I am of Greek heritage. All four of my grandparents left their respective lives in mountains or islands to come to Australia. Fifty something years since they arrived, and a quick glance at their lives would reveal that yes, they have achieved a better standard of living. A look at the lives of their descendants shows that although their lives may be of a higher standard than those who stayed ‘in the village,’ they are no longer really all that Greek.
Throughout school I was able to blend in as White, because I mostly am. I look and act like a White person now. And that sucks. I look up to my grandparents, the food they cook, the dances they dance, the customs they continue to relish in and I can recognize, with jealousy, all the culture I have lost.
I went to school in the inner west of Sydney, which is commonly regarded as a very multicultural area. I was able to pass myself off as a White person for most of my school career, and so was able to play the system to the best of my ability. I remember the first two years of school however, when my pidgin Grenglish did not sit well with the other, whiter kids in the class. Occasionally I would say a Greek word in an English sentence, purely because I didn’t know any better. The perplexed, judgmental looks are something I still remember vividly. They are looks that turned me away from my grandparents’ culture, and towards a homogenous White one. I was forced to go to Greek school for much of primary school. I detested it, partly because there was grass to be run on, and balls to be kicked, but also because every Thursday afternoon it was a tedious two-hour reminder that I wasn’t White.
This is not an unusual story. There were many students of Sri Lankan descent at my high school that were more than happy to swap their delicious homemade curries for a measly cheese and vegemite sandwich.
Sydney lacks a sense of welcoming and well-being to People of Colour. In order to fit into a schoolyard, to feel popular, you need to conform to a White standard. You lose your culture. This is something that I regret immensely. Of my 12 cousins, I am the only one who can still speak any semblance of the Greek language. Whilst I am grateful for these basic language skills, it sucks for the rest of my family who can’t speak the language, and for my grandparents, who have witnessed this gradual decline of their culture. I wish that I had embraced my culture at a young age; to fully immerse myself in it and to be able to continue to do so now. Instead, I live a boring White life, where people are still surprised that my last name is polysyllabic.
Culture is amazing and something people should always be encouraged to hold on to. Ham and cheese sandwiches get pretty boring pretty quickly.
Illustration: Jennifer Yi.