Thursday, January 28, 2010

Τα Ελληνόπουλα της ξενιτιάς

It's Greek Letters week! The Metropolis of Chicago annually hosts a week long celebration of Greek education and honors the Three Hierarchs: St. John Chrysostom, St. Basil and St. Gregory. Εvery evening during the week, various churches around Chicago host programs and speakers that have the same message... the preservation and continuation of the Greek language. Most Greek schools host their own programs showcasing their students, but there is also a Metropolis-wide program that brings many schools together to perform and present traditional songs, dances, skits and poems. The week ends with a Greek Letters luncheon where Hierarchs, clergy, Greek teachers and students enjoy an afternoon together and honor those students who excel in learning their "Greek letters".

Last Saturday the Metropolis-wide program was held, and as always, the children inspired us with their ability to sing, dance, speak and recite the Greek language. I have fond memories of the same type of performances in my youth ... but things were different, I was second generation Greek-American. My parents came to America in the 1960's and Greek was the language spoken at home. Many of these children on the stage last Saturday were 3rd and 4th generation Greek-American (and in many cases a little Italian, Irish, Polish, Mexican etc) They learn Greek at Greek school, and it is not necessarily spoken at home... and yet, their performances were fantastic! There were no stutters, or funny accents, only confident children proud of their Orthodox faith and Hellenic heritage.

Last fall, while attending a Greek school teachers seminar, a word came up... one that I don't particularly care for...τα Αμερικανάκια. Perhaps it is my own sensitivity to the word, being called that many times in my life, but the term Αμερικανάκι does not have a pleasant connotation to it... it implies that children of Greek heritage living in the United States are not quite Greek, but as many of us know, are not quite American either. We live in this limbo where the homeland of our ancestors doesn't quite understand us and the country that we live in find our faith, customs and traditions strange (don't believe me? Just take a walk with an Orthodox priest in his cassock to see how unaccepting America still is). What should we be called then?

I received a nice comment from the author of the blog To χαμομηλάκι where Time for Greek School readers were greeted as τα Ελληνόπουλα της ξενιτιάς beautiful is that?! It is a term that unites children all over the world who go to regular school and then go off to afternoon school to learn about a distant land and language. It unites all of those who left Greece to go to America and Australia, Germany and England, South Africa and Brazil, Hong Kong and Russia... we are all Ελληνόπουλα της ξενιτίας.. united by faith, language and culture. Lets keep all these Ελληνόπουλα in our prayers this Saturday as we attend Liturgy in honor of the Three Hierarchs of our church.

To learn more about the Greek experience in the diaspora, take a look at these books produced by Ε.ΔΙΑ.Μ.ΜΕ

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