panama, a large group of young people gathered here for a few weeks recently as guests of the General Secretariat for Overseas Greeks. As every year since 1983, the Secretariat hosted the children of Greeks who emigrated to the Southern hemisphere. This year, the group of 180 people, aged 18-25, was here from January 10 to February 2. Based in Athens, their itinerary took them around the country. Communication took place in a number of languages. Quite a few spoke excellent Greek, most spoke English, but some only the language of the country of their birth, but everyone made heroic efforts to learn their ancestors’ language. «I am proud of my origins and I never stop talking to my friends about Greece in the best possible light,» said Manolis Athanassiadis, who was born in Adelaide, South Australia. His parents, from a small village in Kozani, decided some years ago to seek a better future in Australia. Manolis’s excellent Greek gave him an air of confidence, helping to get the discussion going. «Don’t let my accent fool you. At home we usually speak just Greek. This is my first time in Greece and it really is better than I expected. I would like to come and live here forever,» he said. After the first few exchanges, the ice breaks and the others begin to open up, revealing some sad stories among the children who have only one Greek parent – usually the father, often a seaman, who, after months at sea, sailed into a port in Brazil, Chile or South Africa and spent a night with a woman who meant little more to them than a story to tell when they got back home. «I never met my father,» said Felipe of Sao Paolo. «Although he abandoned her, my mother brought me up with the knowledge that I have Greek blood. She taught me to love Greece and I have always wanted to come. This is my first visit and I have very strong, mixed feelings. I have never tried to find my father, nor do I have any desire to now,» he added. Francesca, from Argentina, has another story. Her grandfather left Greece many years ago, leaving behind his wife Agathi, who was pregnant. In Brazil, where he settled, he started another family, with two daughters and a son, Francesca’s father. Years later, Agathi caught up with her husband via the Red Cross. After reading a letter to him from Agathi, Francesca decided to come to Greece to meet her this year. «Agathi couldn’t make our appointment as she was sick, but her daughter came. We didn’t talk much, just cried all the time. I felt she was family, my blood, just as she did, even if it was the first time we had seen each other,» said Francesca. For Felipe and Manolis, and perhaps for most of the others, it is their first visit to their parents’ birthplace, so one can only marvel at the passion with which they talk about the country, one that they are familiar with only via the descriptions of other people. Yet they feel their «Greekness» strongly. Many of them have Greek names – Electra, Alexandros, Antigone, Melina, Yiannis. It is also clear from the way they think that their parents have handed down the culture and the mentality along with the customs. Their parents’ youthful memories have also been passed on; the children feel this is their country too. «At home we always talk about Greece. My father buys Greek newspapers and talks to us about what’s going on here. He lived the election campaign as if he was here,» said Constantinos Leivaditis of Australia. «I have never had a problem with the fact that I am Greek. Quite the opposite in fact,» said Melina Tsinga from Argentina. «At home I listen to Greek music a lot. I have been here before and always buy lots of CDs. When I go home I ask my friends over to listen to them. They really like them.» Of course, for some of the third-generation Greeks, their knowledge is limited to stories told by their grandparents. The fact that these stories are 40 or 50 years old means that the image they have gained is somewhat different to what Greece is today. «This is my first visit and what I am seeing has nothing to do with what I have heard. I expected to see only women dressed in black, wearing headscarves,» said Eduardo Augustus Dosis Perilo from Brazil. «Whether you believe it or not, this is the first time I have experienced racism,» said Melina. «Because I have a foreign accent, in some shops in Plaka I was treated with disdain.» «I also had a bad experience,» said Eduardo, who does not speak any Greek. «A friend and I took a taxi, and when the driver saw we were foreign, he charged us 25 euros.» Greeks of the diaspora: They have never forgotten, never stopped feeling nostalgic, never stopped loving the country of their birth. It is a love they have passed on to their children, clearly visible in the eyes of these 180 young people.